Thursday, August 13, 2015

Read Aloud for High School Students

“But I don’t like to read.” “Reading is boring.” “Is there going to be a test on this book?” Phrases like these were becoming all too common in my high school classroom. I realized a love for literature was often missing in students within this age group. Not all students, but a lot of them. I tried to find answers as to where, when, and how this happened. Was it having to read too many books for programs like Accelerated Reading? Was it because they didn’t know how to pick a book that caught their specific interest? The list of possibilities continued. Until I stopped and looked at my own children. Why do my kids like books? This simple question brought out the answer to my problem.
Parents and elementary teachers are reminded over and over about the importance of reading out loud to their children/students. And chances are, as adults we remember those books that our elementary teachers read out loud to us. I specifically remember The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, Pippy Longstocking, along with many others. There is something about the read aloud that brings the story to life and helps developing readers become invested in literature.
Now think about how many books were read to us as teenagers. Probably very few, if any. As a teenager we are supposed to know how to read. And 99% of the time, students do understand the words they are reading. However, through my own investigation, I found that students truly forgot HOW to read.
Reading had became a job. They lifelessly scanned the pages, trying to find answers. The books they did like to read didn’t provide much of a moral lesson or were just about vampires and supernatural creatures. And whenever they read out loud, the emotion was completely gone.  I knew I had to reteach them HOW to read, so they could expand their love for literature. And the best way to do that, was reading out loud to them. I had to show them how to use emotion in reading to bring the story to life.
I realized the read aloud was the answer to my problem when I started reading Never Fall Down, written by Patricia McCormick. This book is a biographical novel about a boy named Arn Chorn-Pond. As a young boy, Arn became a victim of the Khmer Rouge during the Cambodian Genocide. (I personally had never learned about the Cambodian Genocide of the 1970s. Very few of my students had either.) I read about 5-10 minutes at the beginning of each of my 10th grade classes. I told them that there wasn’t going to be a test over this; I just wanted them to listen and participate in our discussions. Simple as that. At the end of the first week, I thought about what I observed in these classes. Almost every day, the students were disappointed when I shut the book. They begged to read just a little bit more. While I was reading, every student’s eyes were on me. They all, even my most struggling students, had so many opinions about the book and the situation the main character found himself in. The same reaction happened daily for the almost two months it took us to finish it.
At the end of the book I gave the students a chance to write a letter to the Arn Chorn-Pond or to just jot down a little reflection about the book. Almost all of the students wrote page-long letters about how moved they were by the book. They were recalling specific details that even I had forgotten. They even influenced the World History teacher to discuss other genocides in the world. And further evidence came when I saw other biographical novels in the hands of my students.
And chances are, if you ask those students to tell you one thing they remember about my class, it will be that book. Giving up 5-10 minutes of my class for a couple of months was the most beneficial thing I could have done for those kids. They not only learned an important event in history, but also learned how powerful a book can be if they allow themselves to bring it to life.
So as we get ready to go back to school, remember that high school students do have that love for literature that our younger students have. We might just have to show them how to find it again. Try the read aloud. I promise you won’t be disappointed in the results.


Monday, February 16, 2015

#Love Teaching Week

Last week was #Love Teaching Week...A week dedicated to showcasing the positives about teaching. The media does a great job showing many of the negatives that come along with teaching, but rarely highlights the reasons we went into this profession to start with. 

Don't get me wrong, this career is difficult and definitely has its challenges. There have been times in my ten years of teaching that I have questioned my career choice and contemplated starting over in a new career. There have been many times that I have felt quilty about working outside of the home in a career that demands so much of my time at home too.  However, whenever I am having my doubts, something always happens to remind me that I am making a difference. 

For instance, as I thought about all the little things I could share for #LoveTeaching this week on social media, I realized that I can find something positive about my job every single day. 

I noticed, in this one-week time frame, that what really makes me love teaching the most is the connection I can make with these students on a daily basis. I can make a difference in their lives. Here is a list of some things that have happened in one week of teaching.

I love teaching because...

* After sharing a chapter from Kid President's Guide to Being Awesome, written by Brad Montague and Robby Novak, the kids in one of my classes were so moved by the message, they broke out into an applause. This reminded me that there are so many students out there that are moved by the idea to treat people more awesome. The line that ended the chapter was,  "Maybe our goal as people shouldn't be to become a celebrity, but to live in a way that makes everyone around us feel celebrated." If I can help these students understand that their actions make a difference and if I can show them that I celebrate them and believe in them, then I am doing the job I set out to do.

* A senior from the school I used to teach at contacted me to tell me that he got accepted at the college of his choice. Why did he contact me? Because he knew I would want to know. These moments in teaching are so important because it tells me that I have made a connection with a student. They know that I care about them and want them to succeed in life. 

* After school (on the last day of the school-week), two students came and asked me to take a picture with them. We were wearing the new shirts our group, Here 2 Make a Change (H2MC), had made. They are helping to spread a positive message throughout our school and community. To see students go out of their way to make a positive impact shows me that with a little reinforcement through me, these students feel comfortable about making a difference. 

* Over the weekend, I opened my email to find a letter written by a freshman in high school. This student took time out of her weekend to send me a message about the impact I have had on her and how much she respects me. It is times like these that make every negative thing about teaching just disappear. These moments keep teachers going for a very long time. 

* Last week, I went to my mailbox in the school office to find a hand-written note from a student facing something that could potentially keep him out of school for a long time. While reading this letter, tears filled my eyes. This student knew I saw potential in him and thanked me for believing in him; he was very sad to say that this letter might be his last good-bye.  This letter reminded me that my teaching can impact all students. Just showing students you believe in them, care about them, and want them to succeed will carry them through some of their toughest moments. 

* While reading a nonfiction piece about refugees, students in every one of my classes shared their concerns and talked about ways people throughout the world could offer help. These moments give me so much hope. High school students often get stereotyped as the "Me Generation". I see on a daily basis that there are so many students that just want to do something to help others, even if it doesn't get them anything. Not all students fit this stereotype...

These moments are just a few that stick out from the week. Like I said before, there is always something, every day, that reminds me why I love teaching.