This post has been a long time coming. I finished my literature unit in mid November, but I haven’t shared my results until now because I was at the NCTE conference in Atlanta and Thanksgiving immediately followed. So, after reviewing and reflecting on my students’ work, writing, and discussions, here is what I found:
1. Choice was vital to students’ success. This 9th grade literature unit was the first one that I allowed ALL students choice. In past whole-class literature units, I chose the novel, and students all had to read the same one. This time, I allowed students to choose between All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely, and Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. When the unit concluded, I was thrilled with the amount of students that finished their books. In the past, in order to get all students to finish their books, I needed to read it aloud with them. For this unit, I did not have to. (Some students with IEPs received an audiobook.) Instead, students received a calendar that stated when pages had to be finished by (see sample below). They received reading time in class where I could also check in and confer with them. During these individual discussions, I found that most students were happy with their choices, and were enjoying their books. Because of this, they made time to read outside of class, when needed. The only requirement with the reading was five annotations per reading section. The annotations included literal, critical, and inferential thoughts of the students, and they gave me a starting point with the individual conferences. Yes, there were a few students that did not finish their books. After looking at this very short list, I realized that these students either missed a lot of class time, or did not use their in-class reading time wisely.
2. Students needed more practice with discussions. Though I incorporated activities at the beginning of the school year to prepare students for group discussions, I found that students were still not ready. I made conversation a large part of this unit, but my co-teacher and I decided to revise the discussion format for this unit to include more online ones. We used websites like TodaysMeet to begin. Early discussions on this website included more of a structure to follow. Students had new prompts every few minutes or so to guide their thinking. By the end of the unit, students had a bit more freedom. Because the majority of the discussions needed to be online, I think this unit would work better a little later on in the school year. Students did not participate in discussions all that much in middle school, and thus needed a lot more practice than I thought they would. The modifications I made helped though, so I think students will be ready for my group discussions in our end of the year literature unit.
3. Reading encouragement is always necessary. At the beginning of this school year, many students told me they were not readers. This is nothing new, so I am always looking for new ways to encourage students to read. When it came to this particular unit, I applied and received a grant to bring the authors of All American Boys to my school in April! My students are beyond excited! They haven’t met authors of books they read before, let alone two award winning authors like Jason and Brendan. Students that chose to read Speak in this unit are now reading All American Boys as a choice read to prepare for the visit. Many that read All American Boys in this unit are now reading other titles by the authors. I’m thrilled, for this unit got students interested in reading, and that is always a constant goal of mine.