Saturday, February 23, 2013

Class Book: Building Excitement!

Having a “class book” or teaching one book to an entire class is no longer a popular option in this age of workshop, differentiation, and personalized learning.  And while I tend agree with the current mode of thinking, there is still something so powerful about a large group of students excited and engaged as they read the same title.  In my own classroom we have fully embraced the workshop method.  Students are free to choose their own books for their individualized daily reading time, and each student has been taught how to find books at his/her independent reading level.  Students are well aware of their Lexile level, but have also been taught other methods to judge if a book is appropriate for them.

Once in a while though, a truly wonderful book comes along, that grabs a reader and then quickly spreads like wildfire as other students learn of the book and discover they simply must read it for themselves.  We’ve all seen this happen with the Percy Jackson series, the Twilight series (older students) and even Harry Potter.  In fact two of my students this year are such Percy Jackson devotees that they inspired many of their classmates to either read or reread the entire series this year. But it seems like there just hasn’t been a new book that has had the mass appeal to cause dozens of students to feel the need to read the book at the same time and discuss it.  There just hasn’t been a book that has inspired students to talk with each other about the characters as if they knew them well, as if the students were actually a part of the story itself. 

That is until this year.  Over the winter break one of my students discovered the book Hollow Earth by Carole and John Barrowman.  I had set up a class Twiducate account so the students could Tweet with each other about their reading over the holidays.  The student’s urgent (and frequent) Tweets piqued my curiosity.  I downloaded the book on my e-reader and began to read.  The story was captivating.  A fantasy set in Scotland; there were all the makings of a student blockbuster.  Two twelve-year-old twins discover that have supernatural abilities, one of which allows them to animate pictures that they have drawn. (How cool is that?)  Their father mysteriously disappeared years ago and now some evil force is after the twins. The book is fairly long, but the chapters are short and so action packed that it’s hard to put the book down.

After vacation, I shared what I was reading with the students.  Hollow Earth became the class “Red Hot Read”.    Soon I had so many students begging to read the book that I was putting in a bulk order for students that couldn’t wait for the library to order a copy.  Within two weeks I had ordered over 40 copies.  Since I have book clubs in my classroom as well as workshop, we quickly decided to have fantasy be the genre for our next book club rotation.  Four groups choose Hollow Earth as their title.  Now I should mention that when forming book clubs, the groups are formed based on the books the students want to read.  Within each group there may be students at different ability levels, but I found this not to be an issue.  The groups are merely an avenue for the students to discuss their books, share ideas, clear up any confusions, and work on any comprehension strategies/skills taught in workshop.

It has been almost magical watching the evolution of Hollow Earth, as it becomes the infamous “class book” for the year.  The students are now at the point where they are finishing the book. The conclusion of the story leaves the reader with questions, as book two is due out this summer in the United States.  We are having many discussions about the future of Matt, Em and Zach, the three main characters of the story.  Hollow Earth, as our “unofficial class book”, has lit the fire of excitement and engagement in reading for many of our sixth grade students this year.