After thirty-plus years in the classroom, I can stand up and teach the heck out of about twenty different novels and plays, complete with class activities, quizzes, writing assignments, and fascinating lecture-ettes. I can do all of this with curricular justification and the noble ambition of transmitting canonical literature to a new generation of students. But if our students don’t, can’t, or won’t read that literature, then the canon isn’t transmitted, and students do not become better readers. Fail and double fail.
In Book Love: Developing Depth, Stamina, and Passion in Adolescent Readers (Heinemann, 2013), Penny Kittle shows high school teachers how to help all students find paths to becoming better readers, regardless of the state of those students’ reading lives upon entering our classrooms. The key concepts are meeting kids where they are as readers and building from there, and acting on the belief that finding the right book for each student is a critical step in launching a reading life.
After reading Donalyn Miller’s The Book Whisperer (Jossey-Bass, 2009) and Kelly Gallagher’s Readicide (Stenhouse, 2009) a few years ago, I transformed the way I approach reading in my classroom. I’ve seen countless students grow from being non-readers doing what Penny calls “fake reading” to engaged readers with rewarding reading lives of ever-increasing sophistication. (Penny Kittle and I have crossed paths and communicated enough that being on a first-name basis with her is just another reason why I’m a lucky guy.) To a certain extent, Penny is preaching to the choir for those of us who use self-selected texts on a daily basis, but Book Love also gave me new ideas about how to better implement this approach in a high school setting, particularly regarding how to help students establish meaningful reading goals and measure their own progress and growth, as well as strategies for building communities of readers within classrooms and schools.
As in her previous book Write Beside Them (Heinemann, 2008), Penny Kittle in Book Love sets the bar pretty high for those of us who join her in doing “this work,” but she also shows us exactly how to get up there by explaining the rewards for both students and teachers, articulating the strategies necessary for successful implementation, and motivating readers to anticipate and overcome the likely obstacles involved in doing something different from what has become accepted (but ineffective) standard practice. Good enough isn’t good enough for Penny Kittle, and it can’t be good enough for any of us.
Teaching literature isn’t the same as teaching reading, but Book Love shows us how we can accomplish both for all students by doing things in the right order with the right focus and purpose. I’m glad I read this book, and I’m really looking forward to the Facebook-based discussion launching tomorrow!