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Reading Response: Responding Back? Or Thinking Forward?

I have been lucky enough to facilitate an online children’s literature book club for teachers. Over the past few months, we have read and discussed some amazing titles: Wishtree, The Crossover, Refugee and Lucky Broken Girl. Each teacher shared their reactions to the text in individual ways: text, audio and video responses, memes, diagrams, lists of questions, lists of related articles to share and more. It was truly a collaborative book club where the focus was on cultivating our own reading lives and of course, making connections to the classroom along the way.

As we end the project, I cannot help but think about the lessons I learned: the power of choice, the power of sharing our reading with others, the power in honoring our reading lives and more. One powerful lesson stands front and center and will forever change my teaching and coaching: reading is about living the reading experience, not about responding to the text. Let me explain.

As I prepared for this book club, I devoured children’s literature. I read my favorite genres, I pushed myself out of my comfort zone to read something I normally would not choose, and I connected with others to learn about their recent favorites. I thoroughly enjoyed the process of ‘just reading’ to choose the selections for the project. As we started, I required only one thing of each educator: read the book and respond in what ever way works for you based on your personality, your response to the book and to your level of comfort with technology. Teachers eagerly jumped in and pushed themselves to try new ways of responding that were more authentic and intentional than the traditional kinds of reason responses we might typically see in schools. We shared, explored, took risks together and were honest in how we might change our classroom practices as a result.

As we wrapped up Refugee, many of us were stumped. How could we accurately capture the incredibly personal and emotional responses that we were having as we read this book? How could we capture our shock at the events these children experienced while we were nicely snuggled into our safe corners of town? How were we going to deal with the discomfort of knowing these experiences are currently happening? So, rather than post a reading response or in addition to posting, those that were geographically close chatted in real time. I sent texts to some of the members to share my thinking in the moment. And others simply did not post a response. They were still with their thinking and then, rather than respond back to the book, they thought forward. They investigated their family histories and shared their learning with the group. They shared articles from local newspapers and media sites on related events happening in their hometowns. They shared a list of unanswered questions they needed to investigate. Essentially, we did not respond back to the book. Instead, we were sparked to think forward.

I cannot help but wonder: Do we give students these same opportunities to think forward after reading a book or do we continually require them to respond back instead? Now, there is nothing wrong with responding to a book and in fact, doing so in flexible ways helped to shape and enhance our understanding of the texts and how they might impact our lives. But, as adults, we allowed ourselves the freedom to choose when responding back to the text was just not going to work and instead, did something that we were compelled to explore because of our reading. Do we give our students the same opportunities? Or do we force students to respond in uniform ways across all texts and experiences, regardless of their unique interactions with the books? And I might even dare to ask, do we let students simply sit with their thinking and not respond at all?

So, as I end this children’s literature project, I am looking forward to how I can best support teachers’ reading lives so they experience these lessons for themselves and feel compelled to rethink their classroom practices. Happily, we will continue our online book club through the summer months to continue reading and learning together. Are you interested? Please join us! The project is hosted on Google + Communities and is free to join as we discuss selected titles. If you would like to earn CTLE credit and receive a copy of the books for your classroom, you can register through WSWHE BOCES. We would love to grow our group, and our learning, as we read and write our way through the summer! Indicate your interest in the comments or contact me for more information.

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