Thursday, March 7, 2013

Middle School Readers (Slice 7 of 31)

This post is a part of the Slice of Life challenge which is hosted on the Two Writing Teachers blog.  The month of March the challenge is to write a blog post a day.

In a middle school classroom, one can never quite know what to expect.  I can make plans and work to follow them, but life sometimes throws in curveballs.

Yesterday was one of those days.  Brainstorming at lunch we came up with the possibility that maybe it was crazy because kids thought they were going to have a snow day and then they didn't.  It felt like a full moon day with the crazy antics of the students and things just not quite right.

My morning was quickly interrupted by a group of girls trying to discover what was happening and how a rumor had started.  One girl was crying because the rumor was about her and made her boyfriend mad at her.  Three girls were angry at the girl who started the rumors.  That girl was retaliating because she thought the other girl had shared a secret of hers.  Luckily, I have 8th graders this year that can use their brains and do not resort to fighting right away.  This is not always the case in an urban school.  Oh, and this was supposed to be reading time.

In the midst of high drama in the hallway, I stood back and took a look at my classroom.  It is not easy to inspire adolescents to be readers.  Many come into the classroom with the idea that reading is for nerds and that they hate to read.  While I may not get every single one of them to be the voracious reader that I am, I can inspire them to give books a chance.  Many of my students have read their first book ever this year.  And all of them have at least 10 books under their belt at this point in the school year, many are closer to 25 or 30 books read.  Yesterday, when I really needed to have some peace and calm, I got it at independent reading time.  Every one of my readers in the classroom is reading a book they enjoy.  This was a time to savor the place I had created with my students this year.

It is always so calming to step back and observe the positive.  It is tempting, on a day when there is drama and crazy kid behavior, to dwell on the challenges that I have and the lack of motivation that students seem to have and the negative attitudes about school that they bring.

Yesterday, I focused on Estefany and felt better.  Estefany is a student that came into my classroom thinking that reading was boring.  She is a second language learner so reading has always been difficult for her.  This year, I worked hard with her to find books that she would enjoy.  We started out with easy books.  She read all of the Franny K Stein series even though she knew they were for younger kids.  Then she burned through Babymouse and enjoyed Dear Dumb Diary books.  One day she came into school with the book Bobby Vs. Girls by Lisa Yee.  "Ms. Payan you have to read this book.  It is SO GOOD!" she exclaimed.  So naturally, I took the book home and read it.  Then, Estefany wrote to Lisa Yee on Goodreads and got a reply.  The reaction was epic (as the 8th graders like to say).  This author was a rock star in her eyes!  She had been steadily reading multiple books at a pretty good pace until about a month ago.  That is when she discovered the Maximum Ride series.  Estefany went from reader to READER in the blink of an eye.  She read the entire series in a week and then went on to burn through the Witch and Wizard series, Graceling, Entwined, Cinder, Shadow and Matched.  The moment I knew that this girl was now a book nerd was when I heard her friend one morning.  "Are you CRAZY?" yelled her friend, who usually is a very quiet girl.  "She stayed up until 3 in the morning reading!"  Oops! I created a monster.  Estefany and I talked about how I understood this need to finish a book, but perhaps a school night was not the best time to do this.  She promised she wouldn't do it again and we went about our day.  This is the kind of data that I think people should be paying attention to.  This reader will improve and has already improved in her reading.  If I had given her any one of the books in the list at the beginning of this school year, she would not have been able to read it. This is a success story and this is what I focus on when things start getting nuts in the classroom.

There are other stories like this one in my classroom this year, but none so dramatic a change.  In  a time when their lives are volatile and everything seems unsteady, I am glad I can give my middle school students an outlet and a chance to live vicariously through characters in books.  Even though life in a middle school classroom keeps me on my toes, I willingly dodge the obstacles so that I might inspire them to become READERS.


  1. How wise you were to concentrate on the positive on such a crazy day. I am glad you told Estefany's journey in becoming a READER! That is a lasting gift you nurtured.

  2. Thank you for sharing Estefany's story. I stated as a Library Media Specialist until budget cuts put me in a regular classroom. I used to love being part of putting a wonderful book in a child's hands and then another and another.

  3. You could be writing my life! The only difference is I teach in a rural school rather than in an urban setting, but the kids sound just like mine. I'm still working to reach some, but most have come a long way as readers this year. I even can picture the faces of some of my dormant and resistant readers who caught on fire after finding jus the right book. Lisa Yee is definitely a rock star!

  4. Yay for you! What an amazing success and celebration and what a difference you have made in her life. I wish that I could get one of my daughters to stay up until 3 reading a book that she couldn't finish. She has yet to REALLY care about a character. It's so important to start at the point where kids can be successful, isn't it? Wonderful post!

  5. Great story - so fun to have these success stories to see us through the crazy days. I would love to echo your words about my students, "Every one of my readers in the classroom is reading a book they enjoy."