Friday, August 16, 2013

Read Alouds in My Class

It's that time of year again.  I have had the first of many teacher dreams that I will have before the school year starts.  My mind wheels have started to turn.  I have started to panic over all the summer goals that are not completed yet.

In the last couple of weeks I have started to really think about how I want the year to go and what I can plan for in both reading and writing this year.  One of the biggest and most important tasks I have in setting up our classroom community is to find the books that I believe will be fun to share with the new batch of students.

As I have been letting my mind wander over the possibilities, I have read some great articles and blog posts.  Inspired by this article by Franki Sibberson and this blog post by Katherine Sokolowski, I have begun thinking deeply about my selections for read-aloud this year.

Add to this the fact that I read Teach Like a Pirate and Opening Minds in the last week, and the selection for read aloud becomes that much more important to me.  You see, I used to be very passionate about creating a very tight classroom community and teaching empathy.  I worked my butt off to make sure that my classroom would be that safe place for all students, and succeeded at this with my 4th and 5th graders.  And then, I moved to middle school and the school culture and the teenage attitudes kicked my *** and I have been giving up a little bit of this purpose each year of teaching middle school.  Reading these books made me really think again about what I believe to be the most important thing to do in the classroom and that is to teach kids how to see the world from other perspectives and develop empathy.  I think it is crucial to meet my students emotional needs in the classroom and in order to do that, I need to make it a completely accepting place in which all students belong.  My professional reading reminded me that this was once my most important goal and that it is worth fighting for.  After a few years with middle school, I know I will have the skills to help them develop empathy and learn to be kind to each other.  As a reader, I can think of no better way to help them learn to take other perspectives than to read amazing literature that will make them understand what it is like to be like the characters in the book.

There are some books that have become favorites in the years that I have been teaching middle school and others that I have recently read and think would make excellent read alouds.  These books are all books I will consider reading aloud this year at some point, and that I hope will help students to think deeper about the world around them and learn empathy.

I have never had a group of students that did not like Freak the Mighty.  It is a great book for helping students to understand the points of view of some kids they might normally consider to be losers or freaks.  The story is exciting and touching and adolescents can relate to the action in the story.

I read Wonder as my first read aloud last year with 8th graders.  I love the book and most of my students learned to love it too as we read it.  I think I will read this one later in the year this year after my read aloud is established.  Students who are not used to read alouds did not get into this one and I would rather wait until I know all students will appreciate the beautiful story before reading this one.

I have never used Endangered by Eliot Shrefer as a read aloud, but I think it would be a great one.  There is so much adventure in the book as well as issues to consider.  I think it would be a wonderful book for really getting middle school students to think about how people live in other parts of the world and to get them thinking about the way animals are treated.  I am considering using this one as my first read aloud.

This is another book that would be great for getting students to consider world issues and get involved with thinking about animal rights.  It might be a good idea to read both Endangered and Hurt Go Happy to really get students thinking about a global issue and possibly thinking about what they can do to help.

Nightjohn by Gary Paulsen is a book I have used every year of teaching middle school. I love this book for read alouds because it is short but really packs a punch.  This book really brings out good discussions about power and why education is important.  It also is my opportunity to help educate students about the conditions of slaves and the way people really viewed slaves as property and not humans.  It is another great discussion about race and the way racism has evolved.

Unwind by Neal Shusterman is a seriously disturbing book about a world where teenagers are really not safe because their parents might choose to "unwind" them and donate all their parts.  There are a lot of issues that could be very rich discussions.  The book would appeal to all students and is full of action.  It could bring up some discussion of scientific advances and medical ethics also.

The themes in this book of giving up play to be more grown-up would really feel familiar for a lot of middle school students.  This book is creepy without being really scary so I think it would really appeal to a lot of kids.  I am considering this one along with some other ideas using the short film Alma and The Friendship Doll and having students write from the perspective of a doll.

Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick is a book that would help students think about the problems that people have that we might not know about.  It is a great story about coping with a very serious issue and I think there would be some students who might really relate to the narrator.

I just read Seedfolks this week.  I don't know why it took me so long to get to this book.  It is one that I really think would be almost perfect for read aloud because each person's narration is so short.  This is a great book for thinking about multiple perspectives and the diversity around us.

These are currently the books that I am considering for that all important first read aloud.  One of the problems of reading so many books is that I come across so many amazing ones that I want to share with my whole class.  I believe any of these books would help me to get my year started out on the right note and help build community.

What are your favorite read alouds for helping middle school students develop empathy?  Is there a book I just have to read?  I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

1 comment:

  1. I found this post through Pinterest and am pinning it for the future when I'm back in the classroom. I wanted to say that I did Seedfolks as a read aloud with 8th graders and they really got into it. They did like how short the chapters were. We kept notes on each character, including how they got involved with the garden and what it did for them. Then they wrote a short essay at the end about which character they felt was helped the most by the garden. That same group did well with Slake's Limbo because they identified with Slake being bullied and were rooting for him.