Slice of Life: Literary Balance

A few things happened last week that have me thinking about balance in our literary classrooms.

The first thing was the book fair. Kids came back with books. Graphic novels, nonfiction, chapter books all of their choosing. Books that aren’t in my library. Some might not have been on their level.

The second thing was a decision to open up the first 15 minutes of the day to pure choice, reading or writing. Before that,”the first 15″ was an opportunity to blog or write in their writing notebooks, whatever they wanted to write. But after some conversations and thought, I decided to open up the choice to reading or writing.

These two things created excitement, disbelief, and questions.

You mean I can read anything?

Can I write about reading?

Can I read this?

My response to each was, “Is it reading or writing?”

Once the choice was understood, the silence was deafening. All were deep into what they had chosen.

I saw this passion and agency surface again during our weekly reading recommendations when students recommend their “5-star” books. I love this time when students get to stand up for books they love.

Today, T got up to recommend The Crossover and the room lit up. I have five copies of this book, and they have been passed around like crazy.  T could hardly get her recommendation out without comments flooding her talk.

N: It reads like rap.

P: But it’s really like poetry.

T: It’s about basketball.

N: And family.

A: And and a girlfriend.

T: I love the cover. Feel it. It feels like a basketball.”

G: Ooh. Let me feel it.

M: It’s written like Home of the Brave.

This is the real deal. Complete student-led choice and engagement.

It can’t always be this way. Nor should it be.

Students have “choice” within units of study that revolve around goals and genres. Interpretation and analysis of nonfiction, realistic fiction, historical fiction, fantasy, poetry. This is hard literary work, where teachers nudge students’ brains and hearts toward these goals with read aloud and mini-lessons; with book club discussions and conferences. This is necessary and important work that builds engagement in an academic and thoughtful construct.

But today I’m thinking about balanced literacy in a way that offers kids a balance of goal driven work with space and place for agency. I’m thinking about the room we need to make in our classrooms for student-led engagement in literacy. Times without checklists or units or expectations. Times when students just light up with the opportunity to read, write and talk about books without constraint. This is necessary and important work that creates readers who will live on outside the classroom in a culture they own. .

Thank you, Anna, Betsy, Beth, Dana, Deb, Kathleen, Stacey and Tara for a place to share our lives. Read more Slices of Life here.