Do you have a novel that you read to your students every year? Usually it’s a book that is so special to you that you feel the overwhelming need to share it with as many people as possible; including but not limited to your 25-30 students. I have one of those novels; well a few actually, but my absolute favorite is Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli. If you’ve never read a Jerry Spinelli book, Stargirl in particular, you should probably drop everything you’re doing, hop on Amazon, and get to it. Well, read this first, then get to it.
This year has been no exception to my Stargirl tradition, however something is most definitely different with my experience this fall. I have been quite simply blown away by my students’ level of engagement, insight, and downright outpouring of love that they are sharing for the text that I adore so much. Unfortunately, this reaction is much different than that of past years, and I attribute it to three relatively minor changes that I’ve made in my instruction:
A Book for Each Child Ok, easier said than done. This year is the first year that I’ve had a copy of Stargirl for each one of my students and the difference with their engagement level has been astonishing. Stargirl is a difficult read; threaded with thoughtful analogies and breathtaking imagery. So much of those details were lost on my students when they were simply listening to me read and quite frankly, it’s those details that make the book so beautiful. Although I am still the one reading aloud, when following along my students are both seeing and hearing these words and descriptions, making it easier for them to comprehend, refer to the text, and match the audio cues from my oral reading to the words on the page. Realistically, you can’t always get a copy of every book you read for every kid, but I highly suggest making it happen somehow with at least a few select novels.
Align to the Core The fact of the matter is, teaching our old favorites year after year is fine, but with Common Core State Standards, it will be necessary to teach them differently. No longer will just identifying major components of the text (characters, setting, problem, solution, etc.) suffice. Students are now asked to dig deeper into text, and really analyze the author’s message that is often inconspicuously woven throughout the storyline. Reading Stargirl through the lens of the 6th grade ELA standards has produced results that quite literally bring me to tears (ok, I only got choked up once). By pausing and discussing in strategic places, analyzing literary devices like foreshadowing, imagery, and symbolism and identifying recurring words or themes in the text, my students have become fascinated with Jerry Spinelli and his purpose for writing a book like Stargirl. When my students began to speak about the novel with the same eloquence with which Jerry Spinelli writes, I knew I was doing something right.
Get Help My third and final suggestion ties in nicely with aligning to the core. This is my second year aligning my instruction to the CCSS and I have found more often than not, that I need to reach out to colleagues and websites for help with resources. I don’t have time to re-create everything, and I doubt you do either. I invested a little bit of time, and even less money, on a great novel study that I found on Teachers Pay Teachers. I looked for something that was somewhat newly created, aligned to 6th grade Common Core State Standards, had reviews from other teachers, and had a sample for me to download. Unfortunately, not everything you find on the internet is good (can you believe that?!) so your knowledge of the standards will help you filter through and find the right fit for you to use with your class.
That’s it! Three small changes and I have seen a night and day difference from past years. Using the CCSS to guide my instruction has once again proven to raise the bar for my students, and with the support of well-chosen materials, and a tweak in my instruction, my students have most definitely risen to the occasion.