I started off the 2017-2018 school year frustrated and motivated–a dangerously good place to be. I was frustrated because the current trend in language arts education seems to be moving away from literature. Nonfiction is more valuable in the real world, they say. It probably is, but I like fiction.
I was motivated, though, after attending a conference featuring the English teacher gods, Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle. Gallagher, especially, was arguing for the value of fiction and literature. He proposed daily book talks and reading time to allow kids to build on their reading skills. Prepared for the usual teacher counterargument of “But we never have time,” Gallagher and Kittle even shared a daily time plan that outlined exactly how to make it work.
Gallagher and Kittle’s plan went something like this (sorry, I’m currently moving into a new home and my conference notes are packed away in a box somewhere):
- Opening 2 minutes: Book Talk
- 10 minutes of Self-Selected Reading Time (Students read independently while the teacher has private reading conferences with individual students, coaching them through their texts)
- Work on the current unit in 10-minute chunks of lecture, discussion, and independent work time
- Final 2 minutes: Share a strong sentence or excerpt written by a student.
I felt vindicated because they vouched for poetry and fiction in a modern world. I felt empowered because they gave me a plan to make it work. So I tried it out for a year. I edited it a bit to make it work for me, and to build in one of my new hobbies: handlettering. Going into the 2017-2018 school year, my goal was to start each day with a handlettered quote to start a book talk, then go into at least 10 minutes of reading time a day. I wanted to expose the kids to as many books from different time periods, genres, and types of writers as possible. I wanted to encourage reading, and I wanted to show my administration that fiction does matter.
I logged my lettered quotes on Instagram for a while, using the hashtag #literarywhiteboardlettering. I also kept a log on this blog, as well. I wasn’t really consistent with how I formatted the Instagram log and blog entries… that wasn’t the point. If you missed my earlier blogs on my Literary Whiteboard Lettering project, here they are:
And here’s my final set of literary whiteboards for the 2017-2018 year. I tried to mix it up with canon texts, fun reads, and necessary books for modern readers in a global, political world. I gave a few more book talks than this (e.g., Ready Player One; The Hate U Give; Love, Hate, and Other Filters), but spring semester got hectic and I didn’t have time to letter it all in the morning before class started. For the sake of avoiding information overload, I’ll restrain from giving synopses here. Check out these awesome books if these quotes entice you!
Day 61: Things Fall Apart (Chinua Achebe)
Day 62: The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (Junot Diaz)
Day 63: Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen)
Day 64: Rebecca (Daphne DuMaurier)
Day 65: Every Day (David Levithan)
Day 66: Stardust (Neil Gaiman)
Day 67: Author Feature – Rainbow Rowell
Day 68: Julius Caesar (William Shakespeare)
Day 69: A Tale of Two Cities (Charles Dickens)
Day 70: The Tempest (William Shakespeare)
Day 71: Othello (William Shakespeare)
Day 72: Medea (Euripides)
Day 73: Wuthering Heights (Emily Bronte)
Day 74: American Gods (Neil Gaiman)
Day 75: The Goldfinch (Donna Tartt)
Day 76: Animal Farm (George Orwell)
Day 77: All Quiet on the Western Front (Erich Maria Remarque)
Day 78: Children of Blood and Bone (Tomi Adeyemi)
Day 79: Great Expectations (Charles Dickens)
Details: All of these were done on whiteboards, using Expo or some other whiteboard marker brand. Most of the lettering varied from 2-4 feet (0.6-1.2m) in length and width, with the exception being the Goldfinch quote. That one was on a ten foot whiteboard wall. I completed all of these in whatever time I had in the morning before class started. Sometimes that was 30 minutes; usually, it was only 10 minutes.
You’ll probably notice a bit of a trend as you go through the school year. My compositions got really intricate and experimental during periods when I didn’t have many assignments to grade or my administration decided not to have so many meetings… and then at the end of the year, things got pretty simplistic and I started relying on my regular handwriting. At first, I hated that I was “giving up” on my handlettering goal, but then I had to remind myself that that wasn’t the point. The point was to give my kids a chance to hear some cool stories, and inspire them to read. And I think it worked.
I saw ninth graders who challenged themselves with Jekyll and Hyde, Catcher in the Rye, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Pride and Prejudice, Sherlock Holmes, and The Great Gatsby. I saw kids who went out of their comfort zones, and others who were just trying to get at least one book read. I saw myself growing as a reader and a teacher. I wasn’t able to keep up with reading conferences this year, so instead, I decided to read with them and share my reading journey with them. I felt better as a teacher because, for at least 12 minutes a day, I was doing what made me want to become an English teacher in the first place: escaping into other worlds through the pages of a book… before I had to snap back into the reality of being an English teacher in Texas in 2018.
I have 180 school days in a year. I didn’t have a book talk every day. I didn’t have SSR (self-selected reading) every day. I only got 44% of my goal, maybe 47% if you give me a little grace for a few book talks without lettered quotes. But this is where math doesn’t really help me.
I’d rather look at it as 79 days I hit my goal. Seventy-nine days of reading and talking about books that I didn’t give myself before. Seventy-nine days when I got a little closer to the English teacher I wanted to be when I started teaching.
This next year’s going to be a bit more challenging for me. I’ll be teaching 10th and 11th grade, the years that mostly focus on nonfiction. I’m also starting at a new school… so I’ll be the new kid all over again. I’ve already told my team lead that I would like to continue my book talks and SSR time. I need it. It has helped me focus my classroom, and has even given me new energy to read for myself. I hope I’ll be able to keep it going during the nonfiction years. I think I can.