March 8, 2021
As an English teacher, books are my jam. I love celebrating Reading Month in March because I love giving a special focus to books and reading. And in my opinion, Reading Month is perfectly timed.
February is a hard month for teachers; it can often feel like we’re wading through the muck uphill with our students. What better way to re-energize for the rest of the school year than an extended book party?
At the secondary level, there are a lot of ways for us to celebrate our reading. My students are competitive, so in the past, I have made competitions of reading between my classes. Each class hour has a paper chain, and whenever a student finishes a book, they write the title and author on a slip of paper and add it to their class hour’s chain. I like to give a lot of prizes for this to keep the fighting spirit alive: longest chain, most books of a specific genre, most contributions from a single student, etc.
March means spending more time in class on the reading of independent books and discussions of what we read. Book talks are a good way to get students excited about selections from the classroom library (or any library), and so are recommendations from peers. Create virtual or physical collections of recommendations. Display student selfies with books. Encourage students to go on blind dates with books, to have book tastings (reading small excerpts of many books before committing to one), and to fill out book webs (connecting books by similarities like genre, theme, protagonist, etc.).
There is much data on the benefits of students selecting their own reading material. Students will be more engaged in the reading, and there is an increase in motivation and ownership. Students are often more excited to share what they are reading with others. This presents a great opportunity to cultivate your students’ skill in discussing reading when not everyone has read the same material.
Finally, make sure students are seeing you read! Talk about the books you’re reading, create your own display of finished books and encourage your co-workers to do the same. Consider creating a community display of what all the educators in your building are reading. The more students see that reading (and reading for fun!) is a normal part of adult life, the more likely they are to be readers themselves.
In case you’re looking to expand you to-read list this March, I’ll leave you with a few recommendations from my students:
L.G. recommends “Howl’s Moving Castle” by Diana Wynne Jones. In the student’s words: “I love the movie, but the book is so much better! Sophie (the protagonist) is equally powerful to Howl in the book. It’s not just about love; it’s about equality and choosing your own destiny. … You should read this book if you like the movie, or any other magical fantasy books, or if you’re a feminist like me.”
M.H. recommends “Coyote America” by Dan Flores. In the student’s words: “I didn’t read nonfiction books until this year, but this one surprised me. It’s about how coyotes and humans have lived together for thousands of years. It made me think about my connection to all humans and our shared past. … You should read this book if you like animals, nonfiction, history or true crime. It’s not true crime, but it reminds me of some true crime shows, so I thought that fit.”
M.J. Recommends “Cemetery Boys” by Aiden Thomas. In the student’s words: “This book has a lot of Spanish in it, but don’t let that scare you. Even if you’re not Latinx, the family and characters in this book will feel like YOUR family. At least, they felt like mine. … The book also does a good job with the gay and trans characters. The book makes all the magic in it feel like a normal part of the world, and the characters’ identities feel normal, too. They were relatable even if you’re not the same as them.”
C.S. recommends “Miles Morales: Spider-Man” by Jason Reynolds. In the student’s words: “Do you like superheroes? Doesn’t matter, read this book! Yeah, it’s about Spider-Man, and if you like him, there’s plenty of web-slinging. Don’t like Spider-Man? No problem. This book is about Miles Morales, an Afro-Latino teenager who is struggling to balance what his family expects of him, what the world needs him to do and what he wants. Spoiler alert: The villain Spider-Man has to fight in this one? Is racism. Sort of. Just read it!”
Happy Reading Month!
About Owen Bondono: I teach ninth grade English in Oak Park, MI. I am white, transgender, middle class, married, bi and able-bodied, and my pronouns are he/him/his. I acknowledge that everything I write is informed by the perspectives and privileges I have been afforded in life. As the 2020-2021 Michigan Teacher of the Year, I hope to learn from and advocate for all teachers and students in the state, with a focus on building and supporting a diverse teaching force.