Monday, January 9, 2012

"Shared" Reading

During the winter break, I was able to finish reading all of the ten nominated books for the Ontario Library Association's 2012 Red Maple award. They were really engaging novels and I enjoyed reading them. I need to start the Silver Birch nominees soon but I'm not panicking because there are other teachers on staff who have volunteered to read the titles as well.

There's a good reason why all the nominated books must be read soon. In 2010, one of the Red Maple titles was challenged in my school board. The final decision was that the book could remain in the schools but there were nine recommendations made by the review committee and endorsed by the board's director about participating in the Forest of Reading program (which includes the Blue Spruce, Silver Birch, and Red Maple awards).

Point #6 can be the most challenging directive to follow: that the "principal ensures that sponsoring staff read the books in the program being delivered". The Silver Birch program involves three lists of ten books each and the Red Maple program has twenty books every other year (this year just has ten). In case your math is rusty, that equals 40-50 books that someone must read in order to run the program at his/her school. I know another teacher-librarian in a TDSB school and he has to read all of the books by himself because no other staff members will read them. This is distressing and disappointing. Why is it that some teachers insist that their students read nightly but they themselves are unwilling to read one children's fiction or non-fiction book? By sharing the reading workload, everyone benefits.

In my school, we use a "passport system". Teachers read whatever books they want to read from the list and when they are done, we put the information on a large chart in the library. The students check the list to see what teachers have read the same book that they have completed and then they book a "chat" with that teacher. I've stressed over and over that this is supposed to be a "chat", not a "test". The individuals are supposed to discuss the book for enjoyment and to see if the student has completed the book and understood the content. The recent TDSB guidelines would also add that staff encourage critical thinking as part of the post-reading experience. If the staff member feels that the student has indeed read the book, he/she signs the passport. Five signatures means that the student can vote for a winner.

The ironic thing is that, even though I have many helpers to make my work light, the students give me a hard time if I *haven't* read all of the books. When I try to explain or rationalize, they firmly state, "You *have* to read all the books. You're the teacher-librarian!" (They also say they like to "do their chats" with me, so it softens their demands a bit - plus the books are fun to read.)

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