As I stated briefly in my tweets, my favorite takeaway from Penny Kittle’s chapters 3 & 4 in Book Love were the concrete examples she gave on actually teaching the practices. These are things we can put into effect immediately, because we know they’ve been tried and true in Kittle’s expertly-run classroom.
First, one major worry of mine was dealing with the issue of judgement on our newly-learned “no censorship” policy? I thought, “What would parents say? Could I ever be under fire from administration because of books that I have in the classroom?” Penny Kittle tells us that she has a letter to parents that they read at the beginning of every semester, explaining the details of her stance on censorship. She encourages open conversation on the subject and for parents to draw their own lines on student’s limits. However, she does not obtain every risky book that students put on the classroom “want” list. She takes into consideration the appropriateness of every book in terms of her donors, the community, and parents. She still encourages students to read books of their choice, even if she doesn’t agree to buy them.
In terms of library management, there were several practical applications that Kittle mentioned. First, she mentioned that she gave up on organizing titles alphabetically. Students found it more useful to find titles by subject that they’d chosen. Secondly, she said that any kind of checkout system she’d tried, failed. Unfortunately, she’s sacrificed a lot of books for the greater good when students fail to return them, but it’s a very real part of having a free choice classroom library. She’s prepared us for this.
Kittle emphasizes that we must meet students where they’re at – find their interests and their abilities to sustained read and work from there. Sometimes, it may involve students reading graphic novels, verse novels, lower-level books, etc. to get a good start. However, we must pay careful attention that students are not getting stuck where they are. We have to encourage students to explore different authors and subjects and levels of reading in order to grow. This can be done with various charts, keeping track of books read, and having students fill out surveys, such as a difficulty survey that she shows in the book.
Finally, I want to end with a great quote from a student on the amazing impact of free-choice reading. I have found this to be true for myself – we cannot rely on social studies, science, etc. textbooks to educate us alone. It is only by learning the stories of fictional and real people do we learn to empathize and grow as humans. This student says, “I never would have guessed that I could learn so much just by reading novels, but I have really learned a lot.”