Having studied to teach high school English, my first year at the helm in 8th grade was a real eye-opener for me. It was the year I discovered that some 8th graders have never read a chapter book/ novel on their own-- ever. Seriously.
I had an excellent English education at Menchville High School and Christopher Newport University to prepare me for the canon of literature that I would most likely teach as a high school English teacher. But none of the classes really addressed the reluctant reader, the painfully slow reader, the special needs reader, the non-reader, the dependent reader, the ADHD reader, the dyslexic reader, the resentful reader, etc. And I wasn't teaching high school. You get the picture.
For 11 years I have been storing up some tricks in my bag to share with you, but that could take a lot of Blogging. I want to give you a jump start with the common sense advice of Laura Robb.
Who is Laura Robb? First of all, she is a teacher who is still teaching. That means a lot to me if I am going to spend time trying out someone else's lessons in my classroom. Educational research is important, but I can't replicate a lesson that requires me to be in five places at once because I do not have an aide, college professor, graduate student and two parent volunteers with me to implement it. I can be realistic and optimistic at the same time, but most days it's just me and the kiddos without a net.
What else does Mrs. Robb do? Find out here: http://www.lrobb.com/web/guest/home
My favorite part about Mrs. Robb is that she has written several books for Scholastic on best practices for teaching reading and writing in the middle school. Several are available from Amazon.com.
It's a strange place, middle school. Most of the research out there focuses on catching reading issues early in elementary school and putting interventions in place. Even if this is done well, some teenagers still struggle to read at grade level. I have taught students before who have tested on a first, second, third grade level in eighth grade. It's a frightening, exciting challenge. There isn't a lot of magic on hand for any instant fixes, but let Mrs. Robb help you along the way.
I'm sure I'll mention her again later, but allow me to start you off with my two favorite activity books.
For reading: 50 Fabulous Discussion-Prompt Cards for Reading Groups: Snap-Apart Question Cards That Build Comprehension & Spark Great Discussions About Character, Plot, Setting, Theme & More
For writing: Brighten Up Boring Beginnings and Other Quick Writing Lessons: 10- to 15-Minute Mini-Lessons and Reproducible Activities That Sharpen Students' Writing Skills
Let me close with this. A few years back, Mrs. Robb taught a lesson on "Harrison Bergeron" to one of my reading classes. I can't remember why she was there in my small town, but I know that I truly enjoyed spending time in her classroom and so did my students. (No one misbehaved, much to my relief.) When I e-mailed her post-tornado about these two activity books that I could not find on Amazon, she mailed them to me with her good wishes. She also mailed a few other resources and had Scholastic do the same.
It was another reminder to me that none of us can do what we do alone. You may have a really great day teaching, and you should pat yourself on the back, but a lot of amazing people helped you get you where you are today. And they are still wishing you well from their little corners of the world. Don't forget to plug into the energy of all of that goodness on those days that exhaust you.
Thanks to Laura Robb, Scholastic, Christopher Newport University's Dr. Scott Pollard and art teacher Rob Mercer for restocking my Robb resources.