As a secondary ELAR Coordinator in Rockwall, Texas, when we implemented the readers/writers workshop, my first goal was to share with all the middle school and high school teachers the value of choice reading. That part was easy with all the research available including from NCTE and the fact that our recently adopted new state standards include one that states, “The student is expected to self-select text and read independently for a sustained period of time.” The teachers and I could agree that there was value in providing time and space for students to read independently.
However, where many of us were deficient was in guiding students in selecting their own books. When a student has spent the majority of their educational career being assigned books, they may not know what they want to read. We can provide choice, but can we cultivate and guide students to choice? What young adult books were out there that could engage middle and high school students? I began my own journey by reading a variety of contemporary, young adult books including Jason Reynold’s Long Way Down, Erika Sánchez’s I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, and Neal Shusterman’s Scythe. My knowledge of young adult literature grew quickly, and any time I attended a department or PLC meeting, I would make sure to include a quick book talk opportunity. I wanted to accomplish two things: model this important teaching strategy and peak teachers’ interest in young adult books.
That only scratched the surface because, unfortunately, a stigma surrounds young adult books as “real literature.” In order to change the narrative of young adult literature, I needed teachers reading these books; however, very few had time during the school year to read. Mandating that teachers read certain young adult books for a “book study” would be counterintuitive to our philosophy toward reading. I needed to provide opportunities, and the solution I reached was to incorporate them into summer professional learning.
In the district, teachers need to earn so many hours of professional learning during the summer, and we always wish to offer as many opportunities as possible: in-person, synchronous virtual, and asynchronous virtual. Entering my first summer as the coordinator, I created a summer book club. The first year was simply offering contemporary titles of books that students may be interested in reading for the next school year. My audience consisted of three groups: middle school, high school, and advanced academics (AP/IB). Participation was not mandatory; however, I did ask that every teacher select one title as one that they may be interested in reading. When all teachers returned for back-to-school professional learning, I had them sit in groups by their selected title. The teachers who chose to read the books were put into our district’s LMS (At that time it was Google Classroom).