A Whole Class Read — Things I Didn’t Expect

It started with a book, a featured dollar deal from Scholastic. With what would equal the cost of two hardback books, I got 34 copies of The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate.  I had no idea what I’d use them for. Perhaps student Christmas gifts.

The box sat in the back of my classroom for weeks.

And then, I found Kate Roberts’ ideas about teaching whole group novels.  In her September Ed Collab session, Kate described the possibility of using the pedagogy of reading workshop with a whole class read. This is well worth watching in that she outlines her journey from the traditional secondary whole class read to the workshop approach and then circles back to what could be harvested from each. After watching, here are my takeaways:

• The level of the text should not be “profoundly” difficult.

• Focus the teach by identifying one to three skills you want students to get better at

• The book choice should fit your focus and your kids’ interests/identities

• The methods to teach should vary.  Mix read aloud, mini-lessons, independent reading, small group support, and activities to develop specific skills without killing the book.

• The time taken to read the book should not overwhelm or overtake students’ reading lives.

Ivan seemed a great selection to shore up my kiddo’s understanding of character and theme. He is a complex fellow. Agreeable, yet surprisingly passionate.  The real-life basis for Ivan is interesting for students and would offer a perfect segway into the next unit of study around nonfiction. The writing is accessible and exquisite. Knowing this, we started Ivan with this eight-day plan, 

The investment in time wasn’t huge, so if it was a bust, the cost wasn’t high. I promised myself I’d listen more than I’d talk and adjust as necessary. I was determined not to kill this beautiful book.

And things happened that I didn’t expect.

Each day students became more engaged and not surprisingly, less scaffolding was needed for fragile readers.

Conferences were brief because I knew exactly what they were encountering. With a peek over their shoulder, I could turn to that page, read a bit and get to what mattered quickly. From student one-on-ones, I could collect their noticings to share in mid-workshop interruptions.

Talking about reading improved. The end of workshop share ranged from book club to whole class conversations. Character and thematic ideas were developed in these encounters that I had not come to in my own thinking.

A community was built around this book. Similar to a read aloud, but the effect was more profound. Perhaps because it was focused. Maybe because it was quick. More like reading pace. Perhaps because students had more control of the book. I was just the coach. They played the game. Their hands turned the pages.

This worked beautifully for this class. My students have grown up with a balanced diet of daily read aloud and direct reading instruction with choice in reading. They have the opportunity to self-select independent reading and read for pleasure. The whole class reading of an excellent book adds into their learning by providing a powerful way to understand literature as a community.

Other things came out of this experience. Things I didn’t expect.

Students in room 32 now have a passion for all things Applegate. The waiting list for Wishtree is long, so this weekend I purchased a few more along with extra copies of Crenshaw.

Coincidentally, one of my students did the same thing. First thing Monday morning, T* walks up to me and says, “Mrs. Harmatz,  I was at Barnes and Noble, and I bought Crenshaw. After I read it, I’ll give it to you.”

So sweet. What more could a reading teacher ask for?

Thank you, Two Writing Teachers for a space to share our teaching and writing lives.







17 thoughts on “A Whole Class Read — Things I Didn’t Expect

  1. I love how you write honestly about your doubts and gains from your classroom experiences. It’s the just right book along with the just right teacher that made this whole class book work.

  2. Wonderful. Books build community. The One and Only Ivan is one of my heart books. And, if you haven’t read her newest book, Wishtree, yet, you really should.

  3. Love “a passion for all things Applegate”.

    And of course the unintended consequences . . .”Talking about reading improved. The end of workshop share ranged from book club to whole class conversations. Character and thematic ideas were developed in these encounters that I had not come to in my own thinking.” Your class grew by DOING the work. They didn’t need bribes, or sentence stems, they needed TALK!

  4. I love the combination of read aloud and student reading time. And these words from your post: “I promised myself I’d listen more than I’d talk and adjust as necessary. I was determined not to kill this beautiful book.” What a beautiful experience for you and your students. Kudos to the student who plans to give Crenshaw to you after he reads it. Your post makes me want to listen to Kate’s session and I’m retired!

  5. For the first time, I reposted a blog on my site… yours. Amazing truth so well written. As an aside, I too saw that can’t pass up price on Ivan and bought a mess of them myself. Love being on this journey with you.

  6. Thank you for this post! You summarized Kate’s chat beautifully – I watched it after it went live and was moved by her approach to the whole class novel. The biggest shift for me was the importance of keeping the length of time spent on one novel to a minimum. I’m impressed with your 8-day plan! Kudos to you! Sounds like it was a win-win!

    • I think one of the keys to this work is focusing on a specific goal and then letting the novel live with the students for a reasonable amount of time. One must resist the urge to have every student “get” everything.

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