When I first started teaching, I worked in an independent boarding school. We had the most beautiful school library I have ever seen. It was the perfect breeding ground to create a love of reading, and I loved every minute I spent in there. Yet despite the idyllic setting and their typically amazing behaviour my year eight students suddenly turned into monsters during reading lessons.
Something, I decided, had to be done. Despite being dyslexic, I love reading. I always have. In fact if I can’t think of many things that I prefer to do. I was determined that somehow, even if it killed me this was a love that I would impart to my students. The problem was books are personal, just because I liked a book didn’t mean a student would.
So, I changed my tack. I no longer read books I wanted to read. I read everything. Everything that is that could possibly interest teenagers. I read literally 100s of books during my first few months there, and I started matching books to students. In fact, it became somewhat of a personal challenge. The more determined the student was that they didn’t want to read; the more determined I was to find a book that they would like. And, much to my delight it worked. Students started reading, and simultaneously they started trusting me. By the end of year eight they had all read a selection of teenage fiction, by the end of year nine every one of them read a full pre 1914 novel. What’s more, they enjoyed it.
Sometimes, we need to think beyond the box. We need to be able to do something different. It’s rare I teach the same book twice, for me, it just doesn’t work. Instead I like to look at my classes and find a book that I think they will enjoy, a book that will speak to them. Whatever the curriculum goal is, my personal one is that I want my students to learn to love books. I want to create a love of reading that will follow them through life.
That’s something that’s never been more important than with my current group. I like to read books that interest my students. I’m well aware that the reading level is well above that of some in the class – but I run other interventions simultaneously to tackle that. When I read to my class, above all I want to transport them to another place, provide them with escapism and joy. I want to introduce them to new language, new ideas, new worlds.
Differentiation is important, but differentiation does not mean dumbing down. Done properly differentiation should provide challenge and excitement. You can enable your students to understand by acting parts out, by working through vocabulary, by scaffolding questioning. But you have to choose a book that will interest them, without an interesting text students will not want to understand. It’s a careful balance, but an important one. After all, how hard would you try to understand something you had no interest in?