5 More Questions to Guide Your Classroom Novel Selections
In the previous article, there are 5 important questions to ask when selecting novels to teach in the classroom. Before you make any final book selections, ask yourself 5 more questions to pick the right texts for your classroom context.
- How does this book connect to the other novels you plan to teach throughout the year?
Time in the classroom is precious. There are simply not enough hours in the day to teach all that you might hope. Yet, when designing a year-long curriculum (yes! year-long), select books that share some similarities. The best way to do this seemingly impossible feat is to approach the year with a theme(s). You’ve already selected books that capture myriad perspectives, are diverse and inclusive, include real-world connections, and present cross-curricular opportunities. Now, create your own mental map detailing how the novels connect with each another. Is there a common thread to link them all? From that shared fiber, you can weave an arc across the year that ties together each unit and guide students to make those connections too.
- How can this novel be paired with another text?
Simply put, pairing two texts, especially two novels, is a fantastic way to encourage text-to-text connections, and this is an important part of becoming a lover of literature. Encourage your young readers to see how books can really come into conversation with each other. When pairing books, select texts with similar themes, set in the same time period, or focus on the same issues or topics. I loved to have students read two novels at once – one in the classroom and one for homework. Not only did students have valuable opportunities to synthesize across texts, it also meant they were reading more: often over 12 novels in a school year. Yes, 12! Pairing novels is not the only option either. Pair books with short stories, poems, music lyrics, nonfiction readings, or other source material that will allow space for students to see how pieces of art and creation each contribute to a shared conversation. Doing so invites them to join.
- Is the novel appropriate for my group of students?
Ever get suggestions to teach novels from parents, students, or other teachers? I love to share my love of novels with others as well, but these suggestions must always be taken with a grain of salt. Why? Well, context matters. When you have 30, 60, 90 or more students, there are a lot of factors to consider when selecting books. Some of those factors include the maturity level of the group of students, the dynamics between students in class, your relationship with classes, and the topics you are willing to explore with students. I have been in the middle of teaching a novel and realized the book was not a right fit for them. It is not a good feeling. When that happened, I began to check in with the school counselor if I had hesitations about the content or topics in a book. Such a step paid huge returns, especially when the counselor came on board to help address the social-emotional needs of our young people. It turned a potential negative experience into a positive one, but it’s important to be reflective from the start. You know your students best; you spend hours with them each day. Harness that insight. Nobody knows them better than you.
- Does the novel fit into the goldilocks zone of difficulty?
There is a time and place for every book. But – again, context matters. The manner the students digest its content is an important consideration. Will you be reading the novel aloud in class? Will you be assigning it for homework? Will students be reading it independently? How students will engage and process the text should inform the reading level and text complexity that is right for your students given that circumstance. A great rule of thumb is to challenge students with a higher reading level, more complex text when reading it with them aloud then guiding them through literary analysis. Meanwhile, when students read at home, provide an accessible novel, allowing them to successfully engage with the text independently. For instance, Linda Sue Park’s new release, Prairie Lotus and Kelly Yang’s Front Desk would be a fantastic book pairing. Read Prairie Lotus in class and have students independently read Front Desk at home. The former is harder to comprehend due to its content and writing style while the latter contains material more familiar and easier to understand. Both have their place, but they are at their best side-by-side because each can then amplify the themes of the other.
- Do I LOVE the book?
Last but not least. You have to love the book, believe in it, and want to teach it. Teaching a novel you do not like or are tired of using in the classroom is a drag. If you are not excited about the text, it is hard to convince students to be excited about it. For instance, I like The Outsiders but I do not love it. I taught it for a couple years but eventually lacked enthusiasm and the students could tell. It made a difference. It’s hard to invest students if they see you don’t think a book is even worth your time. I decided to shelve it for a little while and make room for other texts that fit all the criteria mentioned in these articles. The result? Engaging, enthusiastic, and impactful learning in the classroom. Enthusiasm is contagious.