In my utopian classroom, students would read and write about their reading without prodding by me. We'd live in a world of books and book discussions.
I don't work in a utopia. I searched for an inspiring way for students to write critically about their reading and decided to share the ALAN Journal mini-review template as I submitted a mini-review to the ALAN Journal earlier this summer for the novel SEKRET by Lindsay Smith.
Since I didn't want students to view the free reading time as leading to an assignment, but since I wanted them to think about their reading in an on-going way so that they would be prepared for the writing when they finished their books.
Here's the procedure I followed:
1. Each day students write one-sentence essays based on their daily reading. We follow the reading and writing by sharing a couple of examples.
2. I gave students a completion date for their first free reading selection of the year.
3. Two weeks before the review due date, I gave students a handout explaining the assignment for writing an ALAN Book Review.
The two screenshots show the first and second halves of the handout. We spent time in class discussing the assignment. Using the document camera allowed me to show students the requirements and teach them how to annotate the handout in a way that supports their learning the task.
Before looking at the text of the review, I walked students through the heading and showed them examples from the ALAN Review journal. I explained that since they were writing their reviews "for publication," they needed to adhere to the formula ALAN mandates.
As students reviewed the example I wrote, we discussed the importance of giving just the right details from the plot, an overview of the characters, some information about theme, and ways to use brief quotes.
Then we turned our attention to the second part, which is the criticism. I walked students through my thought processes and reminded them that reviewers express their opinions about a book, talk about the target audience, and offer insights about concerns readers might have.
4. As students prepared their reviews, I checked their progress and answered questions during lab time. Some had confusion about their reviews in terms of where to put their names. I let them put a traditional heading on their papers or add their names at the bottom of the paper, as we see in the ALAN Review.
Most students embraced my vision, although the newness of the formatting confused them somewhat. Still, I love the way students felt free to quote from their books and share the way their reading choices resonate with them. Here is an example from one of my more reserved students who read and reviewed Winger by Andrew Smith:
As a teacher who values reading the classics and student choice, finding ways to show students their preferences matter challenges me to find new approaches to teaching literary criticism. As Kelly Gallagher reminds us: Our students typically won't grow up to be literary critics or college English professors, but they will review products on Amazon in on other online venues. It behooves us to teach them responsible ways to remember their reading from high school and to teach them to critique in responsible, thoughtful ways.
Maybe some will one day write reviews that will be published in the ALAN Journal. What better way to to connect young adults with one another.
#BookTalkaDay: This week was homecoming, but we still had our daily book talks, some to bring awareness to October as Bully Awareness Month.
Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson (YA novel, male narrator)
Tomboy by Liz Prince (graphic memoir)
The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore (nonfiction)
Countdown by Deborah Wiles (juxtaposition of historic documents and fictional narrative)
October Morning: A Song for Mathew Shepard by Leslea Newman (poetry)