I remember discovering Nancie Atwell. For the very first time I felt like I understood where I was heading in my career. She opened my eyes to the workshop model and its power to unlock student readers and writers from the boxes I was kept in when I was in school. She explained to me the uniqueness of middle school, how it was not just a prep school for high school. I could see how vital the middle years were, and my passion for igniting a love of books found a home in the workshop model. So I kept reading.
Janet Allen convinced me that struggling readers needed books. Books that interested them. We call that engagement today. Are your students engaged? How many of your students are engaged? Are your lessons designed to engage the learner? Janet Allen got that. She understood that a well-crafted story could hook the most challenging students. All we had to do was match the right book to the right student. We would know our students well enough and our books well enough to know which ones to put together.
Donalynn Miller whispered of turning non-readers into readers by letting them choose what they read. I told a colleague that she claims her kids are reading by November! What a concept! But English teachers teach books, don’t they? What, we are supposed to let them explore and discard and self-monitor, and L-O-V-E books? No sticky notes? No two-column response logs? No teacher-selected, everybody reads the same book, write a journal entry at the end of each chapter reading assignments? Just read and love it? Just love reading for the beauty of the book?
In the Middle, The Reading Zone, It’s Never Too Late, Yellow Brick Roads, The Book Whisperer, Readercide, Igniting a Passion for Reading – these books changed my thinking, my teaching, and my students. We jumped in. We built a classroom library. We talked about books, good ones and bad ones, and I bought the books they asked for. We made top-ten lists and a purple passion bookcase. We blogged about what we were reading and made electronic book reports and wrote book reviews. We immersed ourselves in loving books. And students left my classroom reading. They came back from the high school asking for books. They emailed for suggestions for their next good read. Their parents kept saying thank you, thank you!
So now I say thank you to the foresighted teachers who pioneered the use of self-selected YA literature in the classroom. I say thank you to those who first experimented and then refined the reading workshop model. I say thank you to those who affirmed what I was fighting to implement, who kept me from giving in and giving up. I say thank you to those students who sat in my room and proved that young people will read if we connect them to the right books. These teacher-writers and these students are my inspiration. They are the source of the joy of my teaching and my passionate belief in reading workshop. Thank you all for making it possible for me to share with you the love of books and the adventure of reading.