This where the teacher needs to step up, grab hold, and jump off the traditional teaching ledge; and take the plunge into the world of the adolescents (Kaufenberg, 2017).

Why an Interactive Novel Study?

Adjusting to the World Around Us:

The majority of teachers will admit they are constantly thinking about their classroom and planning what is next. Even seasoned teachers, with their go-to bag of tricks, are on the lookout for new ideas to bring into the classroom. One of the main reasons, that teaching is an endless cycle of planning, revising, and planning is because the world around us is in a constant state of motion. As society evolves and changes, education must adjust to meet the needs of the people. In many cases content may stay the same, for example, reading Lord of the Flies by William Golding in language arts class is part of the curriculum to help students make connections while studying government in civics class. Reading the classic stays constant, how the novel is read, the daily lessons, and enrichment activities often change or need to be adjusted based on the group of students that enter the classroom each school year.

Of course, there are some basic core elements that teachers will argue never change and this may be true; however, it is essential that teachers remain fluid and adjust to the world. All of the elements that make up a good teacher will only last as long as the teacher can maintain balance. Maintaining balance, between classroom management, curriculum, students, and society, is the key to student and teacher success alike. This balance can only be achieved through fluidity and direct connections to the real world. It is important that we take a step back, refocus, and step forward in a direction that meets the students on their playing field.

The initial intention of the Interactive Novel Study was to take the constant of reading novels in middle school and adjust it to fulfill personal and academic needs of the students and the teacher. At the same time, the Interactive Novel Study established a platform that was built around the essential elements required for middle school students to grow as readers and adolescents. First, it is important to understand the key elements and main goals of the Interactive Novel Study. Second, understanding how reading and adolescence impacts overall learning and quality of life is required for a teacher to implement the Interactive Novel Study successfully in middle school.

Interactive Novel Study Core Elements:

  1. Novel study is an experience the class shares together
  2. The novel study makes direct connects to adolescent life and challenges
  3. Novel is read aloud to the students, students do not read on their own
  4. Small group and whole class discussions revolve around the themes and elements of the novel
  5. Teacher facilitates discussions that are student lead and revolve around students connections to the novel
  6. Questioning and inquiry-based teaching encourages students to explore and support their ideas
  7. Evidence from the novel and other sources support thoughts and ideas
  8. ELA Common Core Standards are embedded into the novel study, standards alone do not drive the novel study, student needs determine the direction of the study
  9. Assessments are connected to real world experiences
  10. Technology is incorporated and used throughout the novel study
  11. The novel and discussion are mobile and reflect social media and adolescent need to socialize
  12. Worksheets and traditional pencil and paper assignments are avoided at all costs

Interactive Novel Study Main Goals and Objectives:

  1. To implement a novel study that is differentiated for all reading abilities and cognitive levels
  2. To Develop common experiences and background to build healthy relationships
  3. To Facilitate critical thinking and problem solving for real world challenges
  4. To create opportunities to practice and master oral and written communication skills
  5. To build a curiosity and need for reading while fostering lifelong readers and learners
  6. To establish a learning environment where students feel safe, secure and take ownership in the education process

Understanding Reading and Adolescence:

Evidence shows that the majority of middle school students struggle as they move through adolescence. The core of the struggle for students can vary from typical adolescent physical and psychological changes to the increase in educational diversity and academic difficulties. In most cases, the combination of personal and academic changes are at the root causing students to falter.

As students are leaving elementary they are beginning to show signs of wanting and needing to become more in control and responsible for their own learning. During this time, it is essential for educators to foster the needs and desires while guiding students as they transition into high school. “Adolescents are striving towards independence during a time in their lives when physiological and psychological changes are occurring rapidly. The rapid changes and desire for independence can make adolescents more self-conscious about their bodies and their emotions” (Stienberg and McCary, 2012). Even though students are moving through this major change in their lives with desires of independence, they still want the opportunity to talk with adults about their education and feel that adults care. Stienberg and McCary note, that students feel empowered when they are viewed as knowledgeable participants in the educational process (2012). Several studies have demonstrated that this empowerment goes farther than most educators imagined, and students are thinking metacognitively as well as critically about their education.

The Interactive Novel Study takes into account student need for independence as well as the desire for communication. For example, the novels Touching Spirit Bear by Ben Mikaelsen, and The Pigman by Paul Zindel, both explore topics that are relevant to adolescents. The key is to recognize that the themes and topics raised in the novel are not always discussed aloud in everyday life. This where the teacher needs to step up, grab hold, and jump off the traditional teaching ledge; and take the plunge into the world of the adolescents. The Interactive Novel Study opens up the classroom to discussing challenges that all middle school students face either directly or indirectly. Reading a novel together provides a common experience that students can use to start sharing and relating. Teachers need to facilitate conversations about real life and address the topics that often are left unsaid. Students become actively engaged when teachers share stories and ask questions that relate to the “crazy things” that are going on with adolescents emotionally and physically. Discussing life’s challenges with growing up, family, friends, and choices brings students into the forefront of their world and opens the doors to learning. The Interactive Novel Study provides the teacher with the opportunity to use this open door into the adolescent world as a gateway to facilitate growth in reading and communication. This growth ripples across content areas and lays a foundation for future academics success.

As content demands increase, literacy demands also increase: students are expected to read and write across a wide variety of disciplines, genres, and materials with increasing skill, flexibility, and insight. Referring to the increasing complexity in meaning and vocabulary that content area texts present, there are a number of potential sources of trouble for the adolescent reader: decoding, fluency, vocabulary, background knowledge, and critical thinking (Snow and Biancarosa, 2003, p. 5). The Interactive Novel Study indirectly and directly addresses the potential areas of academic concern through the use of oral and written discussions. Reading the novel aloud together and stopping at various points to discuss vocabulary and concepts provides opportunities to address individual student needs. Using questioning to invoke critical thinking and encouraging students to support their thoughts and ideas with evidence is critical to the success of the Interactive Novel Study.

Differentiation is a word that often makes teachers cringe or crawl back into the space under their teacher desk. The majority of teachers want to adjust what they are teaching and how they assess students to meet the needs of the student. Unfortunately, differentiation is not easy and it requires planning and continual informal assessments and observations. The Interactive Novel Study addresses the issue of time and ongoing assessment, allowing the teacher to take an active role in facilitating learning and providing the students with the opportunity to take ownership in their own learning. First, the educator needs to have an understanding of how individual students vary with not only reading levels, comprehension, and background knowledge.

For instance, the same reader may perform quite differently when reading a history text assigned by the teacher and when reading a self-selected novel. Motivation to read, relevant background knowledge, and degree of personal connection to the text differentiate these two reading tasks and can influence outcomes. The reader who can maintain high motivation even when reading for other-directed purposes, who has ample background knowledge across a wide array of domains, and who has good strategies to apply when experiencing comprehension difficulties will be a good reader across various sorts of texts and tasks (Snow and Biancarosa, 2003, p. 6). The Interactive Novel Study stimulates cooperative learning and sharing individual strengths to help each other work on our weaknesses. Identifying and discussing our strengths and weaknesses is key to growth and learning.

Using a novel study to meet students in their world and maintain engagement, while opening the door to developing reading and communication skills not only meets students individual needs, it creates a foundation for future success in school and life.

Resources:

Snow, Catherine E. and Biancarosa, Gina (2003). Adolescent Literacy and the Achievement Gap: What Do We Know and Where Do We Go From Here? Harvard Graduate School of Education. Carnegie Corporation.

Stienberg, Mary Anne, and McCary, Erica D. (2012). Listening to Their Voices: Middle Schooler’s Perspective of the life in Middle School. The Qualitative Report, Volume 17, Article 68.

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