7th Grade Interactive Novel Study “Reflection”
The Pigman by Paul Zindel
First, as a middle school teacher, I tend to lean towards a cooperative student centered learning environment, and stray from the traditional teacher lecture centered classroom. I strive to create opportunities to experience learning rather than focus on taking vocabulary tests and completing worksheets. My philosophy revolves around making connections, building background knowledge and experiences, while developing lasting relationships. “Fostering the development of healthy relationships in any school can help build a positive school community where teachers, students, and school staff can work with one another in a culture of learning and affirming” (Carlisle, 2011). This concept supports the idea that students need to feel respected, supported and valued by their teachers and feel like they belong within the educational system as a whole. The overall culture and climate of the classroom needs to “address adolescent student needs for school social support to improve life satisfaction of individual adolescent students” (2011). It is important to understand that a positive sense of belonging is directly correlated with a student’s ability to be an effective member of the school community, participate in positive behaviors, and demonstrate the positive attributes needed to engage in healthy relationships that stimulate higher levels of learning.
It is obvious that students learn more from each other when the learning environment allows them to recognize their strengths and weaknesses. At the same time, critical thinking is enhanced when students are encouraged to question and discover answers together. Life is not always filled with right and wrong answers, life is often filled with challenges that require us to look deeper than the surface, determine what side we agree with, and identify evidence that supports our thoughts and ideas.
The last three years, I have spent working through a variety of novel study units, in search of the best way to share a novel with my students while facilitating learning and mastering standards. Some of the novel study methods were too long and drawn out. The core of many novel studies tend to be very heavy and thick with worksheets, graphic organizers, and vocabulary assessments where the true reading experience gets lost and students start to disengage. At the same time, with a wide range of learning needs, and reading and writing abilities in the classroom it is even more challenging to maintain a novel study without losing students along the way. Educators strive to meet the needs of all students within the general education setting; however, creating a learning environment that matches the developmental abilities and needs of young adolescents is extremely challenging when students are not reading proficiently or unable to express themselves adequately through writing.
According to Stevens, author of Integrated Reading and Language Arts Instruction, the goal of the middle school organization is to create a learning environment that matches the developmental abilities and needs of young adolescents through the integration of reading and English classes in large urban middle schools (2006). This concept can be used as a model to develop a Language Arts program that uses the cooperative learning processes to take advantage of the cognitive, social, and motivational benefits of students working together on reading and writing. The Integrated Reading and Language Arts Instruction article provides data that supports the use of integrated instruction that actively engages students.
My mission was to find a method of reading a novel directly with the class, with no required outside independent reading, eliminating the need for differentiating the novel text. Reading aloud to students while they are following along not only increases comprehension and language, it builds a foundation for background knowledge and cooperative learning. Dorn and Soffos concur that the read aloud and follow-up conversation allows teachers the opportunity to help students develop background knowledge and connect concepts so that all children can begin to clarify their thinking during their discussions with their peers and teacher (2005). Allington (2001) agrees and writes that in order for children to develop thoughtful literacy, they must be given an abundant number of opportunities throughout the day to demonstrate their understanding and to practice using comprehension strategies under the guidance of the teacher. Read aloud also stimulate curiosity in children as they are invited into a safe environment to marvel at the concepts being presented (Harvey, 1998).
The Interactive Novel Study provides students at different reading and writing levels the opportunity to read the same novel together and participate as a whole learning community. With everyone experiencing every word, phrase, image, and feeling every inch of the storyline together, the interactive novel study becomes a way to impact each individual student personally as well as academically. Tying academic skills and standards into the novel study results in an “interactive life experience” and not an “I have to learn this just because” educational moment. Author of Using Read Alouds in Today’s Classroom, Reba Wadsworth reminds us that, “given the body of research supporting the importance of read alouds for modeling fluency, building background knowledge, and developing language acquisition, Allen (2000) writes we should remind ourselves that those same benefits occur when we extend read alouds beyond the early years.”
The Interactive Novel Study brings everything that I have been looking for together. This includes connecting to students in a modern era of technology. The technology savvy adolescents of today seem to have created a dependency on feeling connected (Crittenden, 2002) in both social and academic settings. They multitask, performing tasks at the same time (email, IM, video games, etc) and have created an expectation for speed and immediacy of response or information (Oblinger & Oblinger, 2006). These adolescents prefer learning by doing and are more comfortable with image-rich environments rather than with text (Tapscott, 2002). Brainstorm and experimenting with using an online platform to facilitate a novel study is how the concept of Interactive Novel Study immerged. Technology has become part of the way we interact in our microsystems of family, friends, and school by expanding on-line access and instant communication (Russo, Fallon, Zhang, Acevedo, 2014).
This year is the beginning of the Interactive Novel Study, and now I have the basis to refine and build an experience that allows students to grow socially, emotionally and academically. The key to the Interactive Novel Study is using questioning and encouraging students to learn from each other. Fostering independent thinking and hunting for evidence to support thoughts and ideas is crucial for growth. Students come to understand that when sharing experiences and cooperative learning, in general terms, there is no right or wrong answer, there is evidence to support your thoughts and ideas. This approach allows students to become more comfortable with themselves and sharing what they are thinking. Providing students opportunities to increase their confidence and develop the skills to support what they are thinking, allows them to grow and master content that is put in front of them.
On the other side, it is essential that students understand that when there is a right and wrong answer, getting the answer wrong can prove to be a greater opportunity to learn. When we are presented with a wrong answer, we work together to understand why an answer is incorrect. What evidence can we collect that will help support determining the correct answer? As students learn to discuss and debate, why they are selecting an answer, they can help each other enhance their ability to think critically about questions, evidence, and answers.
The Interactive Novel Study is one piece in the world of secondary learning. The Interactive Novel Study satisfies the student’s personal need to belong and to be validated. The Interactive Novel Study fosters critical thinking through questioning and reasoning while providing academic enrichment. The interactive Novel Study provides the educator with a platform to differentiate, assess, and adapt to individual student needs without creating additional work. The future of the Interactive Novel Study, effective teachers with engaged students.
Allington, R. (2001). What really matters for struggling readers: Designing research-based programs. New York: Addison Wesley Longman.
Carlisle, Mariko (2011). Healthy Relationships and Building Developmental Assets in Middle School Students. Canadian Journal of Education, 34, 3, 18-32.
Crittenden, S. (2002). Silicon daydreams: digital pastimes of the wired generation. Virgina.edu, vol VI.
Dorn, L., & Soffos, C. (2005). Teaching for deep comprehension. Portland, ME: Stenhouse.
Harvey, S. (1998). Nonfiction matters. Portland, ME: Stenhouse.
Oblinger, D. & Oblinger, J. L. (2006). Is it age or IT: first steps toward understanding the net generation? California School Library Association Journal, 29(2), 8-16.
Theresa J. Russo, Moira A. Fallon, Jie Zhang, and Veronica C. Acevedo (2014). University Students Need to Connect. Brock Education, 23(2), Spring 2014, pp. 84-96.
Wadsworth, Reba M. (2008). Using Read Alouds in Today’s Classrooms. Read alouds benefit children of all ages and in all subjects. Leadership Compass, Vol. 5, No. 3, Spring. NAESP.