Monday, March 24, 2014

It's Time for a Book Tasting

This year has been filled with so many wonderful things. One of which has been the large number of books that my students have shared with me. I have an ever-growing list of highly recommended books that no matter how much I read, I can never seem to put a sizable dent in. I love it! However, many times, my reader come to me looking for a recommendation based on what they've read. They typically find an author that they love and read everything that he/she has written (like me). This always brings to mind what Rick Riordan said in his keynote at IRA last year: as a teacher it is my responsibility to get the right book into the hands of the right reader.

With there being so many great books out there, that call to action seems almost daunting. How can I expose my students to a multitude of books from which to select all which could appeal to their specific needs and interests?  I was reminded of what a students said in a session at Teaching & Learning, she said that a recommendation would mean so much more coming from another student. And that is how our Book Tasting was born.

Three days before our first Book Tasting, I led a discussion on the
process they each go through in finding their next great read. My learners all admitted that they have varied tastes depending on what is going on in their lives at the time. That was the perfect portal for introducing the Book Tasting. Each student created a recipe for a book that they wanted to share that was also one that others may not have heard of before. They looked at recipes to determine what elements needed to be included in this style of writing in addition to what elements of the book that should be included to tempt the reader to read their scrumptious literary dish. The day before the book tasting, each student brought their recipe and a copy of their book to share. Because I teach multiple classes, I included all of the books from all of the students to give them a wider selection of books.

On Book Tasting Day, I set up the class like a diner including 50's Rock and Roll, tablecloths, flowers, a platter full of books, and a "Wait to Be Seated" sign at the door.  When I seated each party, they each were given a menu where they could add any of the dishes as an appetizer, main course, or dessert depending on their preferences. Then the learners dove into their platter of books, reading the recipe, a portion of the book, and discussing it with the other readers in their party. Some students really got drawn into reading books, unwilling to relinquish them for other learners at their table. After about ten minutes or so of previewing reading and discussing their platter, they would receive a whole new platter of books to savor and discuss with one another. In the course of the period, students tasted at least forty new books and almost all of them had written down more ideas for their independent reading than their menus could hold.

As I walked around the room and enjoyed listening and engaging in informal book chats with each of
my tables, I was thrilled at the level of excitement. Often a student would comment on one of the books on the platter and another reader at the table would share additional recommended reading based on their experiences. The students took their love of a certain book or author and shared it with their peers. The conversations were rich and demonstrated much about each one of my readers. They have learned how move beyond simple sharing the the plot to internalizing and connecting literature to other literature, lessons in other content area classes, and events in their loves. They discussed commonality in themes and analyzed an author's writing style. They even discussed how an author's writing had changed throughout their career and how the time period in which an author wrote directly impacted the style or content in a book.

At the end of class, they each left with a menu full of reading options...options they were excited about trying that came recommended from one of their peers. You know you've found something great when students all  complain that the class went by too fast and that they are afraid they may have missed a hidden treasure on one of the platters. Will we have another Book Tasting? Absolutely! I know those reading menus will be ready to be filled again soon.

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