Thursday, October 25, 2012

Read Alouds: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

One wonderful thing about moving up to second grade is that I can read chapter books to my students. I love the journey a class goes through together as they read a book over a long period of time. The students bond together for their love (or hatred of a character), they have truly meaningful discussions, and they collectively experience emotional reactions to the text.

Finding appropriate books, however, has been a far bigger challenge for me than I expected. Some books the students have loved, some were just mediocre, and others were a huge flop. I'm learning a lot about what is appropriate pacing, language, and plot structure to keep my students engaged. I'm still looking for books that are meaningful, but accessible. Here have been my findings so far.

The Good

Anything Junie B Jones. The writing is quick, funny, and clever. My students love being wiser than the main character and being able to predict the upcoming conflicts that arise from Junie B's kindergarten immaturity. But let's face it, Junie B Jones is not great literature. It is the elementary school version of the beach read. While I don't want to discount mind candy reading, I want to expose my students to more complex literature with a little more depth, which is what brought me to....

The Bad

I am not saying Charlotte's Web is a bad book. Far from it! When I decided to read Charlotte's Web, I was not prepared for the complex and often dated language used by E.B. White. All I was thinking about was the melancholy story about cute farm animals. What I had not remembered was E. B. White's stance about using adult language in children's stories. I think it is a noble, wonderful cause, but it did NOT work with my students, many of whom struggle with basic English vocabulary, let alone the advanced language in Charlotte's Web. They tried desperately to be invested in the story, but it was no use. I have never seen my class more wiggly on the carpet. We made it through, and I decided to try a book that had easier language. With that attempt, I made an even poorer choice.

The Ugly

Disclaimer: I LOVE Harry Potter. LOVE. I have entered and won trivia contests. When I watched the Harry Potter series with my boyfriend (who has never read the books) I was constantly pausing to explain the background stories or elaborate on confusing portions of the movies. My obsession may have lead me to make a bad choice about reading the first Harry Potter to my class. I should say attempting to read aloud. I think we made it a chapter in. The language in Harry Potter is at their level, but a book that is almost 600 pages is far too slow of a Fall second grader. There is too much backstory, not enough action. Despite how much more I can do with my second graders than my kinder students, we haven't yet made the jump to Harry Potter. Maybe the 4th grade teacher will let me come read to his class...

Anyone out there with some good suggestions? 

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