Aviva Rosman is a 2011 REALITY Israel Experience alumna and a second-year corps member in Chicago, where she teaches 9th-grade literature and leads a pull-out reading class for special education students. Aviva recently used a Make It Happen Project micro grant to attend the 35th Day of Reading Conference, a day-long series of workshops dedicated to the informal and formal exchange of ideas related to literacy. Aviva’s experience not only gave her practical skills to improve her work in the classroom but re-invigorated her to do the important work she does every day.
“You’re all going to need to go undercover,” Dr. Jeffrey Wilhelm said to a room full of high school English teachers last Saturday at the Secondary Reading League’s Day of Reading Conference. “We are receiving reports that there is a drug being passed around the local high school that can make people fall in love. We need you to investigate this drug, and then report back on how it’s used, what are its advantages and any other possible side effects. Now, before I send you out on this mission, I will now accept any preliminary questions about this so-called love drug.”
Forty high school English teachers were suddenly on the edge of their seats.
This was the beginning of Dr. Wilhelm’s presentation of a unit he does with his students on John Collier’s 1951 short story “The Chaser.” By the end of his introduction, I will admit, my impatience to begin reading the actual text had reached the level of a Harry Potter book. Dr. Wilhelm said this was fairly common; he once had a student call her mom after school and beg her to cancel her orthodontist appointment for the next day.
At my school, I co-teach a literature class to high school freshman. As a special education teacher, I most often work with the students least excited about reading. These are the students who look at a photocopied short story full of unknown words and long paragraphs and give up before finishing the title. For some of my students, even as I read out loud, they tune out, having given up hope that they will be able to understand what they are reading.
There’s a lot of books and programs out there for struggling readers in elementary school. My search for the past year has been for materials and activities to use with high school boys that help them learn to read without embarrassing them. How can I find a second grade level text that isn’t about a trip to the zoo or a spooooooky Halloween?
At this conference last Saturday, I found a ballroom full of educators all struggling with the same question. And unlike many professional development opportunities I’d been to before, we didn’t just talk about strategies, we tried them out ourselves.
That’s how I found myself at a literary tea party sharing the quote on my index card with five other strangers and working with them to create a prediction about the article I was about to read. Or having a written conversation with two older women from the suburbs about Andrew Carnegie.
Or my favorite: pretending to be the “bad angel” sitting on the shoulder of the protagonist of “The Chaser,” trying to convince him that drugging an indifferent girl into loving him was absolutely a great idea.
Not only did I leave the conference with a folder full of great strategies, but I rediscovered the joy I felt in my own really great high school English classes. I am so passionate about teaching my students to read, but sometimes I forget that learning to read isn’t just about educational equity and empowering my students to participate in the outside world—it’s about enjoying a great story!
I left the conference and told my roommate, “I have a great story that you HAVE to read.”
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