Normally by November, independent reading would be well established in my classroom. I’d still be working with a few students to find that just right book, but most students would have finished a couple of books by now and pleasure reading–in class at least–would be part of our predictable routine.
But with the upheaval of virtual learning, a tightly packed curriculum and pacing guide, my first time teaching high school in 12 years, and the logistical challenges of getting books in the hands of students, we’re just now getting started.
Last week, the kind librarians at the Detroit Public Library created temporary library cards for all of my students. And I made (contactless, very socially distanced, sanitized books that had been packed in individual bags and sat undisturbed for 72 hours first) book deliveries to the students who want physical books.
It felt good to do some book matchmaking, creating personalized stacks based on the very little I know about my students as readers. A few named favorite books, which made it much easier to create stacks. For most, I was going off of a single interest or a favorite TV show. (It took some serious online searching to try to find a good YA match for the student who loves Prison Break.)
The first student shuffled through the browsing bag I’d filled for him and chose Hooper and All American Boys.
The second student wanted to borrow the entire bag of books I’d selected for her browsing stack (easily a dozen books because she has a lot of interests that I know about). And her sister and brother came out to the car to see if I had anything for them too.
Students 3 and 4 also looked through their entire browsing bag (7-8 books each) and asked if they could borrow the whole stack. Gladly!
Student 5 carefully pulled the four graphic novels out of his bag and confidently proclaimed himself a comics reader.
And so it went, as my traveling classroom library and bags of personalized book browsing stacks zigzagged across Detroit.
Even though independent reading is a staple of every class I’ve ever taught, I thought long and hard about whether I really wanted to tackle its logistical challenges in the fully remote classroom. What would take a matter of minutes if we were face-to-face in the classroom takes hours and hours of planning and prep on my part and days and days of virtual class time–just to set up.
This week, the many students who want to check out eBooks and audiobooks from the public library will browse slides I created of good books that are available on Libby or Hoopla; try to find the emails with their library card numbers (we’ve already spent 45 minutes of precious class time on this task alone, and in my first hour class, only 1 student of the 12 who responded to the survey reported finding their library card, so we aren’t done yet); learn how to download the Libby and Hoopla apps and connect their library cards; search for books; learn how to place holds; find a title that is available for immediate check out; and then try to tune out the many distractions of learning from home and reading on a device in order to read.
I know it’s not going to look like it usually looks.
But for now, I’m celebrating bags of books delivered into the hands of students who seemed genuinely eager to get them.