For several years I’ve heard the debate as to what constitutes a book worthy of our students’ time. With the onslaught of prescriptive reading programs, for many students there seems to be a decline in a love of reading. Much to my frustration, I witnessed this in my own students. A couple of years ago, I wrote a piece called Finding a Love of Reading Faster Than a Speeding Bullet where I shared how comic books and graphic novels opened the door to reading for my students. They became enthusiastic readers.
At last year’s IRA conference, Rick Riordan said that as teachers it is our responsibility to get the right book in the hands of the right child. He went on to say that making these connections can change a child’s entire perspective on not just reading, but also the world.
I was reminded of both of these events this year when we had a student from China join us who spoke and read no English; we will call him Chao. For the first couple of weeks, we struggled to find ways he could participate in our reading and language arts class activities. Chao never complained, but it was evident that he was quickly reaching a frustration level where he would completely shut down.
One of the activities in which my students engage is blogging about what they are reading. I thought this might be a good place to begin. Using a digital translator, I discovered that Chao loved graphic novels. We went to the library together and he caught sight of Jeff Kinney’s “Diary of a Wimpy Kid.” The child who lived in constant frustration immediately lit up. With very broken English and the digital translator, Chao excitedly told me that he had read all of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books in Chinese.
He checked out the first book on that visit. When his peers were engaged in free reading, he would sit with an English copy and a Chinese copy of “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” and his digital translator. He would literally spend large chunks of reading and language arts block each day deciphering and reading the book. By the time he was on the second book, I noticed a change; Chao was no longer using the Chinese version of the book. He came to me and asked if he could try blogging about his favorite part of that book.
I watched as Chao tediously typed out his first reading blog. As soon as his blog went live, his peers immediately began commenting upon his post. They were so amazed at his ability to write in English. When they asked Chao how he learned English so quickly, he smiled a big smile and held up his copy of “Diary of a Wimpy Kid.” He told them how by using that book, he had learned how to read and write in English.
So in a world where there may debate about what books are suitable for the classroom and which are not, I stand steadfast in the power of finding that right book for each student. You just never know how one book can completely open up the world for that child. Thank you, Jeff Kinney for opening up the world for Chao. All of our lives are forever changed.
You can hear Jeff Kinney speak at the IRA 59th Annual Conference General Session on Saturday, May 10.
Come see Julie D. Ramsay present “The Global Read Aloud: One Book to Connect the World” at IRA’s 59th Annual Conference, May 9-12, 2014, in New Orleans, Louisiana. Julie D. Ramsay is a Nationally Board Certified educator and the author of “CAN WE SKIP LUNCH AND KEEP WRITING?”: COLLABORATING IN CLASS & ONLINE, GRADES 3-8 (Stenhouse, 2011). She teaches ELA to sixth graders at Rock Quarry Middle School in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. She also travels the country to speak, present, and facilitate workshops in applying technology to support authentic learning. Read her blog at juliedramsay.blogspot.com.