August 3, 2008

Students Who Think in the Summer

At the end of the school year, I worked on forming an online book club for students in our program. We are one of those awful schools that gives out reading lists, and the 8th graders are asked to write a response to book they read! Homework over the summer, baby! The effort to form this club didn't work out as well as I had hoped, and I had very few interested students sign up to join. It's quite sad how few. Very sad. At a humiliating level. I hope this does not mean my students had no plans to read this summer. No worries, though. After school starts, and my influence on the students is stronger, I'll try again.

The program we are using is Shelfari, which is where the bookshelf you see on the left comes from. (I have a teen-friendly account that I use with my students. If I had juniors or seniors, I probably wouldn't bother censoring, but middle schoolers...) I like to think of it as the MySpace for book lovers. So when I had so embarrassingly few students sign up, I didn't worry about it because even if our little book group isn't lively, those few students who did sign up would have a blast using Shelfari.

There are two students who have started some wonderful discussion in the group. One of the discussions was about favorite book characters. They had some interesting insights on character traits and motivations, but mostly it was personal connections to the characters. I do not mean to downplay this at all--without personal connections, why read a fictional book? Bleah.

The discussions that impressed me--and made me think--were about reading preferences in tenses and perspectives. I love the fact that they are thinking about perspectives, which lend to ideas on author motivation and speculation on how some books might be different if told form a different perspective. The discussion went on further in discussing whether we prefer to write in first or third person and the advantages and limitations of each. Oh! It was such a wonderful discussion! And no, I didn't start it!

The discussion about perspective was by far more impressive than the one about tenses, but I was intrigued by the idea because I've never thought about my preferences in tenses, as it seems to me that the majority of books I've read are in past tense. To further the discussion on tense, we also talked about which tense we preferred to write in. We all agreed that present tense can be awkward. (I like to write it in sometimes, but I usually mess it up so badly that I comes off sounding like someone who doesn't know much about English.)

The two students who are coming up with these discussions may or may not be in my class next year. I'm no longer the only accelerated 8th grade English teacher, but as my good fortune would have it, both of these students will be on the publications staff. I can see why their teachers recommended them! I feel so blessed already!

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