Teacher comics: From Divergent to The Book Thief…


I love utilizing sustained silent reading in my classroom. I’m good at it. Even so, there are pitfalls that students and teachers can fall into if they are not collectively careful.

One thing I see constantly during SSR time students doing is crutching out in a beloved genre and not allowing themselves the opportunity to branch into other types of books. A kid who loves Lord of the Rings could happily spend the rest of his/her life reading nothing but LoTR-style fantasy and never see anything else. While we can all be happy that student is reading, I also think we can agree it would be a shame if s/he never had the chance to try any other kinds of books. It’s like going to 31 Flavors and only getting Butter Pecan for your entire life.

Another thing I wanted to address in a sideways fashion is the amount of teacher passivity during sustained silent reading time. SSR should not be seen as a day off for teachers. They should be active in the classroom in all sorts of ways. I tried to show this with my interactions with Mika but there are all sorts of ways teachers can be invested in SSR time. I recommend regular conferences with students, but again that’s up to the teacher.

This run of comics ends with me recommending The Book Thief to Mika. While it’s not a sci-fi dystopian novel by any stretch of the imagination, it does have the dark themes and big concepts I believe will play to her interests. Being able to do make this kind of recommendation is the kind of thing a teacher can do only if they’ve had the time to get to know their students’ interests, an innate understanding of the student’s reading level, and honestly you need a good classroom reading library with a deep bench of choices for the student.

I have found great success working with students in this way… but you can see where this would be a tough thing to do in our current climate of “teach to the test” and “make do with less.” I’m thankful for the luck I’ve had in fundraising for my classroom library because on the whole, schools aren’t interested in sinking a ton of cash into classroom libraries.

…so takeaways from this week of comics:

1. Sustained silent reading couched in student interest is good.

2. SSR for students shouldn’t be a passive time for the teacher; they need to make themselves actively involved.

3. A strong classroom lending library is an asset to this kind of work.

4. Everyone go read The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Hell, read I Am The Messenger while you’re at it, I like that book JUST as much as The Book Thief.

5 Responses to “Teacher comics: From Divergent to The Book Thief…”

  1. There is more challenging reading in the dystopian future genre, Margaret Atwood has written a number of very powerful books. See Oryx and Crake or The Handmaid’s Tale as examples.

  2. Love your insight into teaching and comics, Chris.

    I may be a little late on the suggestions, but one of my favorite dystopian novels (that also happens to have a strong female character!) is “Shades of Grey”. Note the lack of “Fifty” in the title.

    Like most of Jasper Fforde’s stories, I couldn’t put it down. The only bad thing I have to say about it is how it ended with the reader NEEDING to find out what happens next, but he has yet to write a second book. Maybe some day.

  3. Has she started this book and does she enjoy it?

    • Christopher Pearce Says:

      She has and she does! I should say, while some of my comics deal with things currently happening in my classroom, this particular run dealt with some notes I took with a student last year (2013-2014).

      So maybe more accurately, she has, she does, and she did:)

  4. Christopher, check out “The Book Whisperer” by Donalyn Miller, if you haven’t already. The whole book is about her unique approach to student choice for reading. While not all of her ideas will be feasible for a high school lit class (she is a 6th grade reading teacher), a lot of what she suggests is really thought provoking.

    She talks about how she gets the kids to read outside their preferred genre. Basically, she requires that her kids read 40 books over the course of the school year, but she has a checklist that the kids have to fulfill. They have to read a certain amount of books from each of the different genres, and they get a large percentage of… I guess you could say ‘wild card’ choices. So if a sci-fi fan blows through the requisite number of books for their sci-fi requirement, they can still read some more sci-fi and have it count for their wild card choices.

    It sounds wild, but she makes a good case for it. I highly recommend the book.

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