With such a huge emphasis nowadays on testing and standards, it can sometimes feel like teachers are encouraged to teach only to the academic sides of their students.
But of course, students aren't just numbers or test scores. They're people! Complex people with social, emotional, cognitive, linguistic, and academic aspects.
And not surprisingly, the most effective way to foster an optimal learning environment is to engage the whole child. This is where novels come in! Novels can help you take the dryness of an ELA standard and make it juicy, meaningful, and exciting to a kid!
1. Reading novels together builds community.
Teachers know that making your classroom into a community is essential. We accomplish this in a myriad of ways, and studying novels together is just another tool to add to your toolbox.
When your class or a group within your class dives into a meaningful story together, they are experiencing the highs and lows of that story side by side. A sense of community is inevitable as students laugh, gasp, or even cry together when reading a story.
Reading Harry Potter? Listen and smile as your kids cheer Harry on during a Quidditch game, or shake their heads at Ron when he makes yet another clueless comment. Reading Old Yeller? Weep right alongside your kids when the inevitable tears well up at the end of the book. How about Sideways Stories from Wayside School? Your kids will collectively chuckle, smile, and shake their heads at all the comedy and irony.
As characters come to life, and plots unfold with twists and turns, you (and they!) will feel this strong sense of inclusion, no matter a child's academic level, as you all live the story together.
2. Reading novels together awakens self-expression.
Children are growing people. They have a natural yearning for purpose, and they are developing their personalities. They want to express themselves.
Novels, as opposed to short stories, are deep, rich, and full of interesting characters and complex situations. Children can not only relate to these things, but children can also have opinions about them!
By guiding discussions about carefully chosen novels, your students will have opportunities to share from their own lives, as they relate to the stories and express their opinions about them. You'll be surprised at the stories that students are willing to share with you, when something in a novel reminds them of something in their own lives.
3. Reading novels together provides access to all.
When teaching a whole-class or a group novel, I encourage teachers to stay away from using the reading of the novel for fluency practice.
One great method is to let the students listen to an already fluent reader. Play the audiobook version of the book as the students follow along in their own copies. Or read it aloud yourself! This keeps everyone on the same page (pun intended) in the sense that no matter a child's reading level, he or she is still able to access the story.
Naturally, different children will have varying levels of understanding at the start of a book. Some may struggle with the higher vocabulary, while others will be clueless about the historical context of a particular book.
But as you move through the story, and hold continued and frequent discussions day by day, you'll begin to fill in the gaps. And those kiddos that may have been straggling behind a bit will gain some footing and start to "get it."
Have I convinced you yet? If you're ready to read a novel with your students, check out some of my novel studies below!
To experience EVERY emotion under the sun with your students, dive into Harry Potter:
To share lots of laughs (and maybe some disgusted groans) with your students, check these out:
To cry shameless tears with your students (because everybody needs a good cry sometimes), check these out:
To experience edge-of-your-seat suspense with your students, check these out: