Quality crafted guides connect readers with the text on an emotional level, instructional levels, and developmentally. The best of them use the story as an enticement guiding kids into a deeper, more satisfying reading experience. They should be packed with so much inspiration that a kid can’t resist but to read more and more and more and more…
Early in my teaching career, I was charged with the daunting duty of guiding a novel study group comprised of a pack of 5th grade boys (and I mean ‘a pack’, as in wolves) through the timeless middle-grade novel, Johnny Tremain. The dispiriting aspects of this challenge were that the leader of the pack was a non-reader and the novel’s small-printed text is about as dense as they come. Not an opportune mix, I assure you. We were in for a long six-week study of Esther Forbes’ Newbery Medal winning masterpiece unless I could come up with something creative – fast!
I did what any desperate teacher might do. I bought a boat-load of teacher guides – some better than others. I plowed through them in search of the most insightful lessons I could find, those that might keep the pack interested and engaged. All the while, their alpha male tried his best to derail my plans at every turn. Ah, the joys of teaching.
I insisted that he sit through our weekly novel study discussions, though he hadn’t read a word of the novel. He was forced to listen to den mates discuss their enthusiastic interpretations of the readings. And then, an incredible thing happened. Top Dog connected with the story. Johnny Tremain came to my rescue! All the talk of fires and muskets and Paul Revere charging into the night captured his imagination. He was seduced into reading. Not the entire book, mind you. Just the exciting parts.
So, the big deal about good reading guides is that they can make a great reading experience even more intriguing. Through well-crafted lessons investigating aspects of the text and elements of craft, kids can connect with the story on a more personal level. And, who knows? In the end, maybe the stack of Johnny Tremain teacher guides I bought may have helped to transform my 5th grade wolf-like tyrant into a life-long reader.
Wouldn’t that be something?