The Whole Novel Method: Teaching Students to Think

I have discovered a way to teach novels or literature while teaching writing that best balances the learning experience for English students and gives us the tools to succeed in keeping with the Common Core Standards (CCS). 

I did not come up with this method on my own, but found out about it through a very insightful teacher Ariel Sachs who believes that fiction should be read as an unbroken whole by students before it is ever discussed or studied.  The article is entitled "Reading Fiction Whole" and is in Education Week Teacher: PD Sourcebook.  You may subscribe to it here.  You can also follow her blog here.

Think of it this way: We all take a field trip to see a well talked about and well recieved film in the theater and then after the first scene, we stop the film and the teacher stands up and starts asking questions about it before we have seen the rest of it.  This is how many of us teach short stories or novels and this movie example is the same feeling students have when reading text.

Some ideas she suggests:

1. Framing the Project - She gives each student a ziploc bag with the novel, a note from her introducing the text, and a pad of post-it notes that are to be used to stick into places in the text that the student wishes to discuss when they get to the end of the book.

2.  Provide Real-Time Support - Ask daily how the reading is going.  Give them time to read independently three days a week.  Pair them up strategically by levels (high/low) to read to each other and make notes together.

3.  Tracking Progress - She uses the sticky notes for this, requiring at least 4 notes per night but gives stronger readers more responsibility. 

She has many other great ideas, and I suggest that if you are a teacher of English, you check out her article in the magazine.  You have to subscribe to it, but I have benefitted greatly from the articles within its pages.