Sitting with the 8th graders during a recent study hall, I looked up from my computer to see one of my students from last year’s Humanities 7 class approaching. Imagining she had a question about her homework or perhaps wanted to run to the library, I set my face in what I hoped was a welcoming, open, perhaps slightly quizzical expression. As she sat down on the floor with me, she began to tell me about books she had read through the summer and to ask me about what I had been reading. As the conversation lengthened and took us to more and more places, I realized she wasn’t just talking about books. She was also talking about her awareness, and her family’s awareness, of how she was growing up, able to think about and learn from an ever-greater variety of experiences, in the process exploring aspects of human nature she had thus far been fortunate enough never to have encountered. And she was perhaps also testing me to see if, now that she wasn’t in my class any more, I would still be open to talking at length with her about what she thought and what she was learning. I hope and trust I passed the test. I do know she promised to hand her current book over to me when she finished it, convinced I would love it as she did.
We are certainly a community of readers at Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School. The girls are read to in Humanities 7, Humanities 8 and ESL Reading/Writing Workshop, and moreover the houseparents have also begun reading aloud to the boarding students at night. Through our independent reading programs and group novels chosen in support of different units, students have ample opportunity to just curl up with a good book and lose themselves in the story. Often when one student makes a “text-to-text connection” and explains how one book makes her think of another (one of the strategies used by good readers to help their comprehension), she will provoke an outpouring of similar connections until I eventually decide it’s time to redirect the class back to the original, central discussion.