The funny thing about educational research is if you look hard enough you can usually find studies to support both sides of an issue. Very rarely do you find a straight yes or no answer to what is a good or bad theory or practice. Generally, it boils down to the common sense of the teacher in regards to his/her individual students and the level of freedom the teacher is given by the administration.
Sadly in today’s standardized test-heavy climate teachers are given less and less freedom to choose what is best for their students. So many curriculum guidelines have become so rigid that teachers are not able to modify or enrich with their own lessons and materials.
I struggled with this myself while teaching 4th grade. I taught in a high-poverty, low-scoring school. Most of my 4th graders could read at a 1st-2nd-grade level. Very few came to me over the years reading on grade level. The biggest challenge I had as a reading teacher was to get kids excited about reading. They saw it as such a challenge and our district used a basal series for reading instruction that was unrelatable and very boring! The students saw no reward for their challenge of getting through a story because the stories were so uninspiring and they had no emotional connection. I knew if I could “turn them on” to a book they would see more value in reading and see a “payback” so to speak.
Fortunately, I was blessed with a principal that valued my knowledge as a teacher and let me teach as I saw best for my students. I started with a read aloud time where the kids would get comfortable and I would read to them. Kids in the upper elementary grades don’t get read to enough in my opinion. It is reserved for the emergent readers of the primary grades. I chose high-interest, generally humorous books that the kids could just enjoy. I didn’t strive for any deep thinking for this activity. I just wanted the kids to experience reading as enjoyable. This turned into a favorite part of the school day for the students and for me.
Once I got my feet wet a bit in the classroom I started to develop novel studies for books where a short excerpt had been made in the basal. It is only common sense that reading the whole book is more enjoyable and leads to a much greater understanding by the student. Of course, I was careful to incorporate the skills taught in the basal in my units. I started teaching these novel units alongside the basal stories and the change between reading the basal versus the novel was amazing. I had kids who were reading at a 2nd-grade level actually focused and challenging themselves reading the chapter books that were at a 4th-grade reading level. They actually wanted to read them versus just getting through some worksheet assignment from the basal. More and more these lower-level readers were chiming in on class discussions about the books and picking up age-appropriate books by choice in their free time. As a teacher, I found it easier to use Bloom’s higher-order questions using a novel instead of a short excerpt because you could really dive so much farther into the story and the characters.
I see similar experiences with my own children when they are allowed to read a “real” book vs. a text-based short story. They’ve never come home from school excited about something they read in a basal, but they have many times come home and we’ve had lengthy discussions about novels that they are reading!
As for the sought-after test scores, I didn’t do any formal research on the subject but my student’s scores certainly did not drop and their love of reading soared! Sadly this is not a statistic that is looked at often enough.
Another huge benefit to novel study-based reading instruction is the ability to really enhance the student’s critical thinking skills by diving deep into character and plot development. Sadly, we are seeing fewer and less critical thinking-focused activities in the current “test-prep” atmosphere in schools today.
Maybe the most beneficial reason of all to use novels in the classroom is to really tap into the empathy and awareness that books can bring to students. By reading books, like Wonder and El Deafo students can learn about different disabilities and how people learn to live with and excel despite their disabilities. Books such as Number the Stars and Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes can be a great introduction to the Holocaust and the bombing of Hiroshima for elementary students. Hatchet and Esperanza Rising are great books to dive in with a character that faces and survives insurmountable odds. The One and Only Ivan helps students empathize and think about the impact that we humans have on the planet as a whole. These are just a few examples of how a novel can get students thinking deeply about issues that can motivate them to enact positive change in our world.
Using novel studies in the classroom can provide numerous benefits for students and can be a great way to enhance their learning experiences. The benefits of incorporating novel studies into your curriculum are:
- Improved Reading Skills: By reading and analyzing a novel, students can develop and improve their reading skills, including comprehension, critical thinking, and vocabulary.
- Cultural Awareness: Novels often reflect the culture and values of a specific time and place, allowing students to gain a better understanding of different perspectives and worldviews.
- Enhance Writing Skills: By writing essays and participating in class discussions, students can improve their writing and speaking skills.
- Encourage Empathy: By reading about and analyzing characters, students can develop empathy and learn to understand and relate to the experiences and perspectives of others.
- Promote Engagement: Novel studies can be a fun and engaging way for students to learn and can help foster a love of reading.
Incorporating novel studies into your curriculum can provide a multitude of benefits for your students and can enhance their learning experiences in many ways.
Are you interested in reading about and sharing ideas with other educators on using children’s literature in your classroom? My goal is to bring together teachers and homeschoolers who teach grades 3-8 and use novels with their students. I’d love for you to join me to learn, share, and grow together!
Click here or the image below to join my Facebook group, Book Talk with The Teaching Bank!
Hello Shelley! I enjoyed reading your article about novel studies. I was wondering if you have a general guide line about “how” to incorporate them into the weekly schedule. Do you have a specific routine or are you asking the students to share about their reading in other ways? Looking for ways to help make this happen 🙂 Thanks!
Thank you for reaching out. Of course, it would depend on the age and reading level of the class you are working with, but I generally split up the daily work to approximately 20 pages of reading each day in the novel. I stick with whole chapters though so it will vary day to day based on the length of the chapters. Each day’s reading would incorporate vocabulary words (the amount would depend on the content that day) and short answer questions that focus on getting the kids thinking about what they are reading. The next day instruction begins with a class discussion going over the vocabulary and questions. Since the majority of questions aren’t general recall a discussion should be sparked where kids discuss and debate their answers. Then instruction would move on to another section with questions and vocabulary. My novel studies have writing activities and other activities intermixed throughout that you could make time for as needed.
How I’ve described above would be for a whole class novel study. This can easily be adapted to do in small groups or with individual students. Instead of a discussion with the teacher they can be done in book talk groups of students, etc. My novel studies are very easily adapted to fit the needs of the individual classroom or homeschool environment.
All of my complete novel studies contain daily teacher plans that break the book up into workable sections with a guide for vocab/questions to use with each.
Thank you for your question. If you have any further questions please feel to reach out any time at [email protected]