Reading Fiction Whole

English teacher Ariel Sacks believes it's important to lead students to make their own discoveries in literature.
—Emile Wamsteker

A language arts teacher uses a 'whole novels' approach to give her students an authentic literary experience.

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Literary fiction is an art that seeks to create an immersive experience for the reader, but we often don't approach it that way with our students. We parcel out books in pieces and ask students to analyze them along the way without the ability to understand a work in its entirety. This is sort of like asking students to interpret a corner of a painting. Without the entire context, it lacks meaning and can become frustrating.

Imagine walking into a movie theater and finding that the movie is switched off every few minutes. Someone in the front of the room asks questions designed to see if you understand what you are seeing and demands that you analyze the clip in front of the other moviegoers. Only then does he move to the next clip. It takes 12 hours to get through the entire feature-length film. If this were the norm, would you ever go to the movies?

Yet, as teachers, we continue to segment literary works and erect barriers between students and their experience of fictional worlds. In my view, this is one of the big contributors to the widespread phenomenon that teacher Kelly Gallagher famously dubbed "readicide."

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At my building we created a 'Novel Ties' Committee to ensure novels read in grades 3, 4 and 5 were completed as a 'whole' and not in parts. This was a strategic move, because we realized some teachers may not feel comfortable teaching reading via the novel approach. We also wanted to create purposeful unit plans for each novel, and avoid 'choppy' instructional practices.

We have seen great success now using the novels and the children are highly engaged using the materials. A good suggestion to getting started is to have each grade level select 1-2 novels they believe are relevant/interesting to the grade and work on developing higher order questions based on the novel content. Allow the children the opportunity to dialogue and discuss key elements of the novel and prepare a strong "PRE" novel day to gain excitement and interest! Don't limit your questions to the '5'W's' instead work on 'thinking' questions to build cognition and allow for shared inquiry amongst the children as they read the novels. This can be done at all levels and will especially benefit upper elementary readers, middle school readers and high school readers. As per the common core, allow for choice within the novels, which basically means, let the students have a voice as to what is selected. Try to align the use of the novels with your existing curriculum in ELA and perhaps work to integrate other core subject areas. This is working for us!







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