I have spent a lot of time the past two years thinking about how I want to teach. Coming back to eighth grade has been a delicious change of pace for me. I have realized how much I love this age.
They are loud, funny, emotional, clingy, and needy–but they also open up their hearts and share their thoughts and feelings, expecting no less in return.
Reading The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller last summer had a profound effect on me. Her premise is that teaching the class novel should essentially be abandoned and substituted with a reading workshop of sorts, a way for kids to read what they love. And I don’t disagree. I totally get her point.
But today we finished up A Tale of Two Cities. I know. Critics say it’s the worst Dickens’ book ever written. The characters are flat, the conflicts predictable, and the language is dated– why would anyone bother teaching it?
- Amy walked in saying she almost cried when Carton hugged the seamstress.
- Jase stayed after class to say the book really wasn’t about love or hate; it was about how everything seemed to be one thing but, in fact, was something else: the oppressed peasants were the villains, the alcoholic was the hero, the woman whose family had been killed and tortured was the villainess.
- Kendra shared her contempt for the last chapter but her intense feelings for Carton’s death.
- Sam walked in shaking her head. “Madame Defarge….wow”
- John reminded us that people of faith might approach Carton’s death differently than those who don’t believe.
- And Allegra, with her eyes shining, couldn’t help but jump in with her theory of love vs hate.
We spent the period talking about revenge, sacrifice, and what living a “good life” really means. The students admitted the book was a tough read, a challenging book they might not have tackled if not required.
I know some of them got by with Shmoop or watching the video. But many showed me their marked up text, where they had found a favorite line or questioned a phrase. Their reflections tell me that most struggled through and benefited from reading it.
I want to try the reading workshop approach and probably will second semester. But there are times when coming together over a common reading brings us all to the same place and allows us to ponder the big questions together. It was certainly “the best of times” for me.