My move to the middle school had impeccable timing. During my final year at the high school, I discovered Penny Kittle and her ideas for Reading Workshops. The seed of an idea had been planted: how could I provide my students with choice rather than dictate everything they read? When the idea first hit me, I thought I would be dealing with a curriculum for high school seniors. As the fates would have it, as I began to amass books for a classroom library, I was re-assigned to the middle school--eighth grade English--the perfect environment for growing readers.
First I shared my dream of a classroom library on my blog and social media channels. Someone suggested making a wishlist on Amazon, so that is where I started. What I learned about people is that they want to help kids read; they want to give the gift of the written word. Boxes started arriving to my house daily. Most were Amazon boxes, but some people shipped me all their gently used books because they loved the idea of a new generation of readers getting their hands on them. My sorry excuse of a 104-title library quickly grew to over three hundred.
A close friend and colleague strongly urged me to apply for Penny Kittle’s Book Love Foundation Grant. Ten applicants received 500 books for their classroom library, and while I was not one of those ten, I was a runner-up. I received $500 to purchase books for my already started library. Since then I have hit up thrift stores, garage sales, bookstore sales, and hustled to get some donorschoose.org projects for books funded.
My favorite thing about teaching middle school is that every day I am surrounded by books and reading. My students silently read books of their choice, I read aloud our required texts, and we talk and write about books. In the fourteen years that I have been teaching, I have never seen such an enthusiasm for reading as I do here in middle school. While I still have students who are self-proclaimed non-readers, they are few and far between. The majority of my students are eager and excited to read and talk about their books. I believe centering our junior high curriculum around YA literature has gone a long way to making this happen.