Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Kinley Blows the Whistle

Last night at the dinner table, I had one of those moments that would make the Golden Apple Award selection committee want to change their minds about me.  Kinley was reading as she ate, frantically trying to finish her assigned book so that she could earn the right to use one of the 15 NookColors I have for my class, when she informed me that the book I had assigned to her was "not appropriate for kids her age."

Oh brother.

Last school year I wrote a Public Schools Foundation of Tippecanoe County grant for $3615 to buy 15 NookColor ereaders for my classroom.  These ereaders would allow my students to read books on their own levels, and I hoped that the new technology would renew their excitement about reading. 

Last Tuesday, I announced to the class that it was time to begin using the Nooks.  The students would first need to finish the books they were currently reading and take the Accelerated Reader tests on their books.  Then they would be assigned paperback books to read that fit their specific Guided Reading levels. 

The Guided Reading system levels books from A to Z so that children can read books that are a "good fit" for their abilities in comprehension and vocabulary.  I spent several weeks at the beginning of the year testing each child individually for independent reading level, and I used this information to help the children find "good fit" books from my shelves.  My students fall in the Q-Z range, with the class average being about a V.  (V is roughly equivalent to 6th grade level.)

We would track how long it took for the children to read their assigned books and calculate the number of pages read per day.  Once finished with the paperbacks, the children were required to take the AR tests.  After they had completed all of these things, they would be rewarded with NookColors to use. 

Kinley is reading at a level Y, as are several other students in the class.  She and two other kids were ready to be assigned leveled books, so I went to my shelves to help them choose.  They all chose a Newbery-winning book titled A Corner of the Universe.  I hadn't read this book, but I knew that the winners of the Newbery medal are dependably high-quality literature.  I checked the books out to them and sent them off to begin reading.

So imagine my horror at the dinner table when Kinley begins to detail the "inapprpriate parts" of the book.  "First," she said, "there is a suicide.  One of the characters hangs himself."

"Well, that's not pleasant, but it could be worse," I thought.

"And also, Mom, there's the word B-O-S-O-M-S!"

Oh brother.  Here we go.  "Let me see the book," I said, reaching across the table.  She quickly flipped to the most offending section and triumphantly handed over the book.  Sure enough, it got worse.  One character walks into his love interest's room while she is, um, occupied with someone else.  Shirts are unbuttoned.  Bedclothes are disheveled.

An awkward silence followed, both in the book and at our dinner table.

"See?" Kinley says accusingly.  "I see," I admit. 

While Kinley is gloating over the fact that her teacher, her mother, has assigned such filth for her to read, all I can think about is the two other boys (one a 4th grader!) who were also assigned this book.  What would their parents think?  What would they think?  Oh brother.

So today at school, I lie in wait for the 4th grade boy to get to school.  As soon as he arrives, I accost him and practically rip the book from his innocent little fingers.  "Um, this book isn't really appropriate for you, so I'm going to help you find a new one today," I say with a look that negates the casual tone of my speech.

"Oh, good," he said.  "I hadn't gotten very far, and I didn't really like it anyway."  Whew!  One crisis averted!

When boy #2 arrives, the response is different.  He had finished the book the night before, in record time.  Oh brother.  I would have to go and talk to his mom, a paraprofessional at our school, during lunch.

She ended up taking it really well, and even gave me a hard time about assigning her son a NookColor with a floral cover.  Whew!  A second crisis averted.

Now I just have to make sure Kinley keeps this to herself so the Golden Apple Committee never gets wind of it.  And maybe I'll hide my award, just in case.


Toby said...

I rely heavily on those Newberry/Caldecott medals as well. I think that this is a product of this type of classroom/student ability level. I have struggled with this very issue for years for Jordan and now once again for Kendall as she is already somewhere around level N-P I think and only in the first grade.

boyd2 said...

This is SUCH a huge issue, Toby. Yesterday I spent some time thinking about whether or not I have it in me to try to write a book that is level Y or Z and yet still appropriate for 4th and 5th graders. There is such a need! I sincerely wish that authors and editors would notice this gap and take action.

I've also noticed that usually the books that ARE high and yet appropriate are science fiction or fantasy. That's great for some kids, but some kids really prefer realistic fiction. Those are the ones that are either classics (and therefore difficult to decode because of the antiquated language and syntax) or are inappropriate in terms of maturity of the themes and situations.

Lanita Boyd said...

Oh, Gina! I love it when you make me laugh out loud. I could picture the whole scene and suffered along with you. So now what are you going to do with the offensive books that are on your shelf? I'd say donate them to the middle school library. Those kids will eat that stuff up.

boyd2 said...

Well, I'll probably keep my hardback copy since I do sort of collect Newberys and honors, but I'll certainly pass on the literaure circle set that I bought. Great idea to send it to middle school! Maybe I can pull a Hogwarts and have a "restricted" section of my library! :) Of course, then the Hermiones of teh 4/5 GT class would still find a way to get to them....