Sunday, August 14, 2016

Reading Autobiography

Moving to middle school this year means so many new adventures. I want to try out more that I've never done before. The kids will be older, wiser??? Will I be? One thing my colleague and I decided to try the first week in language arts is reading autobiographies. 

I've heard Teri Lesesne talk about these many times. She wrote about them in her book Making the Match. Teri has also kindly written a blog post about them recently for anyone that wants to know more. (Check it out here.) 

I think these are a brilliant way to really get to know my students and their true feelings around reading. While I've taught many of the students I will have this year as fifth graders, I'm sure I will learn more about them through this writing reflection. 

Like any other assignment in my class, I did this work as well. This allows me to figure out the best directions to give my students and think about where they may get hung up. I'll share mine below in case it helps you visualize your reading autobiography. I will be sharing with my students that their autobiography will, of course, be shorter than mine because they will be stopping in 7th grade. This could lead to conversations that we've had in previous years when doing our football field writing activity at the end of the school year. Where do they visualize themselves when they are my age? What are they doing to get there? (More about that here.)

My Reading Autobiography
I was born with a love of reading. Well, maybe not born with it, but close. My parents read to me each day when I was a young. My mom said that as a toddler I could be found “reading” in the space under a slide in my playroom. I still remember when I was just about three having my mom read, and reread, the book A Baby Sister for Frances by Russell Hoban. My sister, Colleen, had just been born and it was the first time I felt like a book was written just for me.
In preschool I found a new favorite book, Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. Man, I loved that book. It made my imagination run wild. My preschool was literally on a farm - it was called Farm School. There were woods on the property that we were allowed to play in. My friends and I liked to go in the woods and pretend to be “wild things” by roaring our terrible roars and gnashing our terrible teeth. Through this book, and books like it, I learned the power of story to take me away from my real life.
In second grade I found an amazing book, The Monster at the End of This Book by Jon Stone. It was so funny it made me laugh outloud! I’d set up my stuffed animals in my room and pretend to be a teacher, sitting in front of them and reading aloud like my teacher did in class. My first grade teacher, Ms. Tuck, came to my second grade classroom and asked me if I’d like to read to her new class. Even though I was nervous to read in front of a group of kids, I took my favorite book. As I used funny voices and different intonations for Grover, the first graders laughed and laughed. I decided then that I wanted to be a teacher and make kids love a book like those kids did.
In fifth grade I discovered that you could get addicted to books, and that might get you into trouble. I’d be so compelled to keep reading my books - even when in science or math - that I’d hide them under my desk. That did not go over very well with my teachers. During fifth grade books like The Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson taught me that books can break your heart and make you cry.
Middle school was all about reading for fun. I didn’t want anything heavy or serious. I think that was because school was getting harder, my friends were filled with drama, and I wanted reading to be a place to escape. I read, and reread, this series called Couples. Each book was written by a different author and focused on a boy and girl that were dating in this group of friends. In each book they’d break up at some point and in the end they’d either get back together or you’d find out that they weren’t meant to be.
In high school, and then college, my reading began to take a nose dive. I still loved to read, but I was being assigned more and more novels to read for class. I had a hard time with some of them because they were on topics I really didn’t enjoy. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote was a murder mystery. It terrified me and I hated every moment of reading it. Once in awhile I’d find books on my own, like Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry and would fall back into my reading routine. While that book was crazy long, I still read it at least 20 times while in high school and college because I loved the world McMurtry created. My sister and I even mapped out the cattle drive in the book on an atlas my parents gave us. College was even tougher for me because the amount of reading I was assigned each week was often well over 400 pages! Thankfully, my reading life before college made that mangable.
In my twenty years in teaching, my reading life has changed dramatically. At the beginning I began reading for myself again, after eight years of a lackluster reading life in high school and college. I fell back in love with books, like the Mitford series by Jan Karon. It was about ten years into teaching that I began reading a steady diet of kids books again. I realized I couldn’t recommend books to kids if I wasn’t reading any. The first book that made my heart leap was The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan. I loved Percy and wished that I could dive into the books. Along the way I’ve found many favorite authors, John Green has become an addiction. Anything he writes, I devour. One of my favorites from him was The Fault in our Stars. I sobbed an ugly cry on that book. Each author and each book allowed me to share my reading life with my students and I our classroom was alive with reading.

Reading has always been a part of my life, and I know I’m blessed as a result. I’m a more empathetic and caring person because of the books I read. While the amount of reading I’ve done on a regular basis has ebbed and flowed over the years, my love for it has always been there. My passion for getting students to read is because I know I’m a different person because of the stories I’ve read, the characters I’ve met, the worlds I’ve inhabited. I can’t wait to find my next favorite book - and to share it with all of you.

What activity are you beginning with this year? When do you begin? I'm headed back tomorrow, the kids arrive on Wednesday, and I cannot wait!