Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Sahara Special

Sometimes something profound comes along at the exact moment that you need it to touch your heart. For me, it was kind of a mix of things. First, my life and the lives of my students were irreversibly altered when I took a chance on a then unknown book to me, "Sahara Special" by Esme Raji Codell. This is, incidentally, the author of the beloved book, "Educating Esme: Diary of a First Year Teacher" but this time she's writing for young adults.

As a culmination to the year, and a kind of graduation of sorts, I presented my students with three chapter books, one of which they would select to read for the last month of school and perform literature circle tasks with. The students have taken a great liking to the idea that they are responsible for discussing their books, and that each of them has a very special role to fulfill within the group. They have also blossomed under the notion that they are to take the role of teacher, ensuring all group members' understanding and explaining past tasks to their new owner.

As every teacher hopes to do, I chose books that were relevant and completely dynamic. I described them each in turn, read some excerpts aloud, and challenged my students to make a choice for themselves. They were to pick the book that THEY wanted to read (they weren't even allowed to be seen talking to a peer while filling out their secret ballot. I also did not sugar coat things, explaining that "Sahara Special" was indeed the longest and most challenging of the selections and asking students to step up if they felt they were ready. "Sahara Special" is, in fact, my biggest literature circle group.

Yesterday one of my girls was clutching her book to her chest as I talked about how each of our books have different personalities. She just kept professing her love over and over again. Another of my much more shy students came up to me privately yesterday and confessed that she wasn't really interested in reading until she started reading her story, "Tales of the 4th Grade Nothing" and now she is surprised how much she really loves reading. (Don't I wish I had done this earlier in the year!?)

"Good try," said Miss Pointy, "but I don't know if that's a lesson that is always so. What else can we come up with?"

"Wishes are powerful," said Dominique.

"Good," said Miss Pointy.

"Things change. They don't always stay the same," said Cordelia. "Like, you don't have to stay a kid."

"That's a good one, too. Anyone else?"

"School is a powerful place where things change and wishes come true," Paris said slowly. "It's a place where you can grow up, if you let yourself."


  1. I've always wanted to try Lit Circles but have never had the chance -- maybe next year will be my year! Glad your kids are finding it to be such a meaningful experience :)

  2. This was my first foray into literature circles! I definitely have some things to tighten up for next year, but the experience exceeded my wildest expectations. :)

  3. I want to try lit circles next year, so if you have any suggestions for resources on how to implement them, I'd love to hear them! And that book sounds awesome - I love the quote.