Habit of Mine

I have a habit. It’s a bad habit. I’m trying to break it. I do it every day. Every day at the same time. I have a ritual about it too. Things have to be just right with this habit. And so while I’ve been thinking about how to break this habit, it’s gotten me thinking about how a habit becomes a habit. After all, I didn’t start out doing this thing every day.

So that got me started wondering about my good habits. I have many. I brush my teeth every day, I take vitamins every day, I read every day, I exercise every day (no really, I do, even when I’m sick) I tell my husband I love him every day. I have a myriad of relatively benign habits too, I drink coffee when I get up every morning (black, three cups) I watch the same handful of television shows every week, I like to sit in the same spot on our family couch. These are all habits. They are things I do without thinking too much about them on a regular basis. But I still wonder, how did they become habits?

In The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life And Business author Charles Duhigg says, “Habits are powerful, but delicate. They can emerge outside our consciousness, or can be deliberately designed. They can often occur without our permission, but can be reshaped by fiddling with their parts. They shape our lives far more than we realize–they are so strong, in fact, that they cause our brains to cling to them at the exclusion of all else, including common sense.”

Wow! I’m beginning to realize just how powerful habits are in our lives.

So this got me thinking. What habits do I want to create in my life? What do I want to do more of without thinking about it? I already work out, I already eat well, I already take vitamins every day, you know, all those things that most people have on their resolution list that they want to make habits in their lives in the new year. What’s mine? And then it hit me: WRITING.

While I read every day, just like I run, eat, or sleep every day, I only write, well, really write, once every few months. Yet like exercise, I know full well the benefits of writing. In fact I preach those benefits from the literacy mountaintop almost every day. I have conversations with teachers about the rewards they and their students will reap when they build in the daily habit of writing. So how do I stop preaching what I don’t do and build this habit for myself?

Habits revolve around routine and to some extent ritual.  So then when I think about all my existing habits and ask myself what they have in common, the patterns are clear as crystal. First, it’s about time: I have set aside a specific time of day everyday for my habit.

Second, it has to do with ritual. I have to have things a “certain way” for my habits; in fact, so much so that it teeters on the line between particular and superstitious (or yes, crazy!). I recently read an interview with Donna Tartt, author of The Goldfinch. In the interview she spoke at length about her writing rituals. She can’t interact with others while she’s in the throes of a book and so she becomes somewhat reclusive. She’ll go hours without eating and even then when she does, it’s something small like cheese and crackers. She drinks gallons of hot tea and writes only by hand in very specific flower covered spiral notebooks. She’s got definite rituals!

Finally, I have to be committed, at least in the beginning, before it becomes a habit. I’m ready; I’m committed. That part is not hard. Once I set my mind on something, I’m like a freight train–just try and stop me.

So for the next month, I’m setting aside a time: just after dinner, and I’m creating a ritual, I’ve bought a special notebook and some special pens, I’ve downloaded some special music on my iPhone, and perhaps most importantly… I’ve committed. I’m going to write every day for  thirty minutes (at least) for thirty days. I’m going to build a new habit. Writing.


To get myself jump-started I know I need a plan. When I began running I knew I couldn’t just go out and run every day without a training plan, some goals, a way to increase my stamina and speed. It’s not too different to think about writing. So like with running, before beginning building my writing habit, I’m turning to the experts for help. I know I need some strategies to collect in my writer’s notebook. I already have some favorites, strategies I share on a regular basis with teachers and students in my consulting work. Some of those include writing from a list of early memories, writing from a list of favorite people or places, writing from a list of strong emotions. I want to “freshen” up my writing a bit. So I’ve turned to some of my favorites in the writing world for advice.

I found Penny Kittle’s take on Georgia Heard’s heart mapping. Instead of mapping your heart in a general way, Kittle suggests we focus only on music. I agree with her that music can be strongly associated with specific moments in our lives, with specific people, and with strong feelings. Here’s my result of her strategy. I’m anxious to make some entries off these songs and memories.

new map


I also turned to Judith Ortiz Cofer, in her new book, Lessons from a Writer’s Life. Cofer suggests finding a place where you can unobtrusively observe a large amount of people at one time. She says to record as much as we can of what we see and hear–imagining ourselves as video cameras–recording both the sights and the sounds. I wish I had known about this strategy a few days ago when I happened along the Collegiate National Championships (triathlon) in Tempe, Arizona. I can only imagine what I might have captured for kindling in my writer’s notebook listening in on these young, intense, nervous yet confident athletes! I can still see their sculpted bodies tightly clad in colorful and glistening suits,  proudly bearing their numbers tattooed down the backs of their calves and hear their electric chatter in my brain while they paced the sidelines waiting for their turn to compete.

Here are the other books I’ve initially turned to in order to launch my thirty days of habit building. I’m super excited, as one always is when embarking on positive self improvement. As for my bad habit? Let’s just say it’s been 78 days now of “breaking” it and I have a sneaking hunch that building this new habit will only help that process!

writing books





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Living Your Legacy: Dedicated to Brandon Dingman, Who Did Exactly That

A little more than a week before Christmas, a teacher that we support suddenly died while playing a game of basketball. He left behind a beautiful wife and two adorable young children. He was 36. 

Today, I (Nicole) attended his funeral in Sacramento. It was held at a nearby high school in the theater that seats hundreds of people, and almost all of the seats were filled–certainly by plenty of family, friends, and colleagues–but also by many, many current and former students. 

As I listened to the speakers share stories about Brandon, some common ideas kept emerging. Besides being a pretty amazing dancer (something everyone mentioned–wish I could have seen that!), the compassion, kindness, and passion that Brandon showed as a teacher shaped a huge portion of his legacy. It was more than evident that Brandon taught with both his head and his heart. 

This got me to thinking…what’s my legacy? More importantly, what’s our legacy? 

Teachers enter the profession with a mission to change lives. To make an impact on the next generation. To ultimately make the world a better place. As we all know, though, teaching is one of those professions in which the impact we make–our legacy–is a sight we rarely actually see, save the kids who come visit us, friend us on Facebook, e-mail us with updates about their lives, or run into us at the local Target. 

And sometimes, the frantic pace of teaching–especially this time of year with finals, grades, holiday breaks, and everything in between–doesn’t allow us the luxury of slowing down, reflecting, and asking ourselves just what legacy we want to leave. 

What is it we really want? At the end of the day (or our lives), do we want a theater full of people who can recite all the lines of Romeo and Juliet or who can repeat back to us everything we told them about The Great Gatsby? Or do we want an auditorium full of people who believe in themselves as readers, writers, and thinkers?

Brandon, like all good teachers, was constantly working on his craft. But looking out at the sea of heads from my seat in the back tof the auditorium today, I saw the profound legacy that he left. The people were there today not to mourn what they have lost (though that is naturally a part of the grieving process), but to celebrate what they had received by welcoming Brandon into their lives.

One speaker told the story of attending the candlelight vigil, held the day after Brandon’s death, and how, when he talked to Brandon’s stepfather, his stepfather mentioned that he never before could figure out why Brandon put so much work into a job that didn’t pay very much. But looking around at the students, colleagues, and friends who came together to celebrate Brandon in this time of loss, he finally understood.

That is why we do this work. 

Let’s all honor Brandon by thinking about the legacy that we leave–not just when our lives are over, but each year when our students leave us. Not a legacy of focusing on worksheets, standardized test scores, grades, or final exams, but a legacy of developing readers, writers, and thinkers who are passionate and engaged.

As we leave this holiday season behind us and head into a new term, and as we get lured again into chaos by the inherent frenzy of school, let us do our best to remember always that our work matters. 

Let’s focus everyday on creating rooms, theaters, exhibition halls full of children that don’t remember what they did in our classrooms, but instead how our classrooms helped shape them into better people. 

Brandon, your dad said it best today. You have definitely made a dent in the next generation. 





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January 4, 2014 · 6:02 pm

A Success Story in the Making

Happy New Year! One of our resolutions it to blog more in 2014 (and really, to write more in general). However, we also believe in the power of connecting you with other people’s words. Enter the newest installment in our series, “How Literacy Changed My Life,” from Alesha, a homeschooling mom and former public school teacher, living in Pennsylvania. In this post, she courageously tells the story of her son’s autism and how literacy has supported her and her family through this journey. The Literacy Chicks want to thank Alesha for her bravery in sharing this story, and we would like to extend the invitation to all of you to share your stories too.

Many people think they know all about Asperger Syndrome because they watch The Big Bang Theory or Parenthood. There’s more to Asperger’s, and it isn’t always pretty. Each individual with ASD has his own challenges and nuances. They aren’t all like Sheldon and request “Soft Kitty” every time they are sick. For many kids, Aspergers makes it hard for them to relate to others, communicate, and understand social cues. Here is a good example:

I was getting ready for date night with my husband. Dane asks, “Are you and Dad going on a date?”

I say, “Yes.”

He says, “Are you and Dad getting a divorce?”

I look to see if he is joking. I say, “What!? What gave you that idea?”

He matter-of-factly explains, “Boyfriends and girlfriends go on dates; not husbands and wives. So, you have to get a divorce and then you go on a date.”

We had a chat that his father and I were NOT getting a divorce and that married couples can still go on dates.

Life with ASD can be hilarious at times, but there is a lot of heartache. It can seem daunting until you learn to manage it.

My adventure with Asperger began a few years ago when my son was diagnosed with it. The diagnosis felt like the end of the world, and we didn’t know where to start. One thing was evident: my son needed me to learn about ASD so that I could help him.

New terms were thrown at me such as sensory diets, social stories, and gluten-free diets. I didn’t know where to start. At the beginning, I thought this would be easy, because I only had to change what he was eating and needed to pick one of the diets. When I first heard of gluten free diets, I thought everyone was saying “glutton free.” My first thought was, “Duh, everyone needs to be on a glutton free diet.” I later found out it was gluten, so that left sensory diet. Guess what, it has nothing to with what you eat!

I had so much to learn and it had to happen gradually. My son would show certain behaviors and I would search the internet. My saving grace came when I discovered a blog by a woman raising two teenage boys on the spectrum, “Confessions of an Aspergers Mom.” Her blog posts helped me so much and her stories led to other blogs such as, “Grape Jelly on Pizza,” “Autism Storms and Rainbows,” and “Mama’s Turn Now-how my son with Aspergers is teaching me to be happy.” Then, I found out that there was a Facebook group where parents with ASD kids and adult aspies post questions and share stories. It was wonderful to read about others who were going through the same things that I was going through. It’s also neat to have the adult aspies weigh in on a situation and explain their view.

This group of parents showed me that I am not failing as a parent. They have referred me to various forms of therapies and programs for my son. I now know why my son sometimes only communicates through movie lines. An adult aspie once explained why it is hard for ASD kids to apologize, especially if they are technically in the right.

Over the years, things improved at home. We changed the way that we parent our son and provide a steady calm environment for him. However, school was a big challenge. Below is how a typical day ended for my son.

One day I got a call from school to get Dane. I arrived at the school. I no longer needed to sign in anymore. It was understood why I was there. I entered Dane’s emotional support teacher’s room. My son was under a table in the back corner of the room. His body language was tense, his fists were balled, and he had a far away look in his eyes. I knew that he was no longer with us.

I pulled up a chair to discuss the situation with his teacher.

She explained, “Dane did okay today until he had gym class. Today’s activity was doing flips or tricks on the large mat. As a safety precaution, students are required to wear socks on the gym mat. Dane refused to remove his shoes and refused to get off the mat.”

I sighed and said, “Okay. I understand the issue, but Dane doesn’t have socks on. He is wearing sandals. Did you offer him socks?”

Again she explains, “Well, after the P.E. teacher physically removed him from everyone else, she called me and I tried to calm him down. I did offer him socks after I realized he was wearing sandals, but he refused. I don’t understand. I offered him a solution. So, I had him come to my room to calm down. We are in a stand off right now. He refuses to talk to me and hides from me.”

At this point, I was frustrated and embarrassed. My son wasn’t behaving at school. I didn’t know what to do for him. I was thankful that we have an appointment with his therapist that day. I knelt down to talk to Dane. He was defiant even to me. I was embarrassed even more. I stood up and told his teacher that I would check him out early and take him to the therapist.

I told him in a stern voice to come out and follow me. We got in the car. I felt like crying, because he had been sent home every day that week. I knew that pretty soon the school would give up on him and probably officially suspend him. I angrily asked him why he did this. I lectured him on showing adults respect and told him there would be consequences to his actions.

As we pulled into the therapist’s parking lot, he mumbled, “Socks don’t go with sandals.”

I asked, “What did you say?”

He sighed and explained, “At first I was mad that I didn’t have socks. It wasn’t fair that everyone else had socks on and I didn’t. When they gave me socks, I still couldn’t wear them.”

Frustrated, I said, “Dane, your problem was solved. You were offered socks.”

He said, “But Mom, socks don’t go with sandals! I would look like a dork! Dad says that dorks wear socks with sandals.”

A light bulb went off. I asked, “So, you didn’t wear the socks, because you thought you would have to wear the socks with your sandals after gym class and you would look like a dork?”

He hung his head down and muttered, “Yes.”

What am I supposed to do with that? In his mind, it made perfect sense. The teachers assumed that he would make the connection that the socks were for the gym class only and that he could take them off afterwards. All of this could have been avoided if it was properly explained. However, I can’t be mad at the teachers. They don’t know how his mind works, and sometimes even I forget that he can’t make those connections.

Since the public education system wasn’t properly educating my son, we decided to homeschool him. Again, I was out of my element. I researched curriculums, joined blogs like, “Math Coach’s Corner” and “Teacher Tipster,” and searched Pinterest and Facebook. There isn’t much information out there about homeschooling Asperger kids, so I pieced information from homeschooling blogs and educators’ blogs. I subscribe to homeschool blogs and educational coaches that blog strategies for teaching material in a variety of ways. In fact, my son once said, “Mom, I really wished you would stop looking up new ways to teach me things.” I am always searching for ways to make learning fun and easy for him and it’s working. His reading and math have improved in a few short months.

I don’t have all of the answers for my son, but I am willing to learn. That is the key. A willingness to constantly educate yourself no matter what life throws at you. There are days that I wish I was ignorant about Asperger’s. It hurts to see friends post pictures of their sons playing sports, because that was a dream I had for my son. We tried putting him in basketball, but it ended with him standing at half court at a game refusing to budge. Time out was called so I could get him off the court. With all eyes on us, he tearfully explained that he was not moving because when he ran to one end of the court the players ran to the opposite end. He decided to stay in the middle so they wouldn’t always leave him behind.

I always worry about Dane’s future. Yet, when you talk to Dane, he is going to “leave his mark on the world.” He plans on playing for the New Orleans Saints, winning the Super Bowl 12 times, going to MIT (because that’s where Tony Stark went to school), making the Iron Man suit real, and writing comic books. I don’t know how this will all get accomplished, but I do know that he is a success story in the making.

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A Tandem Literacy Journey

The latest installment in our series, “How Literacy Changed My Life,” is from our first guest blogger, Melissa, a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA. In this post, she bravely recounts how reading supported her in the journey of motherhood–which, for Melissa, started earlier than for many women. The Literacy Chicks want to thank Melissa for her courage in sharing this story, and we would like to extend the invitation to all of you to share your stories too.

My hands, shaking with fear and anxiety, struggle to grasp the plastic stick.  “Why can’t these things just give me words?  I have no idea what these blue lines mean.”  Fumbling for the instructions, I glance and my whole world shifts . . . I’m pregnant!  Instinctively, I reach for my belly.

When you’re pregnant at 15, your small, sheltered world suddenly shifts and the huge adult world looms.  Homecoming dresses and yearbook deadlines suddenly become money worries and diapers.  Instead of gossiping in the halls, you become the gossip in the halls. Teenagers asked to touch my belly, asked me about names, asked about gender, and some asked why I decided to keep the baby.  My peers expressed supportive curiosity.   Shockingly, I didn’t care about the whispers or the inquisitive nature of teenagers.

Twenty-three years later, the strangest element of my high school pregnancy experience still shocks me.   Those in my community that caused the most pain should have provided the most help.  The adults at school created deep, bubbling anger within me.  The staff and teachers, those who should have offered support, largely did not.  It quickly became apparent that the adults at my school thought of me as a lost cause.  They looked at my expanding belly and saw a life of poverty.  A counselor told me to “take a few classes at a junior college” instead of encouraging me to pursue my dream of attending a state school and becoming a teacher.   My yearbook teacher denied me a position on our editorial staff because I “needed time to be a mommy.” (She later reconsidered when I approached her with a valid argument about working women).  That bubbling anger inside me quickly evolved into bubbling determination.  I became determined to graduate college, became determined not to raise my child in a state of poverty, and became determined to make my dream of teaching a reality.   Armed with determination and literacy, I began my journey.

Starting college, a milestone for many, probably evokes fear in the hearts of 18-year-olds on a variety of college campuses.  My first day at California State University, Sacramento, although it seemed original to me, could probably be compared to a million other college first days.  Lost amidst hundreds of other learners with maps in hand, tall trees looming above and stuffy, crowded halls, my nerves frayed.  Heart pounding, palms sweating, it all seemed too much until I found my sanctuary!  The bookstore beckoned.  I love the smell of bookstores and libraries.  It makes me wonder if knowledge has a scent. As I stood in line with classic literature overflowing my basket, pride filled my heart.  I did it!  Despite being a mom at 16, despite my daughter’s epic temper tantrum as we approached the preschool parking lot an hour earlier, and despite the expectations of others, I enrolled in and paid for college.  Planning on spending the next four or five years engrossed in classic literature and mind growing discussions, my palms dried and my heart settled.  I can do this, for me and for my daughter.

As we, my daughter and myself, settled into the routine of college and pre kindergarten, I quickly realized that while I engrossed on an epic literature journey as an English major at Sac State, my daughter began her own literacy journey.  She learned to decode while I read “White Noise” and “Huckleberry Finn”.  While I analyzed “Little Women”, my own little woman devoured every Dr. Seuss book at the library.  We grew, as literate women in tandem, and nothing else mattered.  Our temporary poverty didn’t matter (think about how poor you were in college and add another human being to that mix.)  It didn’t matter that people stopped us in public to compliment the beauty of my little “sister.”  (At first my little girl corrected these well-meaning strangers, eventually she laughed about the whole thing).  The single most important element of my early college years became the fact that while literacy grew in both my daughter and myself, it also began to save us.  She would become an avid reader and it became clear that I would become a high school English teacher.

Walking the stage at Arco Arena, tears filled my eyes.  In mere seconds, I would be the first in my family to accept a college diploma.  I scanned the crowd for my seven-year old, who threw me a thumbs-up.  Last year, for her kindergarten graduation, I presented her with a Dr. Seuss book titled “Oh the Places You Will Go.”  It struck me as funny; she could have returned it to me on this day.  Our shared love of literacy moved us both toward bigger, better places.

My daughter and I graduated college again with my teaching credential and again when I finished my master’s thesis.  We walked across the Stage at Casa Roble high school together when she graduated.  People deemed us the “Gilmore Girls,” we read “Fried Green Tomatoes” together, and we became best friends.   We frequented movies, finished one another’s sentences, cuddled on the couch, cried at life’s tragedies, and our relationship seemed perfect.  The pinnacle of our “perfectness” occurred when my little girl, upon growing up in what seemed like seconds, received her acceptance letter from Mills College.  It was, at least I thought, her dream school. Therefore, it became mine as well.

Dropping one’s child off at college evokes so many emotions.  Pride fills your heart at your “little one’s” accomplishments.  Anxiety fills your stomach at the thought of letting go.  My baby, my co-reader, my movie date, my dinner date, my best friend, moved into a beautiful dorm on a beautiful campus, and my job as caregiver seemed to come to a sad, but happy end.  Until Christmas break, when it all fell apart.

Having never sent a child to college before, it seemed odd that my daughter kept her distance and avoided me over Christmas break.  In my naive mind, I thought it growing pains.  Until the phone rang; and my life came tumbling down around me.  Addicted to over-the-counter drugs, my daughter checked herself into the hospital.  I rushed to be by her side, unaware of the pain that awaited me.

The night, fog filled and cold, reflected my anxiety and fear.  Rushing through the emergency room doors, I almost knocked people over.  An old man held his wife’s hand in the corner, her eyes filled with pain.  Telling the nurse my name and the name of my child, pain filled her eyes. “I’m sorry, she is refusing to see you and since she’s eighteen . . .” I still don’t remember what else that nurse said.  I sat, just sat, in the waiting room all night.  I watched my sister enter my best friend’s room and leave.  I watched my child’s dad enter my daughter’s room and leave.  I watched her stepmother enter my baby’s room and leave.  But I refused to leave.  At one point, a kind nurse brought me hot tea and a blanket, and I finally cried.  Deep, throbbing, but silent sobs shattered my body.  I’m not sure if that kind man is aware of how important he became to me in that moment or if he was just doing his job.  He was the only person who showed me kindness that night.  I watched and attempted to talk to her as they carted her off to an ambulance destined for a rehab facility.  Then I walked to my car in the early morning dew, numb.

Refusing to speak to me, or even be in the same room as me, my child and I missed out on four years of one another’s lives.  My world ended.  I stopped reading, writing, and painting.  I cried, I slept, and I cringed at birthdays and holidays, until, one morning, when I stopped mourning and I started to read.  Dusting my kid’s unused room, I spotted them!  A pile of wrinkled, dirty, loved books, I picked up Harry Potter.  Having read this series for the first time with my daughter, it just seemed like a good idea to tackle it alone. Harry healed me.  Strangely enough, right as I finished the last book in the series . . . my daughter called me.

My stomach turned as I entered the coffee shop, having only met with my child a few times in the last few months and having been out of contact with her for four years, the importance of today loomed.  As if embarking on an epic journey, I came armed with . . . poetry.  Specifically, two beautifully bound copies of George Marenco’s poetry. With coffees purchased and poetry books gifted, we read and thought together.    “No way mom, in ‘Harpy’ the author is clearly expressing a disdain for love, even if he is in love”, Shell scooted her chair closer to mine in her fervor for more discussion.   Agreeing with her but longing for more interaction, I threw out a semi-logical argument in opposition.  I didn’t really care what the author intended, though his words evoked beauty and complexity.   In awe of my daughter’s literary mind, I longed for more debate; I pushed my chair closer to hers as she avidly disagreed with my take.  Poem after poem brought us back together, literally, as we nudged our chairs ever closer.  We read, we shared thoughts, and through our tandem literacy, we healed.

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Just Read It. Just Do It.

nike_swooshThis is the second post in our series, “How Literacy Changed My Life.” In it, Maria describes the surprising connection between reading and writing and completing one of her biggest goals in life. We’re continuing to explore through this series how literacy has the power to completely change–for good or bad–one’s life. We’re interested in this topic as part of our quest to create interested, engaged, connected high school readers and writers.  Join us as the bloggers in this series, including Nicole, Maria, and others, share how literacy has impacted their lives in meaningful ways.  

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Seek and Ye Shall Find

This post marks the first in our mini-series, “How Literacy Changed My Life.” In it, Nicole writes about one of the scariest things she ever did and how the act of reading and writing both propelled her forward and sustained her through a very tumultuous six months. When we think about powerful literacy instruction in our high school classrooms, we can’t forget why literacy is so important. It has life-altering power. Join us as the bloggers in this series, including Nicole, Maria, and others, share how literacy has impacted their lives in meaningful ways. 

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Mythbusters: The “List” Test

The Literacy Chicks are reunited again in Sacramento. It’s a balmy 78 degrees, and we’re in the lounge at the Doubletree Hotel. Big surprise, right? Although this time, Maria is drinking for Nicole as Nicole is on day 27 of the Whole 30 challenge. Read more about this torture here.

We’ve been working all week with high school teachers exploring the idea of incorporating a reading/writing workshop model into the traditional high school classroom. The Scylla (Get it? If you’re a lit major, you probably do.) that keeps emerging in the sea of debate is the idea of “THE LIST.”

You know the one we’re talking about, right? The list. You know, like the list of all books that high school kids must read before they can be considered functionally literate Americans.

We’ve heard teachers all over the country–Seattle, New Orleans, Salt Lake City, New York City, Los Angeles–talking about this mythical list, so we Googled it, curious to see which books were on the list. We also wanted to know who wrote the list.

Here’s the strange part.

We couldn’t find the list.

And we thought Google had everything. Apparently not.

So we turned to the next logical place in the matters of all things literary: The College Board, specifically AP central. What we found confirmed our belief that this “list” is, in fact, mythical. The College Board, in the course description of the AP Literature and Composition, states, “There is no recommended or required reading list for the AP English Literature and Composition course. The following authors are provided simply to suggest the range and quality of reading expected in the course. Teachers may select authors from the names below or may choose others of comparable quality and complexity.”

Moreover, we looked at the suggested texts on the free response question 3 from the past few years, and we found a wide range of suggested texts–both from the traditional “canon” and from more contemporary authors.

This (along with Maria’s second glass of wine) got us thinking about why we feel the pressure, not only from ourselves, but also our colleagues, to teach from the “list.”

We acknowledge and agree wholeheartedly that there is merit in exposing kids to culturally-important works of literature from a wide range of authors. We know these reading experiences knit together the fabric of the American high school education. I mean, we probably can all tell our own stories about reading To Kill a Mockingbird, The Scarlet Letter, or Romeo and Juliet.

However, we also realize that not every book speaks to every reader. So if we’re trying to figure out how to grow interested, engaged, and connected high school readers and writers, we can’t help but question the role of text.

So what would happen if, along with studying as a class some of the traditional high school texts, we offered students an opportunity to engage in their own deep reading of books of their choice?

You might be saying, “Wait! What about the Advanced Placement senior who brings The Hunger Games to class? That isn’t preparing them for the rigors of college reading!”

We would be saying, “You’re right! But there are many sophisticated contemporary adult texts that students would find relevant as well as challenging.”

In fact, the College Board offers this explanation of literary merit: “The pieces chosen invite and reward rereading and do not, like ephemeral works in such popular genres as detective or romance fiction, yield all (or nearly all) of their pleasures of thought and feeling the first time through.”

Certainly, there are many traditional texts that fit this definition–books like 1984, Catcher in the Rye, The Odyssey, Brave New World, and Hamlet.

However, other books like A Thousand Splendid Suns, Memoirs of a Geisha, Oryx and Crake, The Poisonwood Bible, and The Story of Edgar Sawtell are more contemporary selections that both fit this definition and may be just the invitation our disengaged, uninterested, “fake” readers need.

So what would happen if we put these books in the hands of kids and gave them the opportunity to engage in their own reading, conversation, and writing? What would happen if, instead of making choices for students, we taught students how to make choices for themselves based on their interests, their previous reading experiences, and their curiosity?

We’ve decided to test this theory by departing from our classical diet and trying something new (kind of like eating quinoa instead of rice). We want to invite you to join us in our next read: Stiff by Mary Roach.


Why this text? Because it’s about cadavers, of course! Aren’t you watching the final season of Dexter?



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