I started a Love That Dog novel study with my eighth graders Monday. They finished the Corrective Reading program last week and were rewarded with a pizza party before I started them with a novel and poetry unit about which I was sure they’d be apprehensive*.
The first day we used an anticipation guide to get started, wrote in journals, and read only TWO PAGES in the book.
The students were surprised and laughed because (I think) they thought I was crazy. Why on earth would we only read two pages? Secondly, this is a book that’s manageable for them and short! Why don’t we just read it all at once because we can? Why do we keep stopping to talk and read poems?
I have two reasons for doing this, both of which I’ve shared with the students:
1) The book itself is written as a journal, which takes place over the course of many months. We are reading at a slow pace in order to connect with Jack. While it won’t take us months to read, we are going to move slowly the way he is learning.
2) I tend to read really fast. It’s great for getting things done, but it’s not so great for thinking about my reading. Slow reading is important for making meaning. I’ve read Love That Dog a couple of times and each time I’ve finished in a about an hour. There’s a lot to process in this story that I felt I lost because I didn’t go slowly.
We’re reading slowly in order to build anticipation. I want the students to think through characters and events. Reading a book isn’t just about having finished reading that book. We know that as teachers, but sometimes it’s hard to internalize that lesson as readers. The eighth graders in my group are ready to plow through the book and mark a notch for one more completed book. I can understand that as a sense of accomplishment, but it’s not the goal of reading.
By slowing down and reading only 3 or 4 pages a day, we’re thinking deeply about what we read and taking it step by step.
The beauty of this is the students feel confident that they COULD read the book quickly if they wanted; it has understandable vocabulary, a relatable character, and a genuine story. Slowing down by CHOICE instead of need allows students to use their thinking to help them dig deeper. They don’t feel like they’re being challenged even though they’re discussing literature and connections to sophisticated poetry every single day.
*To be honest, the kids are surprising me with their lack of apprehension and ability to relate to and discuss the book and poems we have read so far. They are interested in learning and reading more… at least so far!