• Why Should Students Read Literature: by Jill Jenkins

    Posted by Suzanne Spruiell on 3/22/2017

    Why Should Students Read Literature?

    By Jill Jenkins

    “Imagination is more important than knowledge. “ Albert Einstein

                In education today, focus is teaching students to acquire a list of skills so they can successfully complete an end of the year test.  Is that really all it takes be an educated person?  In today’s Language Arts classes instead of reading entire pieces of literature, the students read excerpts from novels, excerpts from speeches, excerpts from articles and answer specific questions that require the child to review the piece and select specific information.  It is called closed reading.  I call it closing minds.  The truth is you can teach that list of reading and writing skills and still use entire pieces of literature.  Not only will student have a sense of accomplishment, but teachers will be giving your students the skills they need and so much more.
                Remember back to your youth, the lessons that you learned from great pieces of literature were more encompassing and life important than an end of the year test.  I still remember reading James Hurst’s, “The Scarlet Ibis,” a beautiful short story about a brother’s guilt over his younger brother’s, Doodle’s, death.  Although the story is packed with vivid descriptions and imagery, its message is one that a child can carry with him for life. First, the story helps the reader develop empathy for the struggles of the disabled brother.  Second, the major theme is whether pride is a positive force or a negative force:
    ”I did not know then that pride is a wonderful, terrible thing, a seed that bears two vines, life and death. “
    This lends itself to discussions about whether pride is a good quality to have or a bad one.  The teacher can have the student select specific examples of how the narrator’s pride in Doodle helped Doodle and how it eventually led to his death.  This is a subject that they can relate to since many parents push their children out of pride.  The students should be able to personalize the story and develop a greater understanding of their own life.  Third, the conclusion of the story of the narrator collapsing across Doodle to protect his “fallen scarlet Ibis from the heresy of the rain,” always makes the class cry.  I remember crying when I read it as a junior high student and every year I have taught it (almost 40 years) I have the same emotional response.  Literature allows us to feel.  Feeling and showing that emotion helps student become more emotionally mature.  There is research that people who are emotionally mature are more likely to succeed in life. Literature emotionally engages students like no “closed reading” assignment can.  With a little effort there are so many of the reading, writing and speaking skills that can be taught with this story.
                Reading entire pieces of literature can help students deal with problems in their personal life. A quality education should prepare people for more than a career.  To be perfectly honest, most of the careers that exist today didn’t exist when I was in middle school.  This means we are preparing students in our class today for a world that we cannot even imagine.  We do know that they students will live in a world with other people and we know that there are some fundamental lessons on how to deal with betrayal that they might learn from reading The Once and Future King by T. H. White.  The book explores what it means to act civilized even when one is betrayed by the people loved most. I know this book was my anchor during my divorce. I drew strength from the words of Langston Hughes, “I, Too, Sing America.”  Literature can help us overcome our darkest days.
                Students learn ethics from literature. For example, To Kill A Mocking Bird  by Harper Lee teaches students that one must always do the right thing even if it costs your family dearly.  Atticus Finch, a Southern Lawyer, who represents a poor black man accused of raping a poor white woman suffers ridicule and harassment, but with dignity he carries on honorably.  He is not only a great role model for his children, Jem and Scout, but for the reader as well.  The Help by Kathryn Stockett is a more contemporary novel that discusses discrimination in our society and the main character overcome the problems with honor and dignity.  Teaching students how our society has changed because of the noble, honorable actions of its citizens is an important lesson. I love to share with my students that Charles Dickens changed the laws on child labor with his book, Oliver Twist.  Writing is powerful tool and so is literature.
                Giving students a sense of history is another important role of teaching literature.  Books like Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier can teach students how the Civil War affected real people.  History classes can seem like a dusty text-book full of unfamiliar places and dates to a middle school student.  Novels can help students understand that the events were real and they had both positive and negative effects on the people who lived through them.  All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque is another book to teach about World War I or The Red Badge of Courage by Stephan Crane is another depiction of the Civil War.  Poems like Wilfred Owen’s poem, “Dulce et Decorum Est” creates a vivid image of a soldier’s death from mustard gas during World War I.  Students might be horrified, but war is never pretty and it can help them understand the sacrifice soldiers have made throughout our history. 
                Literature can give students insight into other cultures and other human suffering.  For example if you want students to understand some of the current struggles in Afganistan, Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns and The Kite Runner  can help students understand its political, culture and historical and social problems.  The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver can help student understand how the geography, politics and culture affects lives in the Congo.  Literature can open new worlds and people to students that textbook excerpts cannot.
                Teaching literature can give students not only a connection to that past, but show students that we are not all that different.  Which teenager students has not fallen desperately in love, which teenage student has not disregarded their parents’ wants and advice to behave dangerously, which teenager doesn’t’ have a friend who is always joking and one who is always fighting?  They all need to read William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.  How can we call students culturally literate without a little Shakespeare in their lives? Since the new Common Core requires that ninth and tenth grade students understand the literary device “allusion”, teaching a broad-base of different literary genres and examples seems important. Without a being culturally literate that literary device is rather useless.  Students would have no base of literary knowledge.
                Literature weaves a rich tapestry in our lives. It sparks our imagination by showing us people and places both familiar to us and unfamiliar. It teaches us that all of human kind is connected in our hopes, our joys, our sorrows, our needs and our troubles. It teaches us where we have been and where we might be going.  It teaches us what it means to be human and values that we should uphold.  Literature allows us to feel, and to have empathy for others and maybe even for ourselves. Literature gives us the lessons to hold us together during difficult trials in our lives and tools to handle those problems.  An education should be more than a list of reading skills; an education should teach us how to behave as human being in a complex society.


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  • Benefits of Sustained Silent Reading for Secondary Students

    Posted by Suzanne Spruiell on 8/27/2015

    The concept of having students read silently for a predetermined amount of time has been very popular within early childhood education. This same concept of sustained silent reading is almost laughable within secondary education for many reasons:

    • Who has time for this? 
    • Students need to be moving on to complex text.
    • Students should primarily be writing in order to prepare for college.
    • How can the educator allow students to read all class period long? They aren’t doing anything!
    • High stakes testing is priority! Reading for enjoyment is out of the question.

    I believe students, especially high school students, need to have silent sustained reading in their English class in order for them to improve academically in a variety of ways.

    It is easy to make the assumption that reading for enjoyment has only an entertainment factor, but there are more benefits than entertainment when students are reading what they like on a weekly basis. Students who are exposed to more literature throughout the school year grow to have better writing. As Acts of Teaching by Joyce Armstrong Carroll and Edward E. Wilson points out in the preface of their book, “daily reading and writing, daily mini-teaches on various story elements, daily speaking, listening, examining, predicting in a joyfully literate classroom paid off.” Carroll discuss the value of having a “print-rich” classroom by using her observations of Sharron Chamberlin’s class structure, “[she] begins school with fifteen minutes of uninterrupted sustained silent writing followed by fifteen minutes of uninterrupted sustained silent reading.”

    Chamberlin allowed her students to engage in the meaningful tasks of reading and writing without prescription or direction. She then had a routine of giving them direction to listen out for specific vocabulary while she reads a story to them. The students would listen, be intrigued, ask questions and demonstrate their involvement. She would then send them back to their desk with a special assignment correlated with the story. By doing this daily, she was “allowing them to learn through exposure and discovery to reading and writing […] she is giving these students ample time to be actively creative, inventive and discovers.”

    Upon further examination of her daily classroom instruction and student samples, Carroll witnessed student growth in writing. One student “had internalized a sense of narrative and descriptive detail, at least partly due to the print-rich environment Sharon had created” while another student “[had] delightfully, eloquently, and clearly demonstrated that she knows the elements of a story” in her own writing. Chamberlin allowed students to creatively take risk and “because [Chamberlin] integrated reading and writing with listening, speaking, viewing, thinking, and skills, learning was a cognitively appropriate and natural.” Chamberlin’s classroom may be younger than secondary education but the demonstration of reading and writing going hand-in-hand couldn’t have been better.

    With this in mind, I believe students in secondary education should have the same environment. Students need to be reading daily and writing daily in a way that connects to them. Because secondary students lack the opportunity of reading for enjoyment, as Gallagher said they “rarely get below the surface to the richer, deeper meaning of the text. They think one reading is sufficient; they don’t have the skills to uncover the craft, the complexities and the nuances of the text.” Students rarely even have the endurance to read difficult text because they have grown to hate reading due to the prescriptive nature students often have to endure. Therefore, secondary educators need to take a second look at what sustained silent reading can offer students especially if our goal is to have “our students graduate with the ability to dig below the surface of text.”

    Reading allows students to experience things they may never be able to do, but through the lens of novels students can go anywhere at any time. Reading also allows students to see how writing works in the real world; it is not formulaic. Students can discover what voice sounds like through reading a variety of genres. Students can rediscover the joys of reading, but for some it may be a first discovery.

    In addition, free writing can offer students a way to discover the sound of their voice on paper. It can offer the experience of turning endless thoughts into a wonderfully written prose just by pure candidness. It can offer a new outlet for emotions, and last but not least, it can offer students a new level of pride in their own writing.

    Reading and writing in the classroom are not two separate beings. These two experiences combined in a classroom allow students to learn in a way that is not superficial or insignificant. With these two experiences combined, students will learn “writing as thinking and thinking as the fundamental skill for the twenty-first century.” Students will find the joy of being a confident writer based on practice and exposure. It’s what students need!

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  • Summer Reading

    Posted by Suzanne Spruiell on 5/20/2015
     Just in time for Summer Reading! We have added ebooks and audiobooks to our library collection. Please check out this instructive flyer outlining access procedures. You may share this in class with your scholars or you may print it out for them. This collection was purchased in hopes that we may work together to prevent the dreaded summer slide. Ebooks and audiobooks can be accessed 24/7. 

    If you would like for me to visit your classroom to demonstrate this resource for your scholars, please contact me so we may arrange a time.

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  • Printing in the library

    Posted by Suzanne Spruiell on 5/20/2015
    The library printer is available for up to three pages of printing for scholars who occasionally find themselves in need of printing assistance.  Unfortunately the printer is not equiped to handle large runs.  Please review the printing guidelines here.
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  • 21 Classic Novels to Read Before You Turn 21

    Posted by Suzanne Spruiell on 4/23/2015
    This link accesses some of the classics found on the Project Gutenberg website.  These titles are on the recommended list for the college bound.  
    1.  Scholars must download a QR Code app on their devices.  The directions for this can be found on the library website menu by clicking on the link "What are QR Codes?"
    2.  Scan the QR code next to the title.  Your selection can then be downloaded and read in eBook form.
    3.  Another way to download the title is to type in the tiny URL given by each title.
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  • The Importance of Reading

    Posted by Suzanne Spruiell on 1/5/2015

    The Importance of Reading in Senior High School

    The importance of reading
    Getting students to read their textbooks is hard. Getting them to read books just for the sheer pleasure of reading is especially harder since kids just don’t seem to be interested in reading these days. Gone are the days when kids curled up with a nice little book when it was too hot to play outside. Today, students spend any free time they have watching TV, going to the mall, tinkering with their mobile phones or playing video games.Still, the many benefits your students could reap from reading regularly should make the challenge of making them read a small price to pay. Consider the following:
    • Reading develops a person’s creativity. Unlike movies where everything is determined by the producer, writer and director, books allow students to create in their minds how a particular character looks like or imagine how a scene plays out. Reading a book therefore, allows a student to exercise and cultivate her/his creative thinking skills.
    • Developing good reading skills can improve your students’ ability to comprehend concepts and ideas.
    • Reading develops critical thinking, thus, ensuring that your students will be able to think and make good decisions for themselves.
    • Ones’ fluency in a language and, consequently, communication skills are improved by reading.
    • Reading introduces your students to new things and has the ability to broaden their interests. A student who reads a biography of Albert Einstein for example, may be inspired to take his high school Physics class more seriously.
    • Reading regularly increases the vocabulary.
    • Reading can develop positive values in your students. According to a study conducted in the United States for example, students who learn to read by the time they are in third grade are less likely to take drugs, drop out of school or end up in prison.
    • One of the main problems of today’s students is their inability to concentrate on their lessons (a result of their shortening attention span.) A solution to this problem is to encourage students to read. According to studies, reading increases a student’s ability to concentrate.
    • Developing your students’ reading and comprehension skills early on in their education also means that you are preparing them for the “real world.” Being able to read well means that they would have no problem understanding manuals, guides or contracts - vital documents and papers they will surely encounter when they join the work force.
    • Spelling improves when words are seen in print.
    • Reading also improves your students’ writing skills as they are able to “subconsciously acquire good writing style.
    The fact that students reap great benefits from reading cannot be doubted or questioned. It is for this reason that teachers must instill in students a real love for reading and groom them into becoming lifelong readers.
    Adapted from:
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  • MindShift

    Posted by Suzanne Spruiell on 12/12/2014

    I want to share with you a resource that I like to consult.  I find the content not only interesting, but very relevant.  Check my blog for links to posts that explore the future of learning in all its dimensions, covering cultural and technology trends, innovations in education, groundbreaking research, education policy, and more.
    This is the direct link to MindShift: http://blogs.kqed.org/mindshift/
    You can also "Like" MindShift on facebook and you will get daily posts.   
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  • Free Texas Almanac eBook

    Posted by Suzanne Spruiell on 12/12/2014
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  • How Google Impacts The Way Students Think

    Posted by Suzanne Spruiell on 11/18/2014

    How Google Impacts The Way Students Think

    by Terry Heick

    It’s always revealing to watch learners research. When trying to understand complex questions often as part of multi-step projects, they often simply “Google it.”

    Why do people migrate? Google it.

    Where does inspiration come from? Google it.                                                                                                                                                              
    How do different cultures view humanity differently? Google it.

    Literally Google it. Type those questions word-for-word into the Google search box and hope for answers. Educators cringe, but to the students it makes sense. And if you think about it, this is actually helpful–a rare opportunity for transparency into the mind of a student. When your formative years are spent working your fingers through apps and iPads, smartphones and YouTube, the digital world and its habits can bend and shape not just how you access information, but how you conceptualize it entirely. You see information differently–something that’s always accessible.

    And you see knowledge as searchable, even though that’s not how it works.

    1. Google creates the illusion of accessibility

    Google is powerful, the result of a complicated algorithm that attempts to index human thought that has been digitally manifest. Sounds contrived, but that’s exactly what it does. And because of Google–and to an extent, social media in general–users tend to view information through that same kind of infrastructure.

    The result? It creates the illusion that answers are always within reach even when they’re not. In fact, if users can Google answers to the questions they’re given, they’re likely terrible questions.

    2. Google naturally suggests “answers” as stopping points

    When students are looking for an “answer,” good fortune sees them arrive at whatever they think they’re looking for, where they can (hopefully) evaluate the quality and relevance of the information, cite their source, and be on their merry way.

    But with the cold logistics of software, having come what they were looking for, learners are left with the back-button, a link on the page they’re on, or a fresh browser tab. While it’s not a Herculean task to return back to notes, an app, or a partner via Skype, users who Google Abuse can at times be uncertain how to apply, integrate, or synthesize their findings, making it almost useless.

    Having found an “answer,” rabid-Googlers are ready to “finish” the assignment.

    Or are ready for more Googling (because Googling is easier than thinking).

    3. Being linear, Google obscures the interdependence of information

    Since Google looks for information as destinations–go here to find this–it conditions its most frequent users to do the same. But in all of its potency, it can make opaque the process of information seeking, and more critically the relationship between data points–even those that seem to be conflicting.

    Especially those that seem conflicting.

    By ignoring the phases of inquiry learning, premature Googlers often find what they want rather than what they might need. In this way, it underscores the independence of information rather than the interdependence. Instead of looking at information and data as components of knowledge, and then understanding, it instead treats information in more binary terms: black or white, right or wrong, credible or not credible, good or bad.

    One Response: Information Upstarts

    The funny thing is, none of this is Google’s fault. Wikipedia is a perfect source of information provided you understand how sources and information work. Same with Google. In and of itself, it’s literally a perfect, whole thing that does exactly what it’s supposed to do; it’s misunderstanding the technology itself that causes problems.

    The natural limitations of Google have led to a cottage industry of digital platforms that have moved past simple mass curation. These traditional social bookmarking sites like StumbleUpon, diigo, pearltrees, Scoopit, and others enable users to save information. Upstarts like lockerdome, pinterest, and others make this process niche, allowing for plucking of visual artifacts, and allowing users to organize them into infinite categories.

    Other apps (see Learnist) have taken this idea even further, providing more structure to how information is not only discovered, but sequenced and applied, which frankly blows any pure search engine out of the water–or at least restores it back to its proper context: a (sometimes too) simple way to find information and what others are saying about it on the way to trying to make sense of it yourself. That’s it.

    That’s search.


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  • Recite - a web tool for presentations

    Posted by Suzanne Spruiell on 11/6/2014


    This is a resource that allows users to make very nice and varied visuals.  I thought in terms of how the scholars could display information for their science or social studies projects.

    Recite has you type in a key thought or quotation and then allows you to select from a wide variety of templates that match the thought. Students can practice their design skills (another 21st century skill) while summarizing their learning. Completed creations can be emailed to the teacher, published to the web, downloaded as an image, or posted to Tumblr, Pinterest, FaceThis is a resource that allows users to make very nice and varied visuals.  I thought in terms of how the scholars could display information for their science or social studies projects.

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