In Teaching Reading Using YA Literature, Jennifer Buehler uses the expression “teacher as matchmaker” to describe the work we do to connect students with books. She says, “If we as teachers truly want to support teens as readers, we must develop broad, deep, personalized book knowledge. As we build this knowledge, it makes sense to invest a good portion of our effort in building knowledge of young adult literature.” In other words, if we want to match kids to books, we need to know the books they will want to read.
We’ve previously written about recognizing and addressing our reading gaps and the necessity of reading well outside of our personal comfort zone. This helps us to have conversations about books with all the students in our classroom and make recommendations to them based on their individual interests and needs as readers.
How it Works
I puzzled over how to give the middle level teachers I work with the opportunity to sample a variety of titles that they might not necessarily pick up on their own. Eventually, I decided to try out a book relay. It works very much like a chain letter, except with books. Teachers are organized into teams of six and each reader on the team receives a unique title at the beginning of the school year. After five to six weeks, everyone sends their book and a few post-it notes capturing their thoughts to the person below them on the list via district mail. By June everyone on the team has read all six books in the team’s rotation. Then, we gather for a celebration to return each book and all of the team’s thinking about it to the original reader.
The first year we tried it we had eighteen participating teachers. This year we have twenty-four! I always look forward to receiving my relay book in my mailbox. I also love seeing what the readers before me have said on their post-it notes. A few schools are now organizing their own book relays among staff members and I think this is a terrific way to create a community of readers with colleagues. A number of teachers involved have also said that the 6-week window allows them to read some of the books aloud to their classes before passing them on.
Here are some of the titles relay teams have read:
Book Relay Titles 2016-17
Book Relay Titles 2017-18
Building a Network of Teacher Readers
One of my goals is to model activities that teachers can use in their classrooms. A question that has come up is whether a book relay is a viable option for readers in the classroom. The book relay emerged as a strategy to help teachers fill in some of the natural reading gaps we all develop and to build a network of readers across our district. For that purpose, it has been a success.
I think that teaming up students and rotating books in this way would work against our goal of helping readers find engaging texts and addressing some of their own reading gaps. It would remove choice, put readers on a fixed reading schedule, and make it difficult for students to break up with books that aren’t working for them. In my opinion, book talks, conversation about reading with classmates and their teacher, interest inventories, informal sharing among readers, and access to a wide range of text are better classroom practices to achieve these same goals.
The book relay has been a fun and economical way to create a community of readers and to share new titles with teachers.