Archives For The Alchemist

“Chance favors the prepared” in the used book market.

Saturday is my day for running errands which takes me to Brookfield or New Milford, two Northwest Connecticut communities. Each of these towns has a their own Goodwill store located on Route 7, and I make regular stops to their bookshelves of donated books looking to see what has been most recently donated.

This past Saturday morning, I did just that. In fact, I stopped at both stores and purchased a total of 47 books for $41.43. WhenI came home, I noticed that WebEnglish Teacher had posted a link to a website listing the 100 Essential Reads for the Lifelong Learner  organized by Online Schools. These books were organized by discipline: fiction, non-fiction, autobiography/memoir, biography, world literature literary theory, history, political science,science/math/social science. Her question was “How many of these essential books have you read?” I was happy to see some familiar titles on the list, but many were new to me.

I could not help but notice that I had just purchased five of the suggested titles on this list for different classroom libraries that very day! There were other titles on the list available on thrift store shelves that I did not get since our libraries either already had enough copies or the titles are available online in the public domain.  The Online Classroom Essential Reads List is organized so that each title had a designated number, not a rank, and link provided for each book with a short explanation. Some of the links are helpful.

Here is a list of the 5 PURCHASED ESSENTIAL READS and the grade or class that uses them:

35. The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. This fictional account of a platoon in Vietnam is based on Tim O’Brien’s experience in the war himself and explores the fear and courage that are necessary to bring one through to the other side.

-This is a text that is used in our Grade 11-American Literature classes. The book is one of the few texts that students will willingly complete; once they finished the first story, they are hooked which is a tribute to O’Brien’s writing style. The prose is artistic but not difficult for even our lowest readers. Our students are curious about Vietnam, a part of history that is chronologically left for those lazy days of June. We use film clips (Platoon, Apocolypse Now, The Deer Hunter) in our unit with this text. We also eat MREs in class, and organize lists as to what each of use “carries.”

43. This Boy’s Life by Tobias Wolff. Wolff recounts his life as a boy and teen struggling with his identity as he lives with his divorced mother and her second husband in the 1950’s.

-This text will go into the English IV elective Memoir. There is a possibility that a 9th grader will choose this as an independent reading book in the non-fiction unit. The narration captures teen angst very well, and could work as a non-fiction companion piece to Catcher in the Rye in Grade 11. If Common Core wants classrooms to integrate more non-fiction, this is an excellent piece to add.

61. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. Discover how to find the beauty in life no matter what your experience as you follow the life of a young shepherd who gains so much from his journey of life.

-This book is assigned as summer reading for incoming English II honor students. We require a dialectic journal with 30 quotes from the texts as the summer reading assignment. Despite the burden of writing, students really enjoy this book which allows us to segue from “the journey” archetype taught in Grade 9 to the different types of perspectives in Grade 10 World Literature.

94. Silent Spring by Rachel Carson. Carson’s powerful writing on the topic of environmental justice creates a book that will make the reader think seriously about humanity’s relationship to the Earth.

-I got this book for the environmental studies teacher. So far, I have found five nice copies this past year. She offers this as optional reading to her students, and I think this should be required reading for students interested in pursuing an environmental science…or any science, for that matter.

100. The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks. Psychology student or not, this book will appeal to anyone who has an interest in the curious way the mind works–and how it does not work. Several of the most bizarre cases are detailed here.

-I rarely find copies of this book, so finding one in good condition is a score! The psychology/sociology teacher loves to lend this book to her students; they are fascinated by the case studies. I am always excited to find a gently used copy for her to share.

Here is a list of the 10 essential reads I LEFT ON THE SHELVES (and where they are used in our curriculum)

1. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.-Grade 11; we have enough copies

12. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. -AP English Literature; text is in the public domain so students read this online.

14. The Call of the Wild by Jack London.- Grade 9;  text is in the public domain so students read this online.

15. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. -Grade 11; we have enough copies

28. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver.- AP English Literature; we have enough copies

33. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides.- Optional read for Grade 11 Coming of Age unit OR Advanced Placement English

34. Life of Pi by Yann Martel. -Grade 10; We have enough copies

58. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. AP English Literature; we have enough copies

82. The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E. B. White.- Resource for AP English Language and AP English Literature and Creative Writing

98. The Interpretation of Dreams by Sigmund Freud.-I will need to check with the psychology teacher!

 Both Goodwill stores, Brookfield and New Milford, regularly offer a wide variety of used books, and our classroom libraries are currently well-stocked with titles puchased used for $.50-$2.00.
This past Saturday, the  total cost for the five  “essential” titles I did purchase? $5.18. Getting these essential reads into the hands of our students? Priceless.

Sophomore English is centered on the study of World Literature and is organized to complement Modern World History classes taught by members of the Social Studies Department. This means, when students are taught about World War I, the English classes read All Quiet on the Western Front.

One of the goals this year for every member of the English Department is to increase the amount of reading opportunities. To meet this goal, the EnglishII classes have just completed a unit where they chose books written by world (not American) authors or books about world events. The unit ran for 18 days-11 days class periods designed with 20 minutes of silent sustained reading combined with lit circles for a total of 3 hours and 40 minutes of in-class reading time.
Students choose the book they wanted to read after researching book titles with reviews (from Amazon) promoted in a prepared folder on Livebinders. Literature circles were organized by student selection of titles; teachers made recommendations for low-level readers.

80% of the texts offered in this unit were added to the classroom library as used books. Books were purchased for $.50-$4.00 each over the period of two years through visits to thrift stores, public library sales, and online used book vendors. The remaining 20% of texts were already purchased for classroom libraries through the retail market. The most popular titles selected by the students included: A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, The Alchemist, Hiroshima, and The Life of Pi (titles initially purchased at retail price); Like Water for Chocolate, City of Thieves, The Girl with the Pearl Earring, The God of Small Things and Ella Minnow Pea (all titles added through used book markets).

Literature activities were designed to encourage student creativity and to be simple enough so that students could complete the tasks during the period. Students were continually reminded that they need to read for homework as well as in class.
Once the literature circles were organized, students kept all group work in folders. Literature circles were not divided with assigned roles; all members of the group participated in the daily scheduled activity.

Daily activities included:

  • Members of the group developed five questions each which were shared in the group. All members chose three question from this pool and responded to them;
  • Members of the group each located a passage with figurative imagery and used that passage to create a found poem;
  • Members of the group illustrated a scene from the book as a six-panel comic strip;
  • Members of the group researched 14 facts about the text they chose, the author, and the context when the book was published;
  • Members of the group each wrote three character haikus;
  • Members of the group created one timeline of 10 events from the text and organized these on interactive software.

Once students had chosen their texts, they were given an index card to record data about their reading habits. Students recorded their progress on these cards with the following data: page # at the beginning of a reading session, page # at the conclusion of a reading session; the number of minutes for the reading session; the location of the reading session. At the conclusion of the unit, this card was used as a self-reflection exercise, and the data card attached to a sheet with the following questions:

1. According to the data you recorded on the card, how long did it take you to read this book?
2. What was your average reading rate (pages per minute)?
3. In which location did you read most frequently?
4. If you had to take a detailed multiple choice quiz or test on this book, would you have scored well? WHY or WHY NOT?
5. Who would you recommend should read this book?

As a final assessment, students completed a dialectical journal of 10 quotes (5 from the beginning of the book; 5 from the end of the book).

The unit was successful in having students engage with their texts daily; students would enter the classroom saying, “We get to read first, right?” while literature circles allowed for student centered activities. Assessments of responses collected in literature circles allowed teachers an opportunity to monitor student understanding. Several students completed their chosen text early. These students were given one page book review sheets to complete for extra credit; no other assessments were given for extra credit reading.

The goal was to increase student engagement in texts with SSR and literature circles while exposing students to author voices from around the world. This unit has proven to be flexible and teachers will schedule this unit with some changes to literature circle activities during standardized state testing and again at the end of of the school year. The 20 minutes a day also provided time for teachers to familiarize themselves with many of the texts as well. Why should students be the only ones enjoying a book? What teacher wouldn’t want a little reading time for themselves?