Classrooms are several feet deep in a “book flood” at the Wamogo Middle and High School.
While there has been a torrent of late summer rains that have closed roads and delayed schools in the Northwest corner of Connecticut, our students are experiencing a deluge of an entirely different nature. Gently used books spill over in classroom bookcases; they slop on to counters and swamp several double-sided carts.
The term “book flood” is used by Kelly Gallagher in Readicide. He states, “Let me be clear: if we are to have any chance of developing a reading habit in our students, they must be immersed in a K12 ‘book flood’–a term coined by researcher Warwick Elley (1991)” (43). Book flood is a theory, recently tested in countries (Fiji, Sri Lanka, Singapore) where English is not part of the culture. The theory is that students exposed to quantities of literature will learn English as a second language more effectively.
The abstract for The Potential of Book Floods for Raising Literacy Levels by Warwick B. Elley states that “the evidence is now strong that it is possible to double the rate of reading acquisition of Third World primary school pupils with a ‘Book Flood’ of about 100 high-interest books, per class, and short teacher training sessions. The benefits for reading skill and enthusiasm are consistent across diverse cultures, mother tongues and age levels, and they appear to generate corresponding improvements in children’s writing, listening comprehension, and related language skills. Such skills are typically found to develop very slowly under traditional textbook styles of teaching.”
Gallagher suggests that American educators do the same in their classrooms by asking, “Do students at your school have access to a wide range of interesting reading materials? Is providing access to interesting text a priority among your administration and faculty? Are students on your campus immersed in a book flood? Are we giving them every opportunity, via reading, to build vital knowledge capital?” (49).
Well, we are.
Over the course of one year (June 2010-2011), the Wamogo English Department had added 2,500 books previously used books to the classroom collections. Many of these books are familiar titles that are taught in grades 9-12 (EX: The Great Gatsby, Lord of the Flies, Animal Farm, Speak, The Glass Castle, A Lesson before Dying, The Bean Trees, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Handmaid’s Tale) or titles taught in grades 7 & 8 (EX: Stargirl, Nothing but the Truth, The Giver, The Light in the Forest, The Outsiders, No More Dead Dogs).
Additionally, class sets of books (20 -30 copies) that were already purchased as new books were expanded with used copies for each student at grade level. For example, the 10th grade library started with 20 copies of The Kite Runner. After two years, there are now 116 copies for 10th graders, one for every student, plus all teachers and teachers’ aides. There are also 15 copies of A Thousand Splendid Suns for students who would like to read another novel by Khaled Hossani. Similarly, 20 copies of Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time were purchased new in 2009. An additional 67 used copies have been added since; 13 more copies will make a grade level set of 100 copies.
In order to offer independent choices for the Advanced Placement English Literature and English Language classes, newer titles have been added including multiple copies (4-30) of The Plot Against America, Alias Grace, The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Middlesex, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, The Poisonwood Bible, In Cold Blood, Love in the Time of Cholera, Paddy Clarke Ha-Ha, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Cold Mountain, Ironweed, The Wide Sargasso Sea, Gertrude and Claudius, Atonement, The Hours, and The Memory Keeper’s Daughter.
There are thematically connected texts for 10th grade World Literature such as a unit centered on adolescents growing up in conflict. These books include A Long Way Gone, The Power of One, What is the What, and First They Killed My Father. Students can choose to read one of these titles in literature circles. There are also thematically connected texts for non-fiction (A Walk in the Woods, Into the Wild, The Perfect Storm, Touching the Void, The Hungry Ocean, Between a Rock and a Hard Place) and fiction (The Bluest Eye, Their Eyes Were Watching God, The Color Purple, Invisible Man, The Known World, Monster, Precious, Native Son) for students in English III American literature to read independently or in groups.
But, it is in the area of providing book choice for independent reading that the largest gains have been made in the classroom collections. There are book series (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, The Ranger’s Apprentice, Maximum Ride) available for 9th students to choose during Silent Sustained Reading (SSR) sessions. There are many different titles from popular teen authors: Meg Cabot, Anthony Horowitz, Jodi Picoult, Sarah Dessen and Scott Westerfield.
There are several (5-10) copies of books such as The Lovely Bones, Dairy Queen, So Be It, Where the Heart Is, and The Thirteenth Tale. There are pairs of books such as The Chosen, The Good Thief, Bad Kitty, Shadow of the Wind, Sleeping Freshmen Don’t Lie, Prom, and Life As We Knew It. There are single copies of The London Eye Mystery, The Off Season, The Compound, The Maze Runner, Black Duck, and Copper Sun.
At the conclusion of the summer of 2011, after trips to thrift stores and public library book sales throughout Connecticut, another 1,700 copies of books have been added to our shelves at a cost of approximately $2,300.00.
The “book flood” straining the banks of Wamogo’s classroom shelves is, as Gallagher suggests, wide-ranging; it is a flood saturated with interesting material to read. Our students are now inundated with titles; our teachers have an overflow of suggestions. We have created the one flood in which I could happily watch students drown.