There are standard “core” texts taught in English Language Arts classrooms, but should that text be the ONLY text students should be reading? Generally speaking, the pace for a book taught in class may be slower for some members of the class. There maybe a text, specifically a play by Shakespeare where students cannot be expected to read by themselves. 183 teaching days in a school year does limit the number of texts a class can read as a group. Of course, a teacher can adjust the speed of unit dedicated to teaching a text, but occasionally a unit can stretch over seemingly endless weeks. Interruptions to a schedule (snow days, assemblies, etc.) can contribute to the “drag” on teaching a particular text.
So, how does a teacher keep up with student reading skills when the unit slows down? What to do to keep students reading independently? What to offer higher level readers when a taught text is lower than their reading ability? What to offer lower level readers when the taught text is to high? Use satellite texts!
Satellite texts are books that are connected to a taught text either by context or theme or author. I wish I had coined this name, but full credit belongs to Stephanie, our grade 11 English teacher. In using satellite texts, she selects a multitude of texts and offers these to students to choose to read in conjunction with a taught text.
For example, for her unit on Native Americans Influence on Culture, Barbara Kingsolver’s novel The Bean Trees is the core text or whole class novel. Students are offered 10-15 other titles to read independently including (but not limited to) Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian or Reservation Blues; Larry Watson’s Montana 1948; Louise Erdrich’s Love Medicine; Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony; Tony Hillerman’s A Thief of Time; Dee Brown’s Bury My Heat at Wounded Knee; Kingsolver’s other two novels Pigs in Heaven and Animal Dreams; and Codetalker by Joseph Bruchac.
There are several ways to effectively use satellite texts to complement a taught text. The most obvious use in the above scenario is to have students compare and contrast the contexts, themes, and/or characters between a whole class novel and the text they have chosen on their own. Stephanie can choose to have students work in literature circles, work with a book-buddy or communicate through blogs; she can have students work independently.
Satellite texts are the books that students can read during scheduled SSR period. Students are encouraged to set reading goals based on the number of pages in a text and their reading rate which is usually determined after reading the first 20 pages in a text. Satellite texts are not designed to provide assessments the same way that a taught text would; quizzes and tests should never be the focus. Instead, a satellite text is designed to increase opportunities to practice reading. Students may record their progress on an index card (# of pages read at a location, # of minutes) as a means of assessing their reading progress and reflect on this data.
Ideally, students should be able to draw comparisons (plot, character, theme, setting) from their satellite text to the text being taught. These comparisons can be made in class discussions or in written responses to the taught text. For example, students can draw conclusions about setting on a character’s coming of age or notice similarities in an author’s writing style. Contrasts can be made in recognizing differences by evaluating language or theme from the taught text to the satellite text.
Using satellite texts can expand a unit by an additional week, however, this additional time can provide some flexibility for a teacher in transitioning from one unit to another. Students in a class can be still be engaged in a book while the needs of a few students who need individual attention to improve understanding, or who may have make-up work, or who need more time to finish the taught text can be addressed. Using satellite texts is ideal for employing mini-lessons, or for transitioning from one unit to another that may overlap in theme or content.
Our classroom libraries are loaded with satellite texts purchased through the used book markets (thrift stores, public library book sales, online used book vendors) that sell books for $.50-$4.00. After two years of collecting, there are roughly 5-20 copies of each of the texts listed above; our total investment for this unit has been under $300.00.
Employing satellite texts in a classroom is a way to increase reading in the classroom and provide (limited) choice in texts. These books allow teachers the opportunities to expand reading beyond core texts…to increase a student’s reading experience….to infinity and beyond!
Love Sherman Alexie, and the movie “The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven” is good too.