Archives For Grade 9

As the first semester begins to draw to a close, I need to check in and see what progress the 9th grade students are making with Silent Sustained Reading (SSR). Our school’s move to a block schedule (A/B) days of 83 minute classes has given us the opportunity to provide students with 10-20 minutes of SSR every English class period. I try very hard not to put any restriction on what students read, although I still urge them to try and “read up” to more complicated texts. I wrote about the rationale for this program in a previous post, “Be Vewy, Vewy Quiet…We’re Reading”.

To facilitate the SSR program, there are two carts in the room with books I have purchased through the secondary market, mostly thrift stores and public library book sales (hence the title of the blog “Used Books in Class”). Each cart holds about 150 books; at $1-$2 a book, I have spent about $500 on the 300 books available for SSR.

A wide selection

A wide selection

The most popular titles in circulation these past few months have been:

Lauren Myracle’s TTFN and TTYL
John Flanagan’s Ranger’s Apprentice (any one in the series)
Catherine Gilbert Murdock ‘s Dairy Queen
Gabrielle Zevin’s Elsewhere
Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones
Patricia McCormack’s Cut
Carl Deuker’s Gym Candy
S. A. Bodeen’s The Compound
Sarah Dressen’s  Dreamland
Nicholas Sparks’s Dear John
Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games Trilogy (pick any one of these; they are on EVERYONE’S shelf)

The students are keeping their responses to the books they read on the Shelfari website this year. This is a commercial site tied to the retail giant Amazon, but there are ways to lock down the private groups we have established for each class. Last year, we used Blogger, but there were some glitches with Internet Explorer and Blogger; unless we used a browser like Firefox, the pages kept jumping and commenting was impossible. When students are on the Shelfari site, they can see what other students in the class are reading, and posting titles they have read or plan on reading is really easy. In addition, there are already reviews of the books, so students are forced to add something original to a review of the book. They can read recommendations (for and against the text) and they can participate in a discussion.

This morning I posted the following discussion prompt on Shelfari:

You have had 16 weeks of SSR in class-most of the time with your choice of reading materials.
Tell me how you are progressing as a reader. Are you finding enough materials to read? Have you read at least ONE good book? Are you a better reader now that you were in September? Why or why not?

Some of the responses made my teacher’s heart pound proudly:

Over the past 16 weeks of SSR, I’ve probably read 5 or 6 books. Some of them were short, but some were a reasonable length. I’ve really been enjoying the SSR time we’ve been getting because the quiet period of time we get is really beneficial to my reading skills.

I am progressing in my reading. So far I have read three books this year. I am finding plenty to read. I have found many good books, including “Prom & Prejudice” and “Awkward”. I feel I am a better reader than I was in September because I am reading more difficult books than I was before and in September.

Yes I am better reader because last year I read even slower than I do now and I understand more because of the vocabulary words. I am finding enough materials to read. A good book I read this year was Miracle on 49th Street, this was good because it was a very suspenseful book.

But then, there are the honest appraisals that make me concerned about how students select books and a student’s ability to stay focused in a class for 10-20 minutes:

I’m an average speed reader, but I tend to get distracted. I’ve read a lot of good books, but they were in a lot of different genres. It’s hard for me to find books that interest me lately. I feel that my reading skills have changed a little, I’ve been able to understand things a little more.

During the past 16 weeks of SSR I haven’t really improved very much with my reading. I have only finished one book and I am working on another the first was a pretty good length and didn’t take long to read and the other is pretty long. I am a slow reader and I also just never find the time to sit down and read my book. Also, I get distracted while reading my book sometimes, so I haven’t progressed very much in the weeks of SSR.

And then, there are the even more painfully honest appraisals:

I’m a really really slow reader, and tend to get very distracted while reading, so I have a hard time making lots of progress in books. Books that are available to me don’t interest me. There was only one book that I’ve read and liked in my whole life; but there are no sequels. No I’m not a better reader, my reading skills never change, I’m always a slow and easily distracted reader.

The quiet time in SSR may not be “quiet” enough for some students, so I need to think about the physical space being more reader friendly. Apparently, I also need to have some students develop an understanding of what they like to read, and see how I can get those books onto my book carts.

Success with SSR is monitored through student self-appraisal, so I will be checking back in a few months to see if students note any changes in how they are reading. If nothing else, I know that there is power in the shared quiet reading experience we have twice or three times a week. When their heads are bent down in a book, I can feel them read.

…..the little mermaid’s tongue was cut out by the sea witch.”

…..the stepsisters cut off parts of their feet in order to fit into the golden shoe.”

…..the prince’s eyes were pierced by thorns after he was thrown from the tower.”

…..the children will not find the way home again, and we shall be rid of them.”

“Eugh,” says Nick. “These are horrible stories”

“They are so bloogory, …a combination of bloody and gory!” exclaims Loghan.

“Really, really gory,” adds Cassie.

We are in the middle of a fairy tale unit for my 9th grade English class which was designed so that students can begin to identify patterns in classical stories and match those patterns to the contemporary stories they read independently.

Each student has a “criteria” sheet to complete while reading the fairy tales in this unit. We share these lists of  repeated elements in fairy tales in class after reading.

Our form for generating the criteria for fairy tales


So far they have listed elements that would be expected from comparison by reading fairy tales such as castles, giants, and magic objects from their readings of Jack and the Beanstalk, Rapunzel, The Valiant Little Tailor, and Cinderella. They have also compiled a list of elements I did not expect: birds; thieves and lies; trees and bushes; and wives, not mothers. There is also a great deal of “love at first sight” discussion.

“Cinderella only saw the prince once!” says Casey. While Louisa notes that the prince is the only man Rapunzel has ever seen, “and the next time she sees him, she has a set of twins!”

Our fairy tale unit is a first exposure to the genre without the Disney treatment for many of my students, and a number of the students have commented how they think these original  fairy tales are too frightening for children. On the other hand, there are a few students who have enjoyed the dark and edgy nature of Grimms (aptly named) fairy tales. “At least the characters aren’t breaking out in song,” muttered Christopher reading The Little Mermaid.

We have no trade books or anthologies on fairy tales and have been using online texts only. Some of the texts are difficult, so we have posted resources such as the site Lit2go where most of the stories in the Andrew Lang fairy tale books and Grimm’s collection of stories have been recorded; clicking on links brings a student to the text and supporting audio.

Once the students have generated the criteria for the genre of fairy tales, we have asked them to match the fairy tale story plot to one of the  “Seven Plots in Storytelling.” Students need to explain why the fairy tale plot matches one of the seven plots in literature:

  • Overcoming the Monster
  • Rags to Riches .
  • The Quest 
  • Voyage and Return 
  • Comedy 
  • Tragedy
  • Rebirth

The “rags to riches” plot is easily understood by most students through the story of Cinderella. Similarly, they easily identify the “overcoming the monster” plot with Jack and the Beanstalk. The more tricky plots of “redemption” and “tragedy” challenge them to incorporate evidence from the story. For example, Michael suggested that the Giant’s fall from the beanstalk, “was tragic for the Giant”, but others in the class argued back that tragedy means the main character suffers the tragedy. Other students put The Little Mermaid into the “redemption” plot because, as Cassie noted, “she gave up her life to spare the life of the Prince, and she becomes immortal as a result.”

We have also had the students create original stories that address one of the seven plots using the software Storybird. The art on this website helps to inspire the story; according to the website, “Storybird reverses the process of visual storytelling by starting with the image and ‘unlocking’ the story inside.” The stories are quick to produce, but they do require Adobe Flash. So far, we have watched several “rags to riches” stories, but no student has written a “quest.” However, I am not worried about the “quest” plot because the conclusion of this fairy tale unit will bring us to the unit on Greek myths before we begin The Odyssey.

Michael was looking ahead at the syllabus and asked suspiciously, “Is The Odyssey any good?”

“Oh, yes,” I assured him, “the Odyssey is the ultimate quest!”

He looked unconvinced until I added,  “and there are parts that are really gory!”