Sunday Book Review – Say What You Will

One thing that is missing from YA literature is the presence of characters with differences. However, this is not the case in Cammie McGovern’s book, Say What You Will. In this case, cerebral palsy and OCD plague the main characters.

Amy, who has CP, is determined to enjoy her senior year despite a mother who appears overprotective. Peer helpers are “hired” to replace Amy’s one-on-one aide at school. Here, she meets Matthew, who she learns has some serious OCD issues.

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Over the course of the book, Amy and Matthew become close, each relying on the other. Since this is a YA book, there are love interests, heart breaks and some far-fetched drama. As an adult, the ending seemed to be quite a stretch, but for teens, the events transpire in that hopeful way we all wish happened with our first loves.

I enjoyed this book and I especially liked the imperfections of the characters, which is certainly relatable to any teen (and adult!) Some of the text is written in emails sent between Amy and Matthew, which may even spark interest in teens who are hesitant to read!

There’s discussion of sex, so this is probably a book for older teens (although it’s not graphic by any means). Overall, an enjoyable book!

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Aren’t all practices subjective though?

My Facebook feed is filled with a bunch of useless information, but given that I have a great deal of teacher friends, there are times when my newsfeed is bursting with newsworthy bits of information that only teachers find interesting.

This was the case recently, when a colleague of mine shared the article, “What Doesn’t Work: Literacy Practices We Should Abandon.” As a literacy teacher, this obviously piqued my interest. Yes! Finally someone is going to tell me what works and what doesn’t, because even after 12 years in the classroom, I am still trying to figure this out!

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I read the article. I agreed with some points and disagreed with others. Many of the points were common sense to any veteran literacy teacher. I wondered what sort of teaching experience the authors/researchers had.

No, I’m not an expert when it comes to teaching literacy. However, I wanted to weigh-in on some of the practices this article says literacy teachers should abandon.

1.) “Look up the list” vocabulary instruction – I agree that this is not a useful tool when teaching vocabulary. I’d rather weave vocabulary instruction into class via the literature students are reading in class. However, this is not always feasible, especially when many schools have a mandatory vocabulary program (separate from novels) that teachers are required to use. This year (and in some years past), I used Sadlier-Oxford with my students. I found that, 1.) It was rather difficult for students who were reading below grade-level; 2.) Some students (only those reading at or above grade-level), used the words in their writing or everyday conversation. While this type of vocabulary program fit well into my schedule (used during homeroom as morning work), it had very little impact on the majority of my students. The bottom line – teachers don’t always have a say when it comes to vocabulary instruction, but in my experience, students learn (and use) words when they have more exposure and meaning to their work (used in class in novels, articles, etc.)

2.) Prizes for reading. This year our school decided to have students complete the Six Flags reading log. If they read 360 minutes, they would receive a free ticket to Six Flags. As I suspected, many students just filled out the log and their parents signed it, regardless of if they actually read 360 minutes. This method does not instill a love of reading in children; rather, it sends the message that there should be a reward for something that should be rewarding itself – the act of reading.

3.) Unsupported Independent Reading. This is an area where I disagree with the authors. I begin each class with 10-15 minutes of silent reading. Not only does it set the tone for the class, but it calms down a rowdy bunch of middle school students! Do I do this for my sanity? Of course! However, I also read with my students. I read YA books as a way of showcasing books they may like to read themselves. Could I do a better job of this? Yes. In my perfect classroom, I would conference with students about their book of choice. I would hold book talks so students could discuss their choices with others. I think it’s extremely important that students have this little slice of time where they make the choice on what to read. It’s a time of class that I’m still trying to perfect, but it’s a sacred time and the students get that. They respect it. I want them to know that reading doesn’t always involve discussing the main idea or completing a plot diagram. Sometimes, you just read because you enjoy it.

While researchers around the world try to figure out the “best” practices for teaching literacy, everyday classroom teachers are really the researchers. We try new initiatives daily; we fail; we try again. Eventually, we find something that works, if only for one year for a specific group of children. And the cycle of teaching continues. All practices are subjective – what makes a practice a “best” practice? Whatever works in your classroom!