Wednesday, January 18, 2017

BOOKED and Developmentally Reading @KwameAlexander

I quickly texted Kwame after I taught the first night of a graduate course on Teaching Developmental Reading in Secondary Schools, simply to state: "You're a genius." (Don't tell him that, it would be redundant. He knows).

I've worked with The Crossover in a wide-variety of settings, but I've wanted to play with Booked, especially since I've said to many, "This was a fun read, but I imagine it would be even more spectacular to teach."

And that is what I'm setting out to do. In a service-learning course, my graduate students are collaborating with an ESL class in Bridgeport sharing reading experiences together (while we write curriculum to coincide with Kwame Alexander's text to develop adolescent English language learners in a high needs school). I chose Booked as our mentor text simply because I wanted to pay closer attention to the nuances (and skills) in which Kwame writes.

Last night was our first course and, following effective practices for developing readers, I started the evening with a vocabulary exercise where students defined words and drew pictures to help others understand the meaning. I fronted several words I knew would be useful this semester: adolescent, theory, coach, booked, reading, pedagogy, development, communication, language, at-risk, poetry, critical, goal, self-esteem, fluidity, and literacy. Each defined their word and I collected the definitions on the board, before assigning them to choose four words and write how they are related to each other.

I was most impressed by the young woman who defined booked, however. In my first read of Alexander's YA novel, I thought the title was about being caught between words and family (like book ends). The novel showcases reading assignments and the protagonist is, as well, booked by school. Yet, the young woman defined booked as "over committed" and "highly regulated." One of the young men in the course said, "I cheated and read the book before this course. That's a good definition. The kid is overbooked by his parents."

Geez. They weren't even assigned the book yet. In fact, I handed them copies I bought for them - how did this kid read it already? How'd he know?

But the best part of the evening was when a Spanish teacher and father of two emailed me to say, "I've been thinking about the word, booked, and I knew I heard it before in another context. Driving home, I remembered it is a term used in soccer when one is given a yellow card. If you're booked twice, you get red-carded and thrown out of the game."

Boom .Language. The purpose of Kwame Alexander's text. I love that a simple activity to kick off a semester, initiated a large point I desire to make in this course --- every word counts. To be a critical reader, one has to pay attention to effective communication. Literacy requires fluidity and a love of language. To teach reading, however, once needs to pay attention to theory and pedagogy. Teaching is poetry, but it is also hard work, especially as we set out to mentor and coach young people (even those who are most at-risk for deficit constructions in schools). We are in the practice of development, and each adolescent deserves our greatest attention.


I was schooled and booked by my students (I'm always schooled and booked by Kwame). I knew I would love teaching this piece of work. As always, thank you, Rooster! This is going to be a fun semester.

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