Hey readers! A major component of the FictionMatters blog is my Teaching Reviews, so I wanted to take this chance to explain exactly what they are, who they’re for, and why I wanted to develop this resource in the first place. If you’re not a teacher, but are curious about these reviews, either read on, or skip ahead to the end of this post where I share a few ways non-teachers might also be able to use these posts!
Teaching Reviews are inspired by some of the problems and challenges my colleagues and I have come up against when trying to revamp our curriculum. We all want to offer a wide variety of challenging and engaging books to our students. Books from a wide range of authors and perspectives that both reflect our student’s own experiences and offer them windows into experiences other than their own. We want to assign books that require critical thinking and close reading, alongside books that students want to devour in a single night. That’s a lot to ask of ourselves, and we’re facing a few specific problems in making our dream curriculum a reality.
Problem One: Too Little Time. This is probably the biggest challenge for teachers wanting to find new books for their curriculum. It is hard to read in your free time when you have to do work in your free time. Grading and planning extend far into our out-of-school hours so not everyone has the time to read 5 books to vet for their students.
Problem Two: Too Many Choices. There are so many teachable books released each year, not to mention the well-stocked list of non-canonical and modern classics. Knowing where to start when our time is so limited is a tough, and even if we find books we love, that doesn’t guarantee those books will be right for our classrooms.
Problem Three: Content Concerns. I am a firm believer that students should be able to read whatever they want, but every teacher has content they know will be a tough sell with their departments, administrations, or parent communities, or simply content that isn’t appropriate for full-class discussions with their student body. While I’m not suggesting that any particular content excludes books from being teachable, we all definitely read books differently through our teacher eyes than our pleasure-reader eyes.
Problem Four: Existing Curriculum. Even in the most stale curriculum, there are books we love to teach and/or books we’re required to teach. It’s an even bigger challenge to find new books that foster the same skills to replace some of the classics or books that thematically and pair well with the books we want to keep teaching.
What Are Teaching Reviews?
Teaching Reviews aim to solve these problems by reviewing books with these challenges in mind. I write these reviews when I read books through my teacher eyes, which means I’m looking for essential themes, social issues, interesting literary devices, text pairings, and challenging content. Each Teaching Review offers insight into all of these essential factors as well as a lengthier write-up exploring why the book matters and what it could offer your students. My hope is that these help you find great classroom books by allowing you to skip straight to the texts that will work best with your curriculum and for your students. While these reviews won’t guarantee you’ll want to use a book for your class or tell you how to teach it, they will help jumpstart your reading and hopefully inspire some new curricular choices for you and your school.
Are They Just for Teachers?
Definitely not! Teaching Reviews can be a great resource for book clubs, especially if you’re looking to pair new releases with classics, if your club likes to read about particular themes or social issues, or if there’s certain content that’s a no-go for some of your members. They’re also great if you’re looking to challenge your own reading with books that experiment with language and style, or books that play with classic literary conventions. You should note that some Teaching Reviews may have minor spoilers due to the “Content to Consider” section. I try to keep these rather vague, but sometimes they give away a bit of plot.
I’ll be adding new Teaching Reviews to the site at least once a week, so check back often to find your next great book!