Splendora High School freshmen are getting creative with their reading projects. Their English I teacher, Joshua Gonzalez, assigned independent reading assignments at the start of the second semester. Students were permitted to select their own books provided they were school appropriate, at a 9th grade reading level, and approximately 300 pages long. Weekly checkpoints were done to verify students were keeping up with their reading and annotations. At the end of each three-week period, students chose a medium (2-page paper, newspaper column, comic book, art project, character journal, or CD soundtrack) to characterize their reading selection.
"No matter what medium students chose to do for their books, they were made to understand that they were not merely doing book reports, nor were they permitted to simply summarize their selected works," said Gonzalez. "Each student was responsible for putting together a careful analysis of their book focusing on the plot and the characters in order to draw deep insights that could be applied or paralleled to their own lives. The central questions at the core of everything were, 'What did I learn from my book?' and 'How can I apply what I learned to my own life?,' added Gonzalez.
Freshman student Anna Wieghat selected Dorthy Must Die by Danielle Page for her reading selection and used art as the medium for her analysis. Wieghat's art project used the story's setting to depict the darkness of the book and that Page's Oz was not a cheerful place. The yellow brick road was darkened and plants were dying in Wieghat's artwork. "I really liked this book because it was a different take on the Wizard of Oz and things are opposite from what they were," said Wieghat.
"The overall point of the independent reading and the accompanying projects is to get students to practice close-reading strategies, " said Gonzalez. "By allowing them to do this informally on a reading selection they choose for themselves, I have found I get less resistance when they are asked to do the same for reading selections assigned in class," he added.
Gonzalez's methods must work. Not only do his students respond well in his classes, but his teaching peers respect him as well. Only in his second year of teaching, Gonzalez was named the 2016 New Teacher of the Year for Splendora ISD.