Sharing books with students

Amid the chaos of trying to teach math, something refreshing has been happening in my classroom this year. It’s something that’s below the surface and quiet. It’s not something that I planned for. And it’s probably not going to show up or help my kids on any standardized exam.

What is it? I’ve been lending books to students.

It happens in several different ways, and it’s always informal. Sometimes I’ll mention a book that I’m reading or have read in the past. Or sometimes a kid will see this sign that is posted in the hallway outside my classroom and sparks a conversation with me:

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Other times, I’ll be talking to a kid about something, think of a book that I’ve read that connects to our conversation, and recommend that the student read it. At this point, I’ll walk over to my bookshelf, get the book, and tell them to return it whenever. If they have the time to read it, great. If not, that’s fine too. I follow up with them periodically.

(Sidenote: Other than turning physical pages and reducing my screen time, the shareability of physical books is a big reason why I still prefer them over their digital alternatives. Sorry e-books.)

Sharing books with students is new to me, so I’m realizing that the joy of spreading knowledge and ideas through books is awesome in and of itself, but seeing a kid’s face light up when I say, “Hey, I have a book that *you* might like” is something different altogether. I’m triggering a relationship to that student and a particular book. This is powerful. It’s also personal and makes them feel special, as it should. In this way, I would like to think that we’re forging bonds through books.

Here are some of the reads that I’ve shared with my students this year:

All this makes me think of Joel Bezaire and Sam Shah’s book clubs that they’ve had in their math classes. Maybe one day I’ll take something like that on.

In the end, I’m convinced that me becoming my own personal library is most likely a result of my reading habits really taking off last year. Interestingly, one student even asked, because I read and talk about reading so much, why I teach mathematics. She inferred that I would be better suited to teaching English.

All the more reason to keep this up.

 

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Tell me how you’re doing. Make a graph.

Here’s a prompt that I’ve used with my students at various points this year:

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I’ll vary it by asking them to make a graph about their day up to that point. Like, if it’s sixth period, they’ll have to make a graph describing how they felt during periods 1-5. Or, if it’s a Monday, I may ask them about their weekend. When semester one ends in January, I also plan on asking them to sketch their feelings from September to January. There are so many possibilities. Come to think of it, it’s not unlike the #YearInMath hashtag that made the rounds on Twitter at this time last year.

No matter how I spin it, I’ve noticed that my kids almost always make a mad dash to one of the giant whiteboards around the room to make their graph as if there’s a prize waiting for the person finishes first. Trust me, there’s not. But they are so darn eager to reflect in this mathematical sort of way. Some are more playful than others, but they always kickstart a discussion.

 

Curious, several weeks back I asked them why they love taking on this task so much. One girl said point blankly, “because we’re not usually asked by teachers about how we’re doing.”

At the moment it struck me that she’s right. I’m guilty of this all the time. The bell rings and I immediate jump into all the work that I meticulously (or hastily) planned for the day. We are relearning how to factor because 80% of the kids bombed the exam. Or that we need to finish complex numbers because winter break starts Friday. Or because my AP is coming in and needs to see students “actively engaged in their own learning.” Or because I feel like crap and slept a total of 4 hours and I just need the period to be over.

There’s always something. Teachers know this.

Yup, there’s always something each day that encourages me to overlook the fact that there are humans in front of me, the fact that my kids come into room 227 each day with complex and varied lived experiences. Like me, they have their own agendas, their own issues — most of which I’ll never know anything about. This is important to not forget.

There are boatloads of things that I need to accomplish with my kids. While I know that I can’t cater to each of their 30 unique sets of needs, what I can do is honor who they are and what they’re feeling in the moment. We can take 3 minutes to slow down, breath, and reflect. I can consciously decide to acknowledge their frustration, their anxiety, their joy. Mathematically, these graphs are one (fun) way of doing that.

 

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My 2018 in Books

I was really pleased with my reading habits this year. I read more than I ever have. In 2017, I read 26 books. Given some demanding life commitments that I knew I had this year, in January I set a goal of reading 20 books. As of right now, I have finished 30. Yay me! (And thank you NYPL for being amazing.)

So when I read Patrick Honner’s post Books I Read in 2018 where he summarizes his year of reading books, I was inspired to write this post. He also inspired me to request On Writing Well from the library. Thanks Patrick!

Most of my reading this year revolved around race. This continued the trend from last year as it’s something that has been on my mind a lot. In addition to reading about race and getting closer to my own whiteness, I was more conscious of the race of the authors I chose to read this year, ensuring that authors of color made up a large percentage of my reading.

Nonfiction | This is usually where I live when it comes to reading. The most impactful were:

  • Messy by Tim Harford. I’ve always believed that disorder and randomness are highly underrated. This book helped me to better see why.
  • White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo. This was probably the most thought-provoking book I read this year. As a white man, it helped me understand how my own ignorance and privilege has contributed to our racialized society. Written for white people, it was unapologetic and bold.
  • Teaching to Transgress by bell hooks. Chapter 10 was probably the most important chapter of any book that I read this year — and maybe ever.
  • Goodbye Things by Fumio Sasaki and Essentialism by Greg McKeown. During late summer and early fall, I read a string of books centered around living with less. Less stuff, less ideas, less commitments. Both well-written, these were two of my favorites.
  • Born a Crime by Trevor Noah. Easily 5 stars. I knew next to nothing about Apartheid, so (once again) my ignorance was on full display here. I savored Noah’s superb storytelling all the way to the end like a good meal. I was sad that it had to end.
  • The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson. This was such an engaging book from start to finish. This is technically a self-help book, but it didn’t feel like it. It’s more of a reality check; it’s woefully pragmatic and I love it.
  • Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. While I haven’t finished this yet, I already know that it’s special. Both vivid and powerful, he shares a lived experience in a way that feels like an obligatory read for anyone in this country.

Fiction | I told myself that I wanted to read more fiction as compared to last year. I succeeded! Last year I read 3 books and this year I read a whopping…5. I’m trying to get better. Notable were:

  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. This really made me think. It took me to places that I never knew I always needed to be. It transformed something that’s in the news every day — young black men who are targeted by the police — something tangible for me. Reading it was a visceral experience. I read it before the movie came out and still haven’t seen the movie, but I want to.
  • Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I read this near the end of the year and the timing was perfect because it tied together so many social issues and stereotypes. It centers on one African woman’s journey in — and out of — American culture. Plus, the writing was stellar.
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon. Having taught several autistic students through the years, and never making an effort to truly understood their experience, this book was fascinating and informative. It provided such a clear and unadulterated look into the perspective of an autistic young person.

 

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