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:
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:
- Innumeracy by John Allen Paulos (twice)
- Einstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman (twice)
- Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
- Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly
- Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
- Whistling Vivaldi by Claude M. Steele
- I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai
- Essentialism by Greg McKeown (twice)
- Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
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.