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For most of us, the notion of remote learning is a totally foreign experience, but many of the things we have been doing in class can be translated to fit into this new platform. 

The reality is that not all parents are properly equipped to teach heavy content, and not all students will have equal access to formal, online instruction. 

An even bleaker, but equally true, fact is that many of our students are in situations that are neither peaceful nor conducive to learning. Some are in pretty dysfunctional families and/or abusive situations and school was their daily reprieve. Many have parents who are chemical dependent. Others are hungry. We will have more and more who are dealing with this sickness themselves or in their families (maybe even with loved ones they are not able to see). And, an increasing number will have parents who have lost their source of income

If we’re honest, all of these could be happening in any home, regardless of socio-economics, in families where the pressure is for the secrets to stay hidden.

We need to find ways to provide activities that will keep their minds active in the content while also allowing for a bit of an escape. While the powers that be could simply call this school year a wash, the truth is that providing some form of schooling allows for a steady, regular sense of normalcy in a world that has turned upside down rather quickly.

While the current pandemic is truly a terrible thing and is causing great stress to the education system (not to mention the economic and medical systems), one of the positives that can come out of this experience is that we are all being forced to experiment with more interactive and creative formats. Most of us have been curious about these things, but who has the time to try something new? This has forced our hands, and hopefully we will carry what we learn back into our classrooms once this is all over.

This is the first in a series of posts that will provide ideas for teachers and parents. 

Novel Studies

While the idea of teaching a novel remotely may seem intimidating, we want to give you the tools to turn a novel study into more of family activity that parents and/or siblings can be involved in since so many families are staying home together during this pandemic. Let’s encourage putting down devices and turning off Netflix for a little while.

Sure, many parents are having to work remotely from home, but there is likely to be a lot of downtime. Encouraging parents to read the same book their students are reading could bring about great, meaningful conversations (this, by the way, is a great practice to encourage even in a more traditional school year). Students and parents could teach each other things. And, as we know as teachers, reading sparks some pretty incredible discussions.

Parents reading to their children is usually considered elementary, but high school English teachers can attest to the fact that even high school students enjoy being read to. Suggest this to parents - it will work for some families. 

While the classics are an important part of the literary canon and a part of most schools’ curriculums, they can be challenging to tackle without much assistance from an instructor. Yes, this could be provided via lessons, videos, or virtual classroom, but we would challenge you to use this time to instill a love of reading in your students with contemporary, high interest, relevant selections.

If you haven’t read Kelly Gallagher’s book Readicide: How Schools Are Killing Reading and What You Can Do About It, it is worth the read. It will probably revolutionize your approach to teaching novels. Gallagher challenges the notion behind how we approach teaching novels and what novels we teach. 

There are so many great young adult novels that have been published in the last 20 years. 

Many do contain content that may be uncomfortable for some (i.e.: drug and alcohol use and addiction; pressure to have sex, questions about sexuality, sexual predators and abuse; bullying and cyberbullying; racism; stong language; violence). But, these are the issues that teens are facing today.

Let parents know about the mature content of the book, but you can also let them know that this can be a springboard for them to have very important conversations with their student. It may be easier to discuss these topics when talking about fictional characters.

If you allow student selection, you don’t have to have read every book your students choose, but make sure you have at least familiarized yourself with the books before assigning, suggesting, or approving them. Google the titles. Read excerpts and reviews. Ask about them on social media.  

Think about what your goal should be in these units, especially while facilitating remote learning. You cannot/should not attempt to teach every nuance of the piece. Avoid killing the book by asking students to document too many responses. Avoid those long-used study guides with lists of questions for every chapter. Please don’t make them keep a laborious reading log/journal in which they have to write quotes, explain quotes, and respond to quotes.

Let them read and enjoy reading. Keep the activities simple. Model it more like a book club (but without the wine and gossip). 

You could even put students into groups. They could be homogenous groups in which students are all reading the same novel or heterogeneous groups where they are discussing books that are thematically linked. Groups could meet at a set time in a virtual classroom or contribute regularly to a discussion board.

One of the cool things about remote learning is that you can more easily group students regardless of class period or section.

If you need some resources, Gallagher provides some great one-pager response reports at the end of the aforementioned book.

Novel Suggestions (and a few memoires)

  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
  • Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson
  • Election, by Tom Perrotta
  • Stargirl, by Jerry Spinelli
  • Literally, by Lucy Keating
  • The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas
  • Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher
  • Twisted, by Laurie Halse Anderson
  • Eleanor and Park, by Rainbow Rowell
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
  • Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl, by Jesse Lewis
  • Drama, by Raina Telgemeier
  • Blankets, by Craig Thompson
  • Before I Fall, by Lauren Oliver
  • Lies We Tell Ourselves, by Robin Talley
  • The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen, by Susin Nielsen
  • Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, by Becky Albertalli
  • Special Topics in Calamity Physics, by Marisha Pessl
  • Acceptance, by Susan Coll
  • What Happened to Goodbye, by Sarah Dessen
  • The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini
  • I Am Malala, by Christina Lamb and Malala Yousafzai
  • The Glass Castle, by Jeannette Walls
  • Educated, by Tara Westover
  • The Other Wes Moore, by Wes Moore
  • Does My Head Look Big in This, by Randa Abdel-Fattah
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, by Mark Haddon
  • Uglies, by Scott Westerfeld
  • The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Diaz
  • Half of a Yellow Sun, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, by Jonathan Safran Foer
  • She’s Come Undone, by Wally Lamb
  • The Life of Pi, by Yann Martel

  • Film Adaptations

    So many books have been made into movies. We always hear that the book was so much better! But, that is not always the case. 

    After reading a novel, for which there is a film adaptation, why not have students watch the movie (especially if it is streaming and easily accessible) and encourage them to watch it with their family (depending upon the appropriateness of the raiting, of course).

    Some novels have multiple film adaptations so students could compare and contrast different versions (I mean, if your students are currently under a “shelter in place” order, they probably have nothing but time).

    (aside: This is also a great way to teach cultural context. Have students watch bio-pics to inform them about the time period being studied rather than just taking notes from a boring PowerPoint.)

    After watching the movie, students can discuss or explain the differences between the book and the movie with their family. Have them explain which they like better.

    After engaging in conversation, it should be easier for them to write down which was better and provide specific support for their opinions. This could be in the form of a formal essay or simply a bulleted list.

    Or, better yet, since students are dealing with being isolated from their friends, make it a discussion board topic. 

    Several of the books listed above have film adaptations. Below are some classics that have had movies made about them. 

    You could even consider having students watch the film version of a classic film in lieu of reading the novel. Or, they could watch multiple versions of a classic novel and compare them. You could even pair a classic book’s film with a contemporary novel.

    Pride and Prejudice

    Romeo and Juliet

    V for Vendetta (mature)

    1984 (mature)

    Wuthering Heights 

    Jane Eyre


    Les Miserables

    The Great Gatsby

    The Importance of Being Earnest

    Great Expectations

    The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

    The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe

    The Lord of the Rings



    The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

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