Teachers for Teachers | Slice of Life: This PD Book is a Novel Approach to the Whole Class Novel #SOL18
post-template-default,single,single-post,postid-16196,single-format-standard,ajax_updown,page_not_loaded,,vertical_menu_enabled,qode-title-hidden,side_area_uncovered_from_content,qode-theme-ver-13.1.2,qode-theme-bridge,wpb-js-composer js-comp-ver-5.4.5,vc_responsive

Slice of Life: This PD Book is a Novel Approach to the Whole Class Novel #SOL18

As we read Kate’s book, we had flashbacks of past conversations such as this one:

“But my students learn so much when we read Tuck Everlasting as a whole class, and they need to read complex text on the MCAS (state test). I know they all can’t read it, but don’t I need to teach them how to read complex text? I really see the value in reading one text as a class. You should hear our classroom conversations when we read this book.”

And this one:

“Now that my students are choosing what they read during reading workshop, they read so much more. One student just told me that this is the first time he ever read an entire book on his own. Isn’t that incredible?

 I still have one worry though…

Now that students choose the texts they read, what will they do when they are asked to read something more complex. How can I help them read something that doesn’t engage them right from the start? How can I show them how to tackle a tough text?”

If we could go back in time, we would hand both of these teachers Kate’s new book, smile, and then let out a sigh of relief.

In A Novel Approach, Kate shows middle and high school teachers how we can design units of study that include whole class experiences with both complex text and opportunities for students to apply newly learned skills in texts they choose. Kate combines the best of both of these “instructional worlds” and shows us how to create units of study that meld these teaching practices. Here is an outline of how she designs unit of studies to achieve this balance:

Teach the whole class novel: About two to three weeks

Teach book clubs: About two weeks

Assign a culminating project: About 1 week (xiii)

As Kate shares her journey of bringing these instructional practices together, she keeps us questioning, pondering, and laughing along the way. She weaves together research, stories from her childhood, her experiences as a teacher, and even funny anecdotes from parenting two toddlers, to help us see how we can design units of study that incorporate “the best of both worlds.”

Before embarking on the nuts and bolts of this work, Kate shares snippets of research to explain the merits of teaching students to read complex text and having students read large volumes of self-selected text:

  • Lemov, Driggs and Woolway’s explain, “academic success often means a student with a challenging text – sometimes at the margins of his comfort level – that he must read and master alone” (6).
  • Richard Allington states, “simply put, students need enormous quantities of successful reading to become independent, proficient readers” (7).

As she shares the pros and cons of both teaching methods, Kate urges teachers to reach across the instructional practices divide that can separate us from one another. She wants all of us to see the power of both models and experiment with new ways to ratchet up our instruction.  A Novel Approach brings readers on a journey to explore merging these instructional practices by talking about the tough issues educators ask as they plan literacy instruction to meet the interests and needs of all of the readers in their class:

How do you keep the whole class novel from taking over the entire unit?  How do I shorten this type of instruction?   

Kate takes us inside her planning process to show how instructional goals guide her decisions about when and where to explicitly model and when to release responsibility to the students. She divides the text into 10-page sections, saving the sections that give opportunities to model and teach her instructional focus for whole class mini-lessons and read aloud. Then she chooses which sections students will read independently at school (and at home) based on what she wants students to practice as she guides from the side.

By using her instructional goals as the focus and keeping the amount students read relatively high, Kate shows how to complete a whole class text in a shorter time frame. This decision to focus her instruction ensures that students will have time to apply the skills they learned in books they will read independently and discuss with their book clubs. As we all know, this is a hard balance to achieve, and Kate takes readers step-by-step through the process.

How do I organize my time so I can meet with small groups and confer with students?

Scheduling is tricky when you have a self-contained classroom and even more difficult when students switch classes in the upper grades. Kate shows how she keeps whole class lessons short to make time for students to read and time to meet with students in small groups. She makes sure she meets with all students weekly to understand the specific skills she needs to teach. The small groups are organized by the learning goals students need. All students read and work on the whole class learning goal – “the main mission,” and they work in a small group specifically focused on a skill these students need to learn – “a side mission.” Kate shows how to do all of this with a 45-minute middle school and high school schedule in mind. Thank you, Kate.

What should I do for the students who can’t read the whole class novel text?

Kate explains how we need to differentiate by teaching students how to read complex text rather than getting students “through” the whole class novel. Instead of having students listen to an audio version of the book, Kate advocates that we meet with these readers in small groups and teach them strategies to tackle complex text on their own. Through video and vignettes, Kate teaches students how to stop and summarize frequently so they can keep track of the plot and how to notice and reread when they don’t understand. She also shows them the power of talk by teaching them to engage in conversations with peers about the book and how doing some research about the author’s writing style can make reading a complex text a bit easier.

She wants all readers to be active and to know what to do when reading gets tough. By meeting with students in small groups as they try these strategies independently, they learn how to support themselves when reading any complex text. Kate is clear, “the supports kids need for this goal are the strategies for dealing with a text that is too hard to read naturally” (98).

How can I support students whose skills surpass what we are teaching with the whole class novel?

We all know these readers. They are the first to answer questions and can sometimes monopolize whole class discussions. These students also challenge us as teachers because they already know the concepts we are teaching the whole class.  So, what do we do now?

Kate describes how we can meet with these readers in small groups to understand what they know and determine their next steps. She layers questions that increase in terms of the complexity of interpretation to understand what each student knows how to do and what are possible next instructional steps. All kids deserve a challenge and Kate uses small group instruction and “side missions” to ensure that she meets students’ needs even when the class is studying one common text.

I want to move away from packets but am unsure how to do it.  What should students write in their notebooks? 

Kate shows examples of student notebooks throughout the text and explains how students can use authentic annotations to prepare for book clubs and whole class conversations. Students learn how to revisit their annotations and sticky notes to develop deeper ideas. Then they use these interpretations to prepare for book club conversations and write about their reading.

She guides notetaking by having students focus on their learning goals. She shows them how to notice what is happening in a text and grow deeper interpretations. Students don’t need packets when they know what specific goals they are exploring. Students can take notes that connect to what they are learning and then use these notes to engage in classroom conversations. When students’ notes become tools for discussions and response, students see the value in note-taking. As Kate shares ideas to help students write about reading, she encourages us to find a balance between the amount students talk and the amount students write so that we continue to foster passionate and engaged reading.

In every example, anecdote, and tip she shares, Kate emphasizes TRANSFER, and this is why we think there is so much for teachers in grades 3-12 to learn from this text. Whether you teach whole class novels, use interactive read aloud, or have kids working in book clubs, A Novel Approach will give you new ideas to try.  All of the ideas, show the power of connecting our instructional practices, so students have many experiences learning how to apply what they are learning in novel texts. Thank you, Kate, for pushing our thinking, for bringing warmth and humor to this topic, and for making the divide between educators so much smaller. We have so much to learn, and you are right, “Discussions of practice can inspire us rather than divide us” (7).

If you want to hear Kate talk about this new ground-breaking text, you can listen to her recent Heinemann podcast, watch her Facebook Live Q and A, or watch her session on the Ed Collaborative gathering.   So much to learn, so much to try, and so much joy to bring to readers!


Clare and Tammy



  • Avatar
    Diane Dougherty
    Posted at 10:41h, 03 April Reply

    I love your book reviews, Clare. They are so comprehensive and helpful for us all. Here is another great book to add to my shelf (and give to my daughter, who is a teacher).
    Happy spring!

  • Avatar
    Mandy Robek
    Posted at 10:51h, 03 April Reply

    What a thorough review…if I only taught middle or high school kids this would be an instant order. I do hope my own girls teachers find this book.

  • Avatar
    Peg Bruno
    Posted at 11:48h, 03 April Reply

    Great review. Kate is an amazing practitioner and writer. Her approach makes everyone think they can do it just like her! Thanks for sharing.

  • Avatar
    Posted at 11:52h, 03 April Reply

    Such a great review! And so many great books. Today I’m reading yours and just posted all the lovely resources available. Can’t wait to dig in while it’s raining and snowing!

  • Avatar
    Posted at 12:45h, 03 April Reply

    We are starting a teacher book club with this book. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I am even more excited to get started.

  • Avatar
    Lynne Dorfman
    Posted at 13:03h, 03 April Reply

    Great book review, Clare. Very thorough. When I had my own class, I sometimes did do a whole-class novel, and more often had literature circles where students could choose from a wide variety of texts. Sometimes, the texts were all the same genre, and sometimes, they were all by the same author. Other times, they were mixed genres but all relating to the same topic. The years when I looped from third to fourth grade were the best. Kids knew the routines and were committed to reading and writing, talking and listening. Book talks and book reviews were a large part of their experience as well, I will add Kate’s book to my list of must reads!

  • Avatar
    Posted at 22:04h, 03 April Reply

    I’ve respected Kate’s practical views since I first heard her at Teachers College. Whole class novels have worke their way into our fourth grade and interactive novel read aloud into third. I have seen the power in elevating student talk, student agency, and they have raised student progress. Looking forward to reading this useful resource.

  • Avatar
    Glenda M. Funk
    Posted at 23:48h, 03 April Reply

    In recent years I’ve noticed a binary develop between student choice and teaching whole class novels. Maybe it’s my age, but this has always bothered me. I entered teaching when packets didn’t exist. My first textbook came w/ a thin volume of discussion questions and quizzes (Scot Forseman). It’s hard for me to fathom the extent to which teachers rely on packet teaching.

    I taught my last regular English class last trimester. It was an amazing experience. We studied common texts and read choice novels. Kids are more likely to embrace a whole class text when 1. They have choice, too, and 2. We get rid of packets and worksheets.

Post A Comment

Verification *