More than ever before, I've made it a priority to involve my fourth graders more in the decision making process of which book will be our next novel read aloud. I've asked for input in the past two years, but this year, I've (almost always) given them the final say in the matter.
*Kids fill out a Google form to suggest titles
*Find book trailers or blog posts about the top 3-4 books that were suggested
*Watch said book trailers and provide time for book talks
*Vote via online poll (on our LMS, Haiku)
I have usually given some parameters to their suggestions, to help nudge them along in their reading lives. For example, I noticed that most of them have primarily been reading realistic fiction this year. That isn't a bad thing, but expanding their reading into other genres is certainly a good thing! At one point, we also realized all of the novels we'd shared so far had had female protagonists. Again, not a bad thing... but reading from a male's perspective should be another common experience for us. Ultimately, though, my fourth graders have the final say. Our first three novels this year were...
Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
A Night Divided by Jennifer Nielsen
Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper
Among the Hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix
All three of those books led to rich discussions, heartfelt questions, and children begging to read "just one more chapter." If you ask them, my fourth grade readers will probably tell you A Night Divided was their favorite. It opened their minds to concepts they'd never questioned before and left them hanging on the edge of their seats often.
I strayed from the usual routine at the beginning of March. I chose a book that I absolutely love and would help kids understand the heart of a sled dog (as well as a musher.) Ice Dogs by Terry Lynn Johnson contains elements of realistic fiction, adventure, and friendship. While it might not stretch the genre or protagonist gap, it would still push their thinking. I explained this and asked my readers to give me the first 50-ish pages of the book. Once we read that far, we'd discuss our options.
As we approached the 50 page mark, we voted to decide if we should continue or abandon the book. It was a really close vote (14 in favor of continuing, 11 in favor of abandoning.) Ultimately, the majority wanted to continue but judging by their nonverbal cues during the book, I made the call to abandon. It just wasn't capturing the attention of this particular group, and as much as it pained me (because I really do absolutely adore this book!) I knew we had to move on.
We've since gone back to our normal process of watching book trailers and voting, and we are now fifteen chapters into another Jennifer Nielsen gem, Mark of the Thief.
Even when we think we know best, this was my reminder to honor the voices and choices of my students... because sometimes, I just need them to guide me and show me the way.