Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Book Committee Redux

Yesterday was a VERY good day. Be warned, I am about to shamelessly toot my own horn.

Some people may be familiar with my other book committee experience (Shot Down and Pissed Off) and may remember that it was not a happy one. To sum up, I was the lone hold-out against the favored social studies text book, and I lost out to the crowd. However, I was not about to let that scare me off of the rest of the committee work (that would be letting them win!). Therefore, I signed up for novel selection committee as well.

While the social studies textbook committee took almost an entire year and much piloting to make a choice, the novels were given barely two months of consideration. This turned out to be a very good thing for me because I came to the first meeting with a list of books I thought we could use. No one else was prepared for things to move so quickly, so my selections formed the core of our candidate list. We did all go away and read the books on the list, and then, yesterday, we got back together to come to a decision.

Now the only sticking points were a few people who wanted to include science fiction (Hello! We're supposed to connect to the history curriculum. You know, the stuff from 600 to 1600!) and the people who wanted to bring an existing book down from the gifted program. The first group were dealt with pretty easily since they wanted something that clearly didn't fit with our goals (that didn't stop them last time, but in this case things were more clear cut). The second group were a little tougher to quell. They wanted to take a book that we currently teach in the gifted program and assign it to all students. I said that we should not do this because the book was too hard for the average kid. However, I could not back up my claims based on reading level alone because this book scored a 7 on the standard level test (about 7th grade level) just like one of the books I suggested. Once again, I came prepared.

It turns out that the reading level given for most books assesses only the complexity of sentences and vocabulary. Thus, a book with a very complicated plot can get a low score just because it uses small words and simple sentences. Knowing this, and with the help of our librarian, a few of us from my school managed to find another scoring system (you can find it on Amazon.com under "concordance") that takes other factors into account. Using this scoring system we discovered that the book from the gifted class scored a 9.3 (about ninth grade level) while the book I suggested scored a (wait for it!) 6.8! What do you know! Objections cleared, we were ready to move on.

My main goal for this committee was to get at least three decent books on the required list. In the end, we managed to agree on FOUR. Remember, it is tough to find books that suit our particular corner of world history (the world from 600-1600 minus North America, but also Washington state history). While these are not the best books I've ever read, they are at least decent which is more than I can say for some books I've taught. I am quite pleased with the combination of literary quality, historical content, and readability. In the end we chose Ghost Canoe, Catherine, Called Birdy, Beduins' Gazelle (spelled that way for some reason), and The Kite Rider. Now all we have to do is figure out how we want to go about teaching them next year.

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