Saturday, September 29, 2007

The power of the ORB

Each quarter my students read a 300-page minimum Outside Reading Book of their choice. They then pick one of 50 alternatives to the book report and present their book to me and their classmates. Depending on how well they satisfy the ORB presentation criteria, they can earn up to 3 points on their final quarter average. Those who don't present lose 3 points.

Students also must write a 400-500 word book review, which students post to their class blogs. The blogs allow students to share and learn about what they are reading, and helps them when making future Outside Reading Book selections. The goal is for students to become self-empowered readers.

During high school, my friends and I independently read The Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit. My experiences reading these books were some of the most enjoyable literary encounters of my young life. There was (and is) something about the freedom of choice and the luxury of proceeding at your own pace that makes reading rewarding and fun.

I can remember hiking out to the peninsula of a local pond, propping against a tree, and soaking in the chronicles of Frodo, Gandalf, and friends until the fall sun hung low in the sky. I can still hear the crunch of leaves beneath my legs and smell the woodsmoke from nearby fireplaces. There was something ethereal about that spot and that time, and those surroundings made Tolkien's narrative seem more magical and majestic than it already was.

In the chaos and uncertainty of high school, these outdoor excursions and rich literary adventures were sources of sustenance and inspiration. I hope my students' ORB experiences can be as powerful and valuable to them as mine were to me. Even in an increasingly digital and visual world, a good book can still grip hold of the mind and provide an experience as moving and affecting as any.

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