She read World War Z

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She made all her middle-school students read World War Z. She was lucky. Her school allowed her to pick the materials she used that year. She hit up family, the internet and any other sources she could find to get the books.

She was also smart. Even if the book was technically too tough for most of her students, she understood the fascination of zombies. Her class had fun. Their reading scores soared. I particularly liked her video project: Student groups wrote and produced videos designed to find homes for the orphans of the zombie apocalypse. Many students obviously used models taken from ads for abandoned dogs and horses on TV. The ads were often funny. They also showed hard-work, thought and media awareness.

Eduhonesty: I suspect many or all of these students will remember the year of the zombie, the year when they learned a great deal of vocabulary while doing group work that possessed genuine challenge and appeal. They climbed a literary mountain, given their reading levels when that year began. Classes that followed will remember the Hunger Games and Divergent, other young adult series that my colleague tackled.

I would have loved to try that zombie unit, but I don’t have a say in what I teach now. All the language arts teachers in the grade are reading the same stories at the same time. Much of the material is selected by outsiders from the East Coast or the Administration Office. I moved away from language arts anyway, bored with many of the short stories on my required roster, so I would have to coteach zombies with the guy across the hall — except he can’t pick any of his stories, so the idea’s sadly moot. I would have been happy to put in the extra time.

Here’s what I know that many administrators seem to miss: You have to pick the best books for your class and these are not necessarily politically correct short stories written by young writers with agendas. The best books and stories are those that students actually want to read. I remember watching a middle-school girl at a first grade reading level hacking her way through Twilight. Nothing I planned all year probably helped that girl as much as her fierce desire to read every detail of Edward and Bella’s romance.