Saturday, September 28, 2013

Book Talk: Divergent by Veronica Roth

Since I began teaching I have dreamed of sharing one of my favorite novels with my students and experiencing that excitement and anticipation that is associated with diving into a new world of characters and places. Unfortunately, I was never able to make that happen because of a lack of time, not having the resources, and plenty of other excuses that I made. 

All that changed, however, when I stumbled across this amazing organization, First Book.  First Book is an organization dedicated to providing books to children in need. If you teach in a Title I or low income school, you can sign up on their website to apply for book grants or shop in their marketplace for heavily discounted books for your students. I have been extremely lucky to have be awarded three separate book grants from First Book.  All I had to do was pay 45 cents per book to cover shipping and handling. The most recent grant was for 96 copies of The Lost Heroes by Rick Roth. It was an amazing feeling when I was able to share the news with my students and they learned that the books would be theirs to keep.

If that was not enough, I was beyond excited to learn that my favorite novel Divergent by Veronica Roth was for sale in the First Book Marketplace. I knew at once that this was a sign and this would be the perfect thing for me to start in my new Extensions class with my students. I couldn't wait to order the books and was surprised when they arrived at school less than a week later. 

My students were hooked from day one! I can still remember that first day of reading and all the questions. Why are there factions? How can someone only show or believe in one human characteristic?  Why is Beatrice so scared of having to make her choice? These were the same questions I had the first time I read it too. What impressed me most were the answers that they came up. I felt like I was the expert at this book since I have read it so many times, but with each answer or thought from one of my students that I had never considered before, I realized I was beginning to see things from a different perspective and that I had so much to learn from them.

I knew that I wanted to incorporate as many of the events from the beginning of the book, like the aptitude test and Choosing Ceremony, as I could. I could have never dreamed though the amount of passion, anxiety, and excitement that my students would show during these two activities. My students spent so much time on their aptitude tests stressing over each answer choice and how it could affect their choice. I had to keep reminding them that the test didn't choose their faction, they did. 

After going though their results, I made an envelope for each of my students that contained their results. I was so excited to give them their envelopes the next day that I could barely sleep. I kept thinking about how excited some of them would be and how shocked others would be about the results. They did not disappoint me. There were cheers, dancing, shocked faces, and more when they were allowed to open their envelopes and see their results. 

A few minutes later, the realization set in that just like Beatrice they would have to make their choice tomorrow. Each of them spent the reminder of that class working on a self-reflection journal entry to reflect on their aptitude test results and decide what choice they would make. I don't think I have ever seen a group of student more serious.

My next hurdle was to figure out exactly how the Choosing Ceremony would work. For those of you who have not read Divergent, each teenager must cut their hand with a knife and drop their blood into the bowl of the faction that they select. Obviously, that was out of the question! I thought about using buckets and having the kids drop a slip of paper with their name on it into the bucket, but that just didn't seem to have the same effect and was pretty boring. 

So I decided on creating a Smartboard presentation for the Choosing Ceremony. I created a slide that had each factions symbol at the top and my students names at the bottom. When a student's name was called they would go to the board and drag their name under their new faction.  Students cheered and celebrated each time a new member joined their faction. I wish I would have taped the entire ceremony, but I was too caught up in the excitement myself.  I figured that the majority of the students would pick Dauntless (let's face it-who wouldn't want to be in Dauntless?), but I was pleasantly surprised at the variety of choices. I was less surprised that no one wanted to be in Abnegation though.

After the Choosing Ceremony,  we took pictures of our new factions and the students wrote another journal entry explaining their choices. Like Beatrice, who changes her name to Tris after becoming a member of Dauntless, many of the students also requested that they be able to change their names. My students also demanded to have new seats because they all wanted to sit with their new factions and not be mixed anymore. I just love how they are really taking ownership and fully embracing the book.

With each day that we read, we discover new things about this world that Roth has created and the students make more connections and theories about what is going on. Yesterday was a particularly interesting reading experience because they could not wait to talk about how it is so obvious that Tris and Four like each other after the Ferris Wheel scene. I'm having to be one tough cookie to not break down and give them spoilers like they want. I cannot wait to continue reading on Monday about the end of the first stage of Dauntless initiation and what it is has in store for Tris.

Any tips out there to what makes your book talks or literature circles so successful? Share them in the comments below!