Social Studies chose The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time as its 9th grade summer reading book (their first quarter's unit is dealing with Psychology) and our English department hopped on board. We have another book as well (a choice of three), but Curious Incident is the book that all students read, so it's the one we probably will spend the most time on in the opening days of school.
I love the book, and as I re-read it this summer, I got very excited about how I thought 9th grade students would respond. It's kind of an easy read, making it a good summer read, but its concepts and tangents are difficult, though, so I was a little nervous with how the students would respond. How would they deal with the inferences they would have to make, in order to figure out what exactly happened with the marriage of Christopher's parents. We're hearing it all from Christopher's perspective, of course, and he doesn't quite get it. Would the students "get" that? What would their experience reading the book be like?
The first day of Summer Bridge was today and I finally got to satisfy my curiosity with how the students responded to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. I created an 8-page handout about all the summer reading, including a couple of passages from the novel for which students had to text-mark for the IB Learner Profile. We're doing the activity, though, and finally I needed to say it: "Can I ask you guys something? What was reading this book like? I tried to put myself in your spot as I was reading it... you had to read the book without a teacher around, and you probably understood that Christopher had some sort of condition, but how well did you 'get' what that was? Can you share what your experience was?"
Hands shot up. They wanted to talk about it.
"At first I was confused by this boy, but when he started explaining his behavorial problems I got it more."
"I liked it but got confused when he went off and started talking about things that didn't seem to fit, like ice cream."
"Christopher was such a visual learner and drew stuff out but I didn't like that and it confused me. I liked the book overall though."
"My uncle has Asperger's and he kind of flips out when he's around a lot of people or is touched so I understood what Christopher was talking about."
And on and on. It was a great conversation and I could tell that the students were meaningfully engaged in the text as they read it. Is there anything else I can really ask for regarding summer reading?
I continued the lesson. From The Autism Society of America and as website about Asperger's, I provided a list of characteristics of both autism and Asperger's (and I realize that the latter is just a high-functioning type of the former) and the students discussed a diagnosis for Christopher. Websites identify him as both, and we decided that his autism is probably functional and specialized enough to be Asperger's. Students identified elements of each diagnosis and provided evidence from the book that Christopher exhibits. We went on to discussion questions in small groups and tips on how to succeed in the first days of class.
I loved it. What a great day. They're into the book and these kids are excited for the year to start. What a great read.
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