. . . Volume XV Number 1 . . . . August 29, 2008
If you are a dedicated CM reader, you have read numerous positive reviews of novels from Orca’s two series for reluctant readers: “Orca Currents” (aimed at a middle-school audience) and “Orca Soundings” (aimed at a high school audience). Although the reading levels range from Grade 2.0 to 4.5 (Fry Readability Formula), these novels are amongst the best available Hi/Low fiction for these difficult-to-reach audiences. Although books from both Orca series are frequently recommended as selections for school library collections, classroom teachers can also use them, particularly for literacy circles and book discussion groups.
The Resource Guides are intended either for teachers using the series as classroom materials or for teacher-librarians who are planning activities using books from the series. It’s always a challenge to match the right book to a reader, and when dealing with non-readers, additional challenges arise. Reluctant readers need material which provides success with the process of reading; they need text which can be read with fluency, yet there has to be enough challenge to give them a sense of accomplishment. So, reading levels in Orca series publications are typically well below the grade levels of the students reading the books. As well, in assigning reading levels for the books, the following caveat has been provided:
Despite the limitations imposed on the writers of the books, the novels are popular. And, having read many of the books from the “Orca Soundings” series, I know that they maintain a reader’s interest, whether the reader is reluctant or very capable. If students — readers or non-readers — are enjoying the experience of reading, teachers want to find a way to extend this enjoyment to classroom study. Both of these Guides provide suggestions for implementation of current language arts teaching practice: the use of reading workshops, ways to monitor student reading, the setting up of book discussion groups, suggestions for literature response activities, journal writing, and group sharing activities, along with some very general suggestions for assessment, and culminating activities. For each series, the Resource Guides contain lists which group the books by theme or subject (although I admit that I found the difference between “theme” and “subject” a rather nebulous one), making it easier for teachers to select novels, according to student interest or curricular need.
Each book in the Resource Guide for each of the two series has the following information provided: intended interest level (e.g. ages ten to fourteen), the reading level, ISBN’s, and for those schools using Accelerated Reader, the quiz number associated with the book. Following a paragraph-long summary of the book, a brief author biography is provided. In the Resource Guide for the “Orca Currents” series (middle school readers), activities are suggested for “connecting to the text” (explorations of such elements as point of view, character development, vocabulary and language), and “connecting to the students – ideas for discussion and exploration” (various open-ended questions and activities, designed to enable students to think “beyond the page”). Finally, a series of “Web Resources” lists web sites containing content relevant to the novel.
The “Resource Guide” for the “Orca Soundings” series (intended for high school students), has a slightly different format. Following the summary of the book, a “pre-reading idea” is presented as a way of engaging student readers in the context of the story. On the whole, the “connecting to the text – elements of the novel” component had fewer suggestions for classroom activities, and the discussion question presented in the “connecting to the students” section offered less scope for student exploration than did those for the “Currents” series.
Although I think that the guide for the “Orca Currents” series is a slightly better product, school libraries or English/Language Arts departments using either the “Currents” or “Soundings” series will find the Resource Guides to be worthwhile purchases for use as teacher support materials.
Joanne Peters is a teacher-librarian at Kelvin High School in Winnipeg, MB.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.