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A Novel Approach

Whole-Class Novels, Student-Centered Teaching, and Choice

Kate Roberts offers a practical framework for creating units that combine whole-class novels and independent reading to truly help students grow as readers.

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Full Description

As an English teacher, Kate Roberts has seen the power of whole-class novels to build community in her classroom.  But she’s also seen too many kids struggle too much to read them--and consequently, check out of reading altogether.  Kate’s had better success getting kids to actually read – and enjoy it—when they choose their own books within a workshop model.   “And yet,” she says, “I missed my whole-class novels.”

In A Novel Approach, Kate takes a deep dive into the troubles and triumphs of both whole-class novels and independent reading and arrives at a persuasive conclusion: we can find a student-centered, balanced approach to teaching reading.  Kate offers a practical framework for creating units that join both teaching methods together and helps you:

• Identify the skills your students need to learn
• Choose whole-class texts that will be most relevant to your kids
• Map out the timing of a unit and the strategies you’ll teach
• Meet individual needs while teaching whole novels
• Guide students to choice books and book clubs that build on the skills being taught.

Above all, Kate’s plan emphasizes teaching reading skills and strategies over the books themselves. “By making sure that our classes are structured in a way that really sees students and strives to meet their needs,” she argues, “we can keep reaching for the dream of a class where no student is unmoved, no reader unchanged by the end of the year.” Video clips of Kate working with students in diverse classrooms bring the content to life throughout the book.

Additional Resource Information

(click any section below to continue reading)




1. You Can Have It Both Ways: Reading Literature Deeply and Fostering Joyful, Independent Reading

2. Start with the Students: Identify the Skills Your Students Need

3. Look Beyond the Usual Suspects: Choose the Book Your Students Need

4. Map Out the Unit: Plan the Timing and the Strategies You'll Teach

5. Delight in the Details: Play Your Daily Instruction: Read-Alouds and Minilessons

6. Reach Everyone: Differentiate with Small Groups and Conferences

7. Keep Students Engaged: Address the Challenges of Teaching a Whole-Class Text

8. Track Growth: Assess Along the Way Through Writing About Reading

9. Launch Readers: Honor Choice to Develop Stronger, Independent Students

10. Celebrate Achievements: Assessing, Writing, and Making as an End to the Unit

In Depth

Can’t we provide both individualized instruction and challenging reading for our students? This book shows how we can do just that. In a nutshell: 

1. We plan a unit in our classroom, naming the skill or skills that will be our primary focus. 

2. We choose a whole-class novel that will both interest the kids and do the heavy lifting for the skills we plan to teach. 

3. We plan our lessons accordingly.

That’s it. Pretty simple. Of course, like many simple ideas in and out of education, the execution takes some doing. That’s what the rest of the book is for. We’ll begin with a deep dive into the troubles and triumphs of both whole-class novels and readers workshop and think about what we can aim for in our teaching (Chapter 1). Then, we’ll follow the trajectory of a unit: choosing the skills and book you’ll be using (Chapters 2 and 3), teaching with the whole-class novel (Chapters 4 and 5) and meeting individual needs while doing so (Chapters 6 and 7), assessing formatively (Chapter 8), helping students transfer the skills they’ve learned to book-club books (Chapter 9), and assessing summatively (Chapter 10). 

— Introduction


Companion Resources

Study Guide
Student Bookmarks - Color / Black & White
Teacher Bookmarks - Color / Black & White


“A Novel Approach dismantles timeworn methods for teaching whole class novels that consume class time, provide little relevance or rigor, and disengage students from reading. Kate Roberts offers an empowering road map for navigating whole class novels with your students while supporting their independent reading lives. A forward-thinking model for progressive literacy education.”—Donalyn Miller, author of The Book Whisperer and Reading in the Wild

“I wish this book was around back when I completely stopped reading in High School. I lost years of my reading life, just as so many students turn away from reading in secondary grades because the assigned books are uninteresting, too confusing, or seem to drag on. Kate's approach shows us that when novel teaching is skills driven, brief, and complimented with book clubs, it can be more engaging to students and more rewarding for teachers.”—Christopher Lehman, coauthor of Falling in Love with Close Reading and author of Energize Research Writing

“Increasing the volume of student reading starts with finding the right balance between independent reading, book club reading, and core work reading. And this is where A Novel Approach proves invaluable. Kate Roberts not only shows secondary teachers why achieving this balance is important, she demonstrates how to do it.”—Kelly Gallagher, coauthor of 180 Days and author of Readicide

“There isn’t a teacher among us who hasn’t wondered, “How do I do all of this?” Reading this book is like having the world’s best instructional coach by your side to help you craft a clear, manageable, and responsive approach to helping your students become better readers, thinkers, and people. Kate reminds us of the tremendous power of our instructional decisions on our students’ reading lives, all the while, handing us resources, instilling in us a necessary confidence, and high-fiving us through pages of this book.” –Allison Marchetti and Rebekah O’Dell, coauthors of Beyond Literary Analysis and Writing With Mentors

“Like any author worth her salt, Kate trusts her readers to bring their own expertise to the text.  If you are expecting the definitive answer to the age-old question, “What’s better: giving students opportunities for independent choice, or teaching with a whole class novel?” you won’t get the answer.  What you will get is Kate’s straightforward, common sense approach on how to use both.  Kate helps teachers weigh their options and make choices about what’s best for their students.   She shares her systems and structures and reassures readers that students of all levels can make growth.”—Cris Tovani, coauthor of No More Telling as Teaching and I Read It, But I Don’t Get It

“In A Novel Approach, Kate Roberts offers those of us in the classroom a witty, engaging, and thoughtful examination of a problem we are all grappling with one way or another: How to teach whole-classs novels in ways that challenge and engage not only our students but us!  This thoughtful book provides a range of approaches that would work in different classes with different kids. Just as important, though, it shows us that it is still possible to be the sort of English teacher we wanted to be when we entered the profession.”—Jim Burke, author of The English Teacher’s Companion

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