Student Centred: (appropriately challenging + vigorous)

Reading Note: I posted this image in an earlier post, as a framework for how I understand 21st Century Learning: three distinct categories with many different concepts, beliefs, and practices housed in each one. My explanation of the “Pre-Reading” part of “The Book Thief” study relates to the “student centred” section and the “appropriately challenging and vigorous” category. For each post explaining my 21st century novel study, I will start with the section and category, to explain how this study shows this nebulous idea of 21st century learning.  


This book is a big one. I hesitated when considering if we should bother reading such a meaty, hunky tome of a novel. But then I thought, that we should read this book because it is a challenge! It is also one of the best books written for young adults that I can think of. I would much rather dive into an amazing, challenging, and stimulating book that pushes readers past their current skills, than something in the middle of the road. “The Book Thief” can be understood on many levels, so I know the students who need more intellectual rigour will have their work cut out for them. That said, what about my students who find reading a challenge?

For the two weeks leading up to the new year, I selected a few readers to get a head start so they had more time with the text. Some will get the opportunity to read key passages a few times, while others will be able to read it more quickly with an audiobook (for story and plot) and then with the class for the second round for deeper understanding.

I don’t claim any of this to be ground breaking (21st century learning, I would argue really doesn’t need to be revolutionary), but rather there is a purpose and an intentionality that guides planning.

About the Author
Passionate and curious about technology, smiles, special education, differentiated instruction, forests, graphic novels, accessibility, anti-oppression, and warm beverages. Can often be found laughing with young people and improvising songs on the spot. @teach_tomorrow

4 comments on Student Centred: (appropriately challenging + vigorous)

  1. Hi Celeste,
    I look forward to reading more about your forays into English and the “novel study”! On my end, in Grade 10 English we’ve done a couple of neat things to help personalize the experience that perhaps you might be interested:

    1) Audio Scaffolding: while listening is not the same cognitive experience as reading, when combined it can help students become more effective readers. By having an audio book available, you can scaffold their reading/listening, and gradually take it away, or transition to reading aloud, etc…

    If you know your students well enough, you can know when it is the right time to remove the audio scaffolding, and get them to read without it.

    21st Century Skill Associated:
    – have students do an oral book report, using technology to help them demonstrate their learning (substitution)
    – have students explain the difference between reading and listening to a novel (critical thinking on media)

    2) Book Club: you can have the students in ‘book club’ groups where they help and assist each other throughout the reading of the novel. If you are personalizing, it makes sense to be strategic here and group students based on readiness and need for support.

    21st Century Skill Associated:
    – have students conduct the book report on Google Hangouts to help them be more creative and expressive by having them screenshare relevant media throughout (Augmentation)
    – have students engage in social media to involve other voices in their book club, for example, blogging with other classes or using twitter to solicit feedback and input. (Modification)

    3) Choose Your Own Adventure Book Report: there are many skills that book reports demand, and if you are personalizing, you don’t need to demand each skill from every student in your assessment of learning. As a result you could create a menu of tasks that focus on the required skills and have students choose from the menu. NB this is borrowing heavily from Carol Ann Tomlinson and her work around differentiated instruction (see: but it does allow for readiness and choice, two key elements of personalized learning.

    4) Extensions and Support: To personalize means to front-end load a lot of opportunities for students to determine their own pace of reading and experiencing the novel. As a result, having extension and support available will be key. Extensions could be going to see the movie and doing a review to compare it to the book (and you could even get them to explain why reading the book may be a richer experience?). Support could come in the form of guided questions embedded in the novel to help students express their understanding of what they’ve read (assessment as learning).

    Anyway, these are just some thoughts that, no doubt, you’ve already thought of. I look forward to seeing how you go about it with your class and department!


    1. This is fantastic. Thank you so much for this very thorough response.

      While some of these ideas have already popped into my class (our brains are in “the cloud”, I think), I am really loving the idea of a “choose your own book report”.

      Kind of a tangent, but wouldn’t it be cool to have students create their own choose-your-own-adventure book using Google Docs? Another project…

  2. Wow!

    My favourite quote was at the end “…….there is a purpose and an intentionality that guides planning.”

    The thoughtfulness you bring to your unit design is commendable. The larger skill building you are doing is at the core “21st century learning”. Struggle is certainly something that needs to be felt and practiced for it to become part of the “feelings” that come with learning.


  3. Brent Hurley says:

    Celeste… I want to read and hear more about how your personalized learning approach is working in your classroom. I’d really like to apply this to my classroom, grade 12 English… perhaps incorporating project based learning. Thanks!

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