Nov 7, 2011
Comments Off on Reading that is Working…

Reading that is Working…

I have committed to giving my students time to read.  I haven’t assigned anything specific with their reading, just read. It is silent, personal, yet public.  I’ve done it in a few ways:

  1. Choice: Students choose their books. There is no innovation here. I let students choose anything that might interest them. Some have chosen novels (The Notebook, Go Ask Alice, Thirteen Reasons Why and Acceleration), memoirs (Night, When the Game was Ours), I’ve had a few choose collections of essays (Arguably, End Malaria), some have chosen non-fiction texts (How to Win Friends and Influence People, The Book of Awesome, etc.). They have been all over the literary map.  I’m happy about that. We don’t judge the reading here.
  2. Be Personal: The reading happens in silence. Students get comfortable. Reading is an inherently personal endeavour. You get to create (some post-modern theory for you) the book as you read and imagine. All my classes have come to expect the silence and offer it.  It is interesting to watch as students get absorbed into the text.
  3. Be Public: After the reading time is up, often 20 – 30 minutes, a few students book talk their book. Informally, they’ll stand up, show the cover, talk about the plot (so far) and give us a run down of their thoughts.  I often open it up to questions where students can explore the book, ask for predictions, etc.
  4. Talk About it: I’m working my way through everyone in each class and sitting down and talking about their reading experience. The conversation is relaxed, though we record it, and it has headed into many different directions depending on the nature of the student.  Some students want to talk about the issues, others like to talk about the characters, while others talk about what they’ve learned.  I will always direct the conversation about the nature of the act of reading, what they do well, what they feel interrupts their reading, etc. This conversation usually lasts 10 – 15 minutes.  I usually do this while the rest of the class is reading, just outside in the hall.
  5. Recommend: We are creating a user-generated reading log in the classroom, if they liked their book they are to write up some details about it on the wall. This becomes the first place for people to get ideas for their next book.
  6. Connect: Students are encouraged to reach out find other readers, in the class, school, world and connect with them. Some of my students have tweeted the authors in an attempt to connect. I’m letting students decide how they want to connect. They have found great success on Twitter.

I’m not writing this because I think this is innovative or incredibly brilliant. Actually, I think it is simple. In such, I’ve made a few observations.

  • It has become a class quest to find some good books for reluctant readers.  The readers who are active love to talk about their book and I encourage them to personally recommend it to people they think might like it.
  • Students, self-described as haters, have read 1 or 2 books in a few weeks.  They read. If I’m not talking with a member of the class, I read. It is now one element of being in our community of reading.  It is now cool to read a good book and recommend it.  One student comes into class, late, breaks the silence by saying, “You have to read this book. I hate reading, but I read this in 2 days.” All this while thrusting Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher into the air.  I’ve had a student, in workplace English, read Sun Tzu’s The Art of War and ask if he could just read it all period because he was so close to finishing.
  • At the beginning, students wanted to know, “What are we going to do with this book?” before they opened it. I’d just say, “Read it. Enjoy it.” They were reluctant, but now they get it. Reading doesn’t have to be work. It doesn’t have to have an essay or assignment at the end to justify their reading it.  That conversation demonstrates that the student can read for meaning, that they can understand form and style and it gives them an opportunity to reflect on their skills and strategies, all right out of the curriculum document.
  • I have heard multiple times, “This is the first book I’ve read cover to cover.”

I think my success is fourfold: flexibility, unstructured/informal, personalized interest (a dedicated conversation) and ultimately, it is time.

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