The Joy of Reading
I remember when I was in high school I NEVER finished a single book assigned by my English teacher–and I was a “good” student. BUT, I was always reading–mostly Stephen King. I devoured all of his novels growing up. In fact, every summer I read a King novel to try to re-capture that pure love of reading I experienced as a youth.
The Agony of School Reading
In high school, I really liked reading but I didn’t like to be told what to read and when. I actually attempted to read all of the assigned novels but the outside of class reading was extensive and I fell behind and could never seem to catch up. I can remember one time trying to plow through “Arrowsmith” By Sinclair Lewis thinking This will be the novel I finish, but it wasn’t. I fell behind like always. Nevertheless, I did my work and took my “B” at the end of the day.
The Power of Choice
Choice is a powerful incentive. When I taught history my theory was that EVERYONE likes history. Now not everyone likes history class or certain eras in history but EVERYONE can find something they like about history. The same holds true for books. I believe everyone likes stories we like telling stories and hearing stories. What is a novel but a long story. However, not everyone can easily access the story in the same way. So I have decided to incorporate a greater amount of choice this year.
I am still choosing the novels. But, now students have a choice of what reading format works best for them. They can listen to me read in the corner, Or they can read in a group, Or they can read by themselves. I even let them read outside under a tree. Everyone is able to access the text in such a way that works for the.
I am also giving them choice in the type of assignments they do to show me that they have accessed the text. They can either do copywork: Actually copy out of the text itself. This is a basic level assignment and allows the student who would normally never read, have some engagement with the next. The mid-level assignment involves taking a basic quiz over the content and the higher level assignment involves keeping a reading journal and interacting with the text through writing in such a way that shows they have process the text.
Let Students Catch Up
I tell the students if they fall behind that they can catch up by reading Sparknotes or Shmoop. These are highly detailed summaries that will catch anyone up to speed so that they can go back to doing challenging work even if they fall behind. Many students, even the best students, will give up if they get to far behind.
Now, I know that some students will not read and then go back and read Sparknotes–then do the mid level assignment. That’s fine–they are reading at a certain level on their own time and are fulfilling the same requirements. They will not earn an A doing this. But, this may encourage them to jump back into reading the text–at least they will always have this option.
Furthermore, I tell them that if they love to read (as I did–and still do) and read outside of class that I will give them class credit–even if it’s Stephen King. I do want them to read certain things in my class but I want to make room for choice.