Friday, June 13, 2014

Reading Goals

It was too easy. My cynical side is waiting for the catch; my other side is just a little giddy.

Forty-three out of 45 tenth grade students gave me a list of 5 books they might want to read this summer. All I did was expect them to. And give them some time and tools.  

If your class or school already has a fantastic summer reading program in place, stop now. I’m sure you’re way beyond me. But if youre looking for an easy way to get kids to read over the summer, I just might be able to help you. Check back at this spot in the fall to see how they followed through, but from this end, I’m excited that they set goals, and that their goals are good, reflecting a wide range of genres, challenge, sources of recommendation, and authentic reading reasons. 

One student who at the beginning of the year, when I asked the class to reflect on a book they’d read in the past, stated she was not a reader and could not remember anything she’d read. Classmates tried to prompt her with books they’d studied in 9th grade. Nope, she didn’t remember them.

Her list exceeded the expectation: It had 6 books. 

Nobody just duplicated a friend’s list and handed it in. They all seemed like fairly authentic choices. Many picked the Divergent series, The Fault in Our Stars, The Hunger Games, Ender’s Game. Clearly classmates have been recommending, and there’s the movie connection. Some picked otherbooks by an author they’d enjoyed (John Green, Haruki Murakami). 

Titles from the book pass I’d done showed up: American Born Chinese, The Help, The Memory Keeper’s Daughter, Room, Sophie’s World, Warriors Don’t Cry. Titles off The Ocean at the End of the Lane and The GoldfinchSome are clearly preparing for next year’s American Lit class (Huckleberry Finn, The Scarlet Letter, The Great Gatsby, Outliers). 

Some students very appropriately picked all high-interest YA novels; some students picked all challenging titles (All Quite on the Western Front, The Stranger, Brave New World, The Metamorphosis, and Moby Dick). Others picked a mix. 

Some picked books I’d recommended at one time or another--to an individual in a conference (Shiokari Pass) or to the class because I’d just read it (My Brother’s War) or because it connected to our topic (Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking).

Why did I get such a good response? I’m not sure, but here’s my best shot: context, expectations, time and tools, accountability, and modeling.

I set the context. You need to keep reading over the summer for all the reasons you need to read during the school year--because reading... 
  • Is rewarding
  • Builds a mature vocabulary
  • Improves writing
  • Presents a challenge
  • Makes you smarter
  • Prepares you for the world of college and work
  • Expands knowledge of the world
  • Deepens empathy
  • Provides opportunities to "practice" life choices
I set expectations. Because I know that for all these reasons you will want to do some reading over the summer, and because setting a goal doesn’t mean you’ll attain it, but you certainly won’t attain a goal you don’t set, I want you to compile a list by the end of summer reading goals--5 books that you might want to read this summer.

I gave them time and tools. For time, just a couple of odd chunks of time left after a quiz or assignment was done, but I did start a couple of weeks before the end of school--not just suddenly on the last day. For tools, we did one book pass, one exploration of, and one suggestion that they check the library display of senior projects on influential books they’d read. 

The tiniest bit of accountability: a really minuscule number of points on a completion mark, I’ll ask you about it when I see you next year, and I’ll send out the compiled list to the whole class for even more ideas (and who you can discuss your reading with) and to next year’s English teacher.

And, as always, my own example: 
  • Divergent, Insurgent, and Allegiant, by Veronica Roth. So many people are having book talks about them, I thought I should. And they're always out of the library--so I ordered them from Amazon. They came today! If you want to read them next year, they'll be on the shelf in my classroom.
  • A Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Supposedly the greatest Latin American author--the father of magical realism--and this is his greatest work. I've read it before, and didn't see what was so great, but I keep thinking I should try again. Marquez died in May, and this seems like a good time. Mr. Fujiwara really likes it, so I talked to him and got inspired.
  • Dune by Frank Herbert. This is a classic science fiction series, and so many people like Ender's Game, I thought I'd explore whether this series would be good to recommend as well.

What are your reading goals for the summer?

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