Friday, September 12, 2014

Baby Steps: Nurturing Book Love

I’m excited. More students in English 10 this year are reading and talking to me about their reading than ever before. The data--hard and anecdotal--from the first 3 weeks of school:
  • 3 students have already finished a book and made an appointment to talk to me about it. This is unprecedented in my experience. I’ll sometimes have one early bird, but never 3.
  • Every student had a book in hand that he or she was reading by the middle of the 10th class period of the year,  I’ve often had students scrambling for a book to read over Christmas vacation to get the first semester requirement of outside reading done. And I always have 1 or 2 who simply don’t do it.
  • I’m seeing more students than ever before hauling library books around and reading them in the bits of free time throughout a school day: when released early from PE because of a thunderstorm, sitting in my classroom through the morning break before class, when finished early with a vocabulary quiz.
  • A student came to me to ask for advice on the book he was reading because there were so many words he didn’t know. We had a good conversation about reading level, motivation, challenge, word strategies, and monitoring oneself so one doesn’t get too get bogged down. I’ll have to check back and see what decision he made.
What have I done differently this year? Given just a little time, traction, and accountability. I’m thoroughly embarrassed to own that while I have always told students how important reading is, I’ve normally squeezed just a little more instructional time into the year by breezing over the outside reading assignment in 20 seconds or less--“...and you know the requirement--page 1 of your syllabus--300 pages per semester--make an appointment for a book talk when you’re done.”

What got me to change? Reading Penny Kittle’s Book Love: Developing Depth, Stamina, and Passion in Adolescent Readers this summer (see my blogs on the first half of the book and the second half of the book).

What have I actually done?
  • Surveyed student reading habits (see first week of school blog)
  • Responded to those surveys with recommendations
  • Given book ads in class--maybe 10 or so
  • Required a list of 5 titles each student might be interested in reading
  • Dedicated 1/2 of 1 period (about 20 minutes) for students to read
Did everyone bring a book to the reading period? No. Some were scrambling through the classroom library before class, or even during the first 10 minutes of class. A couple went to the library. But by the end of the 20 minutes, every student had a book to read, and I got such a nerdy teacher high from looking around at a classroom full of adolescents absorbed in books.

One of those students discovered during that time that the book she had chosen to start was the second in a trilogy. She came to me after class and asked about the graphic novels I’d recommended, so I reeled off a few titles which she copied down. The next day she came before class to tell me she hadn’t been able to locate the titles in the library. I went with her, and she finally got matched up with Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang.

Only time will tell if the small changes I’ve made will nurture life-long readers--maybe its just a class of bookworms already...and I know that the teachers in earlier grades are also improving their instruction every year...and Im sure 1 or 2 students may still abandon the books they've started--but the results are encouraging so far!

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