After reading “Aim Higher: A Case for Choice in AP Classes,” “Curing the Reading GERM,” and “Raising Students Who Want to Read,” I thought a skosh about my own reading career in high school. I read probably 70-75% of what I was supposed to between my sophomore and senior year. (I was ready to flounder as a freshman, but over it by the time I hit 16.) But honestly, if I didn’t want to go on to become an English teacher, that piddly 70-75% estimate would have gone down to less than 25%. And that would only have been because I wanted to try to be a good student.
So what about the kids out there who don’t care about their intellectual advancement and especially not about their grades? Well… as Amy Rasmussen stated in “Aim Higher: A Case for Choice in AP Classes,” “At the most, they will read four books a year, and the only students who will read the assigned texts are the ones who are readers anyway, who are studious enough, or care about their grades enough, to do what the teacher says. Everyone else will read a little and Sparknotes a lot, listening in to class discussions, and learning enough to pass exams that cover the conflict, plot, symbolism, and theme of the assigned text. Few, if any, will grow as readers who fall in love with words and characters and the beauty and the texture of carefully crafted stories.” That about sums it up.
So how do you avoid this? Rassmussen claimed that you must always “teach the child and not the book” and instead of dictate what students must read, give them the chance to choose it themselves. I worried about how to keep students accountable using this method, but as Jim Bailey learned from experience in “Curing the Reading GERM,” “Anyone can fake it on a book report but it’s hard to fake a reading conference. If you didn’t read the book, it was obvious during the conference. However, it was really a non-issue because when my students were given the freedom to read for pleasure, they didn’t need to be held accountable.”
A handy trick to keep students wanting to read (aside from the all-important aspect of letting them pick what they read) is to, according to Phyllis S. Hunter in “Raising Students Who Want to Read,” is to “Match students to “just right” texts on their reading level that they can read without difficulty.” I saw a poster in a 7th grade literature class that reminded me of this sentiment. It was titled the “Five Finger Rule.” On the first couple pages of the book a student is reading, they are supposed to put up a finger for every word they come across that they don’t know. If five fingers are lifted by the time they get to the end of the first two pages, the book is probably too advanced for them. On the other end of it, if zero, one, or maybe even two fingers are raised, it may not be advanced enough for them. I really like that rule.
After reading these articles, I wonder still about what you’re allowed to do as a teacher and what you’re not allowed to do. Can you literally just spend whole periods letting kids free read? That sounds amazing – one of those ‘too good to be true’ deals. So, if you know, go on ahead and visit that comments section below. 🙂
Also, I can’t help but to talk about how reading is the best thing ever and the most essential skill. I know of so many schools that begin each and every class period with a required X amount of reading time. But, we don’t have X amount of science time in each class or math time in each class. Yay reading!!!