24 December 2012

Get them to a book

"One basic tool for holding students accountable for reading outside of class is a “reading log.” This is essentially a paper where a student tracks what he or she read, for how long, and how many pages. I made dozens of different reading logs over the course of two years. Some were multiple pages long with stars and pictures of books, and gave students ample room to write responses to what they read. Some had lots of instructions at the top for how long to read and how to write about the books. When I wasn’t getting enough writing back from students, I squished blank lines together and made the spaces smaller. With less room to write, some students wrote more.
Later, I created an web form for students to type in their reading logs online. Students gamed it by saying that they were sure they had submitted it the night before. I changed the form to time-stamp when they hit submit. I took down the form when students gamed the system again by typing the same responses day after day (some did the same on paper). Even with the form deleted from the Internet, students still came in saying they had used it the night before.
I collected young adult books for my students to read and built a sizable classroom library. I made Amazon wish lists and asked friends to buy a few titles. Family members sent me books in the mail, scoured sales at public libraries, brought me bags full to take into school. I interviewed students on the kinds of TV shows they liked, the sports they played, if they liked scary stories or funny stories—all so I could make recommendations on what book to borrow next and read at home. 

Whenever I spoke with a parent, I talked about reading at home. I told them it was just as important as working in class. I made suggestions for THE HUNGER GAMES, DIARY OF A WIMPY KID, TWILIGHT. It didn’t matter, I said, just read a book! 

I pirated ebooks and posted them online so that students with iPads and smartphones could download and read them at home. Eventually, I just gave print books away."

Within this essay on Teach for America at the Billfold is a fascinating progression of what one teacher attempted to get his middle-school students to read more outside of class. In my own education I remember various reading logs, including response journals (high labor on the teacher's part) and page counts by month (extra math lesson! but too competitive?). 

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