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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Satisfying Personal Interests

Whose interests need to be satisfied in the classroom? Everyone's!

You and I both know that not every student will love (or even like) every book you choose for instruction. But that's okay. Teachers should choose books for instructional value. When their students read them, those students' interests are being met. This is key: Even a book that isn't interesting to a student can be in the student's best interest.

That's Step #1: For instruction, choose texts that have specific instructional value and stretch your readers. Most classes have students reading at different levels, which may also mean choosing multiple texts for one unit of study.

With that said, you cannot totally satisfy personal interests without allowing students to select some books on their own. Bring back SSR (Sustained Silent Reading), DEAR (Drop Everything and Read), or whatever you want to call it. Schedule a time every week when your students can read whatever they want. Some students won't do it on their own time so we have to get them reading on our time.

In the middle grades, I also believe in monitoring student reading. We use Accelerated Reader. Now I know there's been a debate about AR and whether it kills the love of reading, but it's working for me. This year my class and I set a challenging (but doable) goal: 25 AR points per grading period. They can take tests on books we read in class and books they read independently. Our AR rubric has two other lofty goals: 90% correct and an average reading level of 5.0.

The first 30 or 40 minutes on Monday mornings are set aside for independent reading. That's when I check their AR records to see what they've read, what reading level they're choosing, and what percentage of the questions they're answering correctly. Sometimes it's obvious that a student doesn't understand what he/she is reading. That's when I step in to coach him/her with strategies such as reading for details, drawing conclusions, rereading, summarizing, etc. This strategy is not killing reading in my class. On the contrary, those reluctant readers are starting to bloom! I just love it when I hear, "Hey, Mrs. Kovich, I got 100% on this AR test!" and I turn to see one of those previously-less-than-motivated readers give me a big grin.

That's Step #2: Give students time to read what they want AND have some sort of mechanism to be sure everyone IS reading. The single best thing you can do to improve your students' reading is to get them reading on their own.

Now wait! We're not done yet! We can't forget the interests of that other person in the classroom: the teacher. Yes, I think the teacher should be able to choose texts that interest her (or him). Be sure to pick at least one book you really love to share with students.

That's Step #3: Show students that you are passionate about reading.

In closing, I'd like to recommend a book. If you haven't already read it, Kelly Gallagher's Readicide gives great pause for reflection. His premise is that schools are killing reading by placing too much emphasis on tests, limiting independent reading, and underteaching or overteaching books. It's a quick, thought-provoking read (118 pages of text).