Earlier this week, we brought you Kristina’s piece on Writing. Today she reflects on reading and the importance of establishing a love of reading in our students. She concludes with a perspective on assessment. ~EMP

The Story: The success I had last year with the reading intervention program Language! was not simply a result of the program working, but because I saw an opportunity to bring YA novels into the classroom. As soon as my boys became comfortable reading out loud, we began to experiment with reading the novel The Hunger Games out loud.  I truly started seeing a change in my students. I saw true motivation – they were hooked! I saw real engagement – they genuinely wanted to read and discover what happens. And I saw growth – their reading rates did increase. I did not have them identify themes in this novel. I did not have them write an essay about the symbolism of the cornucopia.  I simply gave them the chance to enjoy a novel for the pure fact that novels should be enjoyed. And the end result – they asked for more. And their reading rates increased. Therefore, I want to take the best of what I gleaned from working with this program and combine it with my own teaching philosophy and what I know about what my kids need to be successful, lifelong readers.

The Research: First off, we must define what reading really is. According to ReLeah Cossett Lent, author of “Facing the Issues: Challenges, Censorship, and Reflection through Dialogue” “reading is an experience that goes far beyond the current notion of comprehending for the purpose of distilling information into answers on tests” (2008). Reading can be, and should be, an experience one has with a novel where they find themselves within that “flow” state – where everything else fades away.

Books, and reading, should be joyful. And in many, many cases it is not. Reading has become such a chore for students that most are not reading what we assign. When questioned many students say they hate to read. I don’t blame them. Schools have taken the joy out of reading.  And assigning whole class novels isn’t going to help solve this issue. In fact, “research on brain maturation clearly indicated that the commonly mandated policy of ‘everybody on the same page on the same day’ makes little sense” (Jenson, 2005, 151). But allowing our student’s to CHOOSE what they read will help increase stamina for struggling readers and allow them to engage “in decisions that will contribute to their self-efficacy as well as ones that will facilitate their independence as readers” (Lent, 2008). Other advantages of allowing students’ choices in their reading are supported by research. Richard L. Allington states “when students were provided opportunities to select which text(s) they would read for a given topic or unit, their level of engagement in academic work was high and sustained. Giving students such choices is a powerful factor in motivating engagement and fostering achievement” (Lent, 2008).

Choice will lead students directly to Young Adult (YA) novels, which I will encourage. Research shows that when given the choice, students will pick YA novels (Scherff, 2009). Aside from being highly engaging, young adult literature requires thoughtful readers “to think critically and respond personally on issues” that are relevant to their own lives (Lesense, 2007, 63). Additionally, research shows that “adolescent engagement with reading and motivation to read increases when adolescents read young adult novels (Ivey & Broaddus, 2001; Pflaum & Bishop, 2004; Worthy, Moorman, & Turner, 1999), and adolescent literature has the potential to broaden adolescents’ vision of self and the world” (Bean & Harper, 2006; Glasgow, 2001; Landt, 2006).

The Reason: Teachers are the last resort for deep reading and I am certain that if I don’t give my students time to read in class everyday, they will not do it. I want my students to find joy in reading. I want to give them time to read in class and I want to help them see that the more they read, the more stamina they gain and the easier reading becomes. I want to be able to give them a wide range of levels and genres to choose from, because again, choice is what it’s all about.

My Plan:

  • Give students 10 minutes each day for SSR (Time)
  • Gather a wide range of books for students to borrow (Choice)
  • Conference weekly with students to talk about their books (see assessment) (Expectations).
  • Calculate Reading Rates and set individual goals for improvement (Expectations).
  • Have students keep a Writer’s Notebook where they respond to their readings and set goals for novels read (Challenge)
  • Conduct Book Talks everyday (modeling)

 In Conclusion (a word about assessment)

All multiple choice tests are snapshots of student achievement that say nothing about how much the student has grown or where their potential is. Using a test to describe a student is like trying to take a picture of a butterfly in midflight – it’s always going to be a picture of that butterfly frozen in time. My portfolio was not a test, or a snapshot of my learning. It is a collection of my writing over a semester in high school that shows more about who I was and who I was becoming then any final exam ever could. And Ben’s newly discovered joy with books can never be broken down into a letter grade, but it is probably something that will stay with him long after his report card. These are the experiences I want for my kids and I do not want to be held back by rules of common exams any longer. Besides, research proves that “there is little evidence that better test takers do better in life or that the test taking skills are transferable” (Jenson, 2005, 152).

In conclusion, Penny Kittle once told a class of English teachers that one year with a writing teacher could change a student’s life forever. I think this sentiment goes along with our school’s mission statement perfectly –my job is to help students gain knowledge and skills that build intellect, character, and a lifelong thirst for learning. The simple act of allowing student’s choice in what they read and write will do all of these things, and more.