Saturday, August 14, 2010

What do your readers do?

While dipping in to my twitter stream this morning I came across "The Fake Book Report on" Nancy Ehrlich's teaching blog. I've been thinking a lot about how I will run independent reading this year and I started to leave Nancy a comment and realized I was writing too much, so I thought I 'd write out my thoughts here and then link the post back to her comments.

Nancy's post reminds me of a story I once herd Yetta Goodman share. "What's the first thing you wanted to do after you read The Bridges of Madison County?" Goodman asked the audience. The first thing I would wanted to do (then and now) was call my best book-friend and talk about the book so that she would read it next or I might just bring her the book to read as I talk about it. Goodman described a scenario where she finished the book while reading before bed time and jumped up to go create a diorama of the bridges. Harvey Daniels summarizes the Goodman wisdom, "What do lifelong readers do when they finish a book, Yetta wondered--make a diorama?"

Real readers don't create dioramas or digital book talks or movie trailers. Read readers talk. some may write about books--teacher-y nerds like me especially, but for the most part it is a rare student--a student who is just learning to enjoy reading--that will spontaneous write about a book experience. First he needs to enjoy reading and feel the pleasure of being lost in a story.

Like Nancy, I thought critically about my own classroom when my son qualified for the accelerated reader program at his school. I will never forget how he got into the car and said, "Now I can't read whatever I want." I could barely suppress my anger. Of course he could still read whatever he wanted--I told him I'd fight all the way up to the principal's office to insure that right for him. Satisfied, we found ways to work around the AR program and found books he enjoyed for which his school had purchased tests, but still. Students should not have to take a test every time they read a book. I'll save that rant, but it was AR (and later my son's canned book reports--all written, no choice) made me seriously look at the assignments I was using to bog down readers.

While I may not run the readers' workshop Nancie Atwell pioneered and continues, independent reading--a mini-workshop time--is a core part of my classroom. I do not require students to do something with everything they read. Well, I take that back. I do require them to log their reading time and keep track of the pages they have read. Reading homework is consistent throughout the school year. Students may choose to read 2 1/2 hours each week for an A, 2 hours for a B, 1 1/2 hours for a C and so on. Last year I gave students extra-credit for each 1/2 hour extra that they logged. The reading log I use is a simple form. Originally meant to be cut apart, students never did, so the three column logs show me quite a reading history once they are complete.

Read Log

In my classroom I ask students to read 25 books a year. In the mid-90s New York and California new standards included a "25 book standard" for students in New York, I glommed on to the idea. I sold it to students by saying "If students in New York and California can read 25 books then so can you!" Now many states' standards include book thresholds. Georgia even acknowledges that reading and meeting the 25 book standard is everyone's responsibility in their social studies performance standards.

I hold students accountable for reading. I record the status of the class in my reading record notebook each day and use the data to assess students' progress as well as award points for reading. I wish that it were not so, but points, or grades, show students that I value reading. I also grade their progress toward the standard on our final exam. The 25 books becomes 25 points and the number of books students read adds to their overall exam score.

In the past, students have kept reading journals writing up to 2 pages weekly. Once students demonstrate application of the strategies I have been teaching in class by writing specifically and about the books they are reading, I "release" them from the responsibility of journaling about their reading (a la Lois Lowry). I did not have students keep reading journals last year. At the end of the year, mid-year their independent reading essays weren't as well crafted. I think the reading journals are a practice place I will bring back this year. We do them at the beginning of the year, for the first quarter only. I will need to revise my reading journal directions; the one I used to use, is embedded in this set of workshop handouts.

I don't require a monthly project or even a quarterly project, but I do ask via the journal and the log that students do something with their reading. I let go of the journal quickly though. I also assess them as readers and thinkers by making their independent reading the topic of our midterm exam. Students are give personalized essay questions--a process I wrote about here. I assess students as members of a reading community by asking them to showcase a book they have read at the end of the year. Like Nancy, I have required types of projects (book talks, book-movie posters, podcasts, etc), but I have also offered choices. This 100 projects list is what I may give students to choose from.

I've never had students fake an independent reading essay, but it's a long process. A teaching process I employ to scaffold students' abilities to think critically. We'll see how it works this year. I still have a week to think about what I want to do differently this year. One thing I'm definitely going to do is follow Ehrlich on twitter and subscribe to her blog. Her desktop chaos theme made me want a blog make-over of my own and I appreciate the parent perspective she brings to her teaching and thinking. Reflective, practical, she sounds like my kind of teacher.

Daniels, Harvey. "What's the Next Big Thing with Literature Circles?." Voices from the Middle 13.4 (2006): 10-15. Web. 14 Aug 2010.


  1. Your post offers worthy insights and resources to extend the the Fake Book Report post by Nancy. It is always a challenge to create assessments that really offer kids a way to shine.

    My son has dyslexia, dysgraphia, and dyscalculia (plus). He is lucky to be a straight C student, but when I look at the assignment grades instead of the end of term grades what I see is a lot of As and Fs/incompletes. It isn't that he can't learn the content, but rather that he can only do certain types of assessment exercises and assignments. What he has learned is that, in school, he is a failure. So he quit trying.

    He finds school peripheral to his learning, and spends his richest learning time in online MMORPGs creating virtual characters & environments, rich plots, telling stories, meshing things he reads/views with research to create new visions. He is a wonderful, creative, intelligent child for whom the traditional school environment is a barrier to learning rather than an aid. This type of approach, especially if implemented early and consistently, could really change things, change the attitudes and assumptions about school.

    Bravo! Terrible challenges, brave efforts and responses. Good luck!

  2. Thank you. You are so right about the break down between learning and school, Perplexity. I have long wanted to figure out Second Life and engage students that way or at least offer it as a choice. So many students/kids need choice in order to show off their strengths and their learning. Everyone learns, schools just aren't always connected to the various and sundry ways students demonstrate their learning. Thank you for your thoughtful comments.

  3. I am humbled that my blog inspired you to respond with your blog. I will treasure that my meager words could act as a catalyst. When we teaches re-evaluate, re-assess and review our own practices, students soar. I am a teacher who rarely does things the same way twice. The validation that comments and Twitter provides continues to be my catalyst to improving. Thank you again from the bottom of my heart and I can't wait to share with you again. NancyTeaches

  4. Thank you, Nancy! I look forward to more blogging inspiration from you!