Friday, March 11, 2016

Silent Reading-Getting Secondary Students Excited About Reading

I teach 8th grade English and it is no secret that most of my beloved students hate reading. I know, I know! That statement hurts my heart too! Every time I ask my students to get out their independent reading books (IRBs) or their class novels, I hear a groan of disappointment and dissatisfaction. When I ask them why they hate reading so much, most of them say it’s because they can’t stay interested, they don’t like what they’re reading, they can’t get comfortable, or they get sleepy. It occurred to me that not one of my students’ replies to my question was that they genuinely harbored a hatred towards the act of reading. This was reassuring to me and honestly, quite fixable! So, this year I set out on a mission to inspire a love (or at the very least, a tolerance) of reading in my students! I took each of the four main complaints and have attempted to come up with a solution for each. Hold onto your seats though, this is going to be one of my longer posts!

Let them get comfortable!

I find that letting my students read in a comfortable and laidback environment puts them in a better mindset for reading. Instead of making them feel as though they’re being forced to do something they really don’t want to do, I want them to feel like it’s a treat! Being that most of my students (sadly) don’t like to read to begin with, forcing them to do so within the confines of their desk area makes me feel as though I am a prison warden.

Instead of reading at their desks, I like to let my students read their novels in whatever position they feel is most agreeable to them. To facilitate this, I make my classroom look and feel different for the day. I move every single desk and chair to the outside border of the classroom to create a huge open space! The reaction I receive when the kids walk in for class that day is my favorite because they suddenly remember that we’ll be sitting/lying on the floor that day. In addition to opening my classroom up and allowing the students to sit/lie down, I like to let them bring in their pillows and blankets from home (if they choose to). Like I mentioned before, this is all about making reading seem like a privilege and not a forced punishment. Of course I do have rules for silent reading days in my classroom. They are as follows:
  1. No student may fall asleep during Silent Reading Day. This is not naptime. If you are caught sleeping, you will promptly be woken up with a pass to the library where you will read your novel every Silent Reading Day for the rest of the year.
  2. No student may share their pillow and/or blanket with another student. If caught sharing pillows and/or blankets, all students involved will no longer be allowed to bring in such items for Silent Reading Day.

Let them eat!

Though eating does create a level of comfort for my students, when I decided to attempt letting them bring a snack in for Silent Reading Day, my main goal was to prevent students from falling asleep. My theory is that you can’t fall asleep if you’re eating, right…? On the day of a silent read, I told my students that in addition to being allowed to bring a pillow and a blanket, they could also bring a snack. Of course, that had to come with a set of rules as well. They are as follows:

  1. Do not bring messy snacks in for Silent Reading day. We want there to be absolutely no cheesy or sticky fingerprints on the pages of our books!
  2. All students will clean up after themselves! If you leave your trash or crumbs behind, you will no longer be allowed to bring a snack in for Silent Reading Day.

Let them choose!
When it comes to reading, I personally can attest to the disappointment and dislike of being forced to read a book I didn’t choose for myself. How can I expect my students to be excited about reading if I’m making them read something they don’t necessarily want to. This year instead of having all of my students read Night by Elie Wiesel for their Holocaust novel study, I picked nine different age appropriate Holocaust novels and put a packet together with descriptions of each book in it. I let them use that packet to choose the top three books they’d like to read and then I took those choices and placed them in groups according to their reading level and behavior. Ultimately, I made the final decision on which book they read, but even just letting them choose their top three books first there was a considerable surge in buy-in.
Obviously there will be times when students will be required to read specific books because they are part of the curriculum or because those books are required reading as mandated by district/school, but when starting a novel study that is a little more open-ended, giving students a bit of a choice makes reading, once again, feel like a privilege and not a punishment.

Now, I know my approach to silent reading may be different than what you feel is appropriate for your personal classroom and students and that’s okay! Having and sharing the mindset that reading is a privilege and not a punishment is the main idea to take away from this post. Do you have to go all-out like I do with moving your classroom around allowing students to eat and lounge about? Of course not, but try something new like taking your students to the campus library or the outside lunch table to read! You could even try something as simple as letting them bring a snack to eat while they read! The possibilities are truly endless!

-Taliena (Koch's Odds 'N Ends)