I’ve been growing more and more concerned with the discussions roiling around literature and reading with the coming of new Common Core State Standards. Voices are clamoring that students engage in close reading (not a bad thing–as long as it’s not the only kind of reading students engage in) and that teachers increase the rigor (Do we really want more rigidity in schools?) of their classes. In the debate over how much nonfiction versus fiction students should read, the whole idea of reading for pleasure seems to be forgotten or outright rejected.
If we reject reading for pleasure and teach in such a way that turns students off of reading all together, we are making a grave mistake. As Mark Twain is credited with saying, “A man who doesn’t read has no advantage over a man who cannot read.” Encouraging students to read for pleasure is crucial in getting them to choose to read, even long after they leave our classrooms.
The good news for those who champion increasing rigor and accountability is that reading for pleasure has definite advantages. It only makes sense. How can you get better at doing something if you don’t practice it? Students are much more likely to practice reading if they enjoy it. Several studies have come out recently that illustrate the academic benefits of reading for pleasure. Scholastic published a study done in the UK that links reading for pleasure with increases in reading and writing attainment, text comprehension and grammar, and breadth of vocabulary as well as increases in general knowledge, understanding of other cultures, and insight into human nature. Jeffrey Wilhem and Michael Smith echo these findings in their study of fourteen eighth graders, reported in The Atlantic.
I am constantly enticing my students to read: I talk with them about the books they are reading. I share with them the books I am reading. I book talk books and share book trailers. I get to know my students so I can match their interests to books they just might love. I give students opportunities to talk with each other about the books they are reading.
I also challenge my students to read more than they ever thought possible. I borrowed the 40-book challenge from Donalyn Miller’s The Book Whisperer. (No, I haven’t yet read Reading in the Wild, but I hope someone will get it for me for Christmas.) I still have former students come back to me and brag about reading 40 books in one year–and they are still reading. I have students this year who are already surprised that they have read 10 or more books before Thanksgiving. Check below for the updated totals so far this year.
I also borrowed the reading homework from Penny Kittle’s Book Love. It helps me keep track of what my 120 students are reading, and it reinforces for them that reading needs to become a daily habit. The record keeping is fairly simple (no more signed reading logs!) Every Friday, students read for 10 minutes and record their starting and ending page. They do some simple math to determine a reading goal for the week. It looks like this.
- Subtract the beginning page (10, for example) from the ending page (15). That means the student read 5 pages during the 10 minutes.
- Multiply the number of pages read in 10 minutes by 6 to determine how many pages could be read in an hour (5 x 6 = 30).
- Multiply that answer by 2 to determine how many pages could be read in two hours (30 x 2 = 60).
- The student’s reading goal for the week is to read 60 pages.
- I figure the students’ grades based on what percentage of their goal they reach. If the goal is 60 pages and the student reads 60 pages, the student earns 100%. If the goal is 60 pages and the student reads 30 pages, the student earns a 50%.
I love that this individualizes the homework for each student. Slower readers aren’t “punished” by having to spend twice as long on an assignment. Faster readers are challenged to keep reading. Neither are students penalized for attempting to read a more challenging text.
Each day in class I pass around a sheet listing each student and the title of the book they are reading. Students simply write down what page they are on while they are reading. I can scan the sheet to see who is nearly finished with a book and who is bogging down in the middle or having difficulty sticking with a book.
By reading just 15-30 minutes a night for homework, along with the in-class reading, students are reading more than they thought possible. Just check out the totals so far:
- 1st Period: 24 students have read 220 books, for an average of 9.2 books per student.
- 2nd Period: 19 students have read 185 books, for an average of 9.7 books per student.
- 3rd Period: 21 students have read 228 books, for an average of 10.9 books per student.
- 4th Period: 19 students have read 200 books, for an average of 10.5 books per student.
- 6th Period: 20 students have read 198 books, for an average of 9.9 books per student.
- 7th Period: 15 students have read 105 books, for an average of 7.0 books per student.
That’s a grand total of 118 students have read 1,136 books, for an average of 9.6 books per student!
I don’t know about you, but I think that’s an impressive amount of books to read before Thanksgiving! What have been your favorite books so far?