Helping Students Develop a Passion for Reading

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About five years ago, I adopted a new approach to reading instruction.  I read books by Nancy Atwell, Penny Kittle, and Donalyn Miller and completely changed my approach.  Not only did I begin to develop a classroom library, but I learned how to use it to inspire readers.

For 10 years (prior to Atwell, Kittle, and Miller), I just told kids that they should love reading but ultimately did nothing to promote that love of reading.  I thought that I could inspire them through the whole class novels we read.  I taught them everything they could possible know about characters, theme, setting, and plot in The Pigman, Lyddie, Zlata’s Diary, My Brother Sam is Dead, and more.  However, I did not create independent readers.

When I began approaching reading as a fun activity, I was first met with resistance. It was obvious to me that many of my students lost their love of reading around 4th grade and had made no effort to get it back. Technology and video games took on a greater importance to them than reading.

To rebuild their reading interest, I began showing book trailers (look on YouTube) for some of the more popular YA novels. I began reading passages from novels.  I began talking incessantly about the books I was reading.  I boasted how many books ultimately become movies.  I purchased book after book to create an appealing classroom library (my husband keeps threatening to cut me off).  Most importantly, I devoted 20 minutes of class each day to silent reading time.  I call it DIRT (Directed Independent Reading Time).

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To be honest, it didn’t take long to convince most of my students about the benefits of reading.  I was somewhat surprised how quickly I was able to get them on board.  The greatest moments of my day are sharing book recommendations with my students and sharing stories of reading success.  They feel so accomplished when they find “that book” — you know, the one that forever changes them as readers. Today, I am met with groans of protest if we lose DIRT to delays or pep sessions (anything that might shorten class).

Some of my more stubborn students took longer to “buy in” to reading.  I can’t deny that each year I have a few students who never fully develop a love of reading while in the 8th grade.  I tell myself that they read at least 3-4 books (just during DIRT in class) throughout the course of the school year that wouldn’t have happened otherwise.  I also hope that perhaps my reading “push” will come to them later in life.

While many teachers do not believe in reading logs, I use them.  I have found that my middle schoolers respond to the concrete nature of logs.  They love seeing the total number of pages and books they have read each nine weeks.  It is something tangible for them.  It also helps them generate new reading goals for themselves.  (Logs are not graded)

Start reading with your students as soon as you can.  Don’t wait.  You won’t regret it.

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How have you helped to inspire students to read?  Share your ideas.  

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Teaching in the Middle

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Whenever I meet someone new and mention what I do for a living, I always get one of two responses:  “Oh…Why?”  or  “You must be a saint.”

This always makes me chuckle.  I assure you that I am not a saint, but I do love teaching.  I think that my students keep me young.  I always know the new fashion trends, popular music, and the ever evolving slang of young adults.  But, just because I love it doesn’t make it easy.

The demands of standardized testing, curriculum mapping, and vertical articulation aside, teaching young adults ages 12-15 is not easy.  Middle school teachers must possess immense creativity and patience.

The above graphic says that”Adolescents misinterpret emotions and instructions 40% of the time.”  Parents and secondary teachers everywhere can attest to this.  There is so much going on in a teenager’s body physiologically that they have a hard time balancing school, friends, family, church, and more.

Also, the statistic that “middle school students typically have an attention span of 10-12 minutes” is particularly true.  When I had young children at home, I wanted to know what research said was developmentally appropriate for time-out.  I read that young children should be placed in time-out 1 minute for each year of age.  So, a 3-year-old should be in time-out for 3 minutes.  Clearly, if the above graphic is true, this correlates to learning as well.  Students can maintain focus for approximately 1 minute for each year.  12 years old = a 12 minute attention span.

This knowledge should change how middle school teachers teach.  We must teach in shorter mini lessons and then let students move and practice instruction.  Luckily for me, I teach in a block schedule with 80 minute classes.  This allows me to conduct several activities each day.

Take a look at David Walsh’s book Why Do They Act That Way —  A Guide for Dealing with Teenagers.  It is not a book on education but will change how you teach adolescents nonetheless.  (I will book talk this book in my next blog post).

In what ways do you see middle school students are different from elementary or high school students?  How does this affect your teaching?  Share your ideas.  I would love to hear them.  

 

Argumentative Writing

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Each and I every day, I get to say, “I am a teacher.”  What an amazing gift.  I have a job that has potential to change the world.  Today, however, my students changed me.

I had the privilege to sit down with groups of students today as they discussed argumentative research topics.  I put my students at the forefront of their learning — and guess what!  They thrived. They sat in groups and discussed the pros and cons of artificial sweeteners, evolution vs. creationism, plea bargaining, immigration law, year-round schooling, and more.  Instead of me informing them, they informed each other — and me.  🙂

I was able to meet educational standards WHILE forming relationships with my students.  I feel that they left my classroom today knowing that I care about them and will truly listen to what they have to say.  Plus, instead of leaving with three possible topics to research, many of them left with 4 or 5.  They couldn’t decide because so many of the topics had intrigued them.  Having the chance to just sit and discuss these topics (and their many subtopics) gave them a chance to share and learn without the “pressure” of proving it.

It is no secret that students remember the teachers who cared for them — who took an interest in them as human beings, not just educational commodities. Sadly, as the demands and pressures of standardized testing have increased, the time I have spent over the years building relationships with my students has dwindled.   Today, even though I had a headache from all the impassioned debating, I have begun correcting that major error.  They taught me a lot about themselves and their day-to-day pressures.  I assure you, I will be listening to my students a whole lot more often from here on out.

What have your students taught you?  How will that knowledge change how you teach?

 

“The most important story we will ever write in life is our own — not with ink, but with our daily choices.”

Richard Paul Evans