Saturday, November 3, 2012

Changin' Minds About day at a time

I recently read the Pew Report about reading habits of young people and chuckled at the stats: 83% of adolescents and young people surveyed had read a book last year. We as a nation should be pleased that young adults are reading and using libraries. As an English teacher, a reading specialist and a library media specialist, I have a vested interest in encouraging students to read.

My first response to the report was, 'How sad. Only one?' In my Reading for Pleasure class I have my students keep track of their reading -- books and pages, and I would consider it a personal defeat, a Waterloo, if any of my students ONLY read one book during my class, and it's only 18 weeks long. In fact, I just had students report their reading as part of their midterm self-reflections. I wanted them to feel personal pride at their accomplishments, and the Pew report gave me a baseline number for them all to compare themselves to.

As I reported the final-ish (as final as you can ever have when dealing with 155 high school students) numbers...I ended up with numbers from 146 of them. 146 students read 860.9524 books -- in NINE WEEKS! They read 264,585 pages! As I did the big reveal in all of the classes, I asked for drumrolls and students happily complied. If anyone's interested, that's an average of 5.8969342...and a bunch more numbers behind the decimal.

Now, it always surprised people when I tell them not all of my students love first. I have a survey question I ask at the beginning of the semester and again on the final exam about how they feel about reading...choices range from LOVE IT to HATE IT. I usually compile the information and file it for myself, but this year I tried something different. I gave all my students sticky notes and asked them to write JUST their class period, not their name...and to place it on the white board at the back of my room under the description that best fits the way they feel about reading. I didn't watch them so they could be completely honest. Kids end up in my class for many reasons -- including a forced placement by parents or counselors or special education teachers. I hope my openness to their honesty helps them know I'm happy they're in class and will work with them at whatever their current attitude is.

We watched our chart take form for a couple of days and then I asked the students to observe and write what they see. Many kids identified the five outliers who HATE reading as well as the two who hate it, and noticed they all came from my first and second hour classes. They noticed that the biggest category was 'OK if I choose.' I noticed it looks like a lopsided bell curve, with most answers in those middle categories. I asked then to tell me what this chart says about my job and their jobs. Students saw my job for the semester to be moving everyone forward (to the west from the orientation of my room)...No one expected attitudes to change much, but, students identified my job and theirs for the semester: work together, be positive role models. Share books, have a great attitude. I was proud of how many students took ownership of the task before us -- help everyone leave class in January with a positive attitude about reading. As the grown-up in the room, I knew a positive attitude would also reflect heightened confidence, stronger reading skills, and more reading stamina. That's my secret, though...I tell my students I'm working strictly on their attitudes about reading.

So, last week was the end of the first nine weeks -- midterm. I have a midterm reflection I ask students to complete...I want them to review their goals for the semester, examine their writing about books, and think about their attitude and if it's changing. So, I took off all the stickies and had students recreate our chart about reading attitudes. Again, I didn't look...but in my first hour, one of my students told me he was one of the HATE IT's from the first week, but is slowly (!) changing his mind...he asked could he create a new description: "Mraw" to be placed between HATE IT and hate it...a real victory! He's found a couple of books he likes but isn't willing to fall into books yet.

Next week, I'll have students examine this chart and tell me what stands out to them...I see that movement to the west I need...I see more students now like reading, without the qualifier of 'if I choose.' They've had nine weeks to choose, to abandon, to sample. They've had nine weeks of recommendations from me and from classmates. They've started their 'books to read next' lists. They've been surrounded by books and by people who are reading. They've written reflections of their books and had authentic conversations with me and others about their books.

The distribution is no longer a bell, with more stickies placed in those positive attitude columns. Even my students who entered my classroom in August with surly attitudes about reading have found success and along the way have found confidence. Success and confidence are contagious -- you catch them in Reading for Pleasure.

Now, I need those three outliers to move one more 'category' for the final exam! 

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