10 September 2011

Independent Reading for My 7th Grade Class

A new year brings a new stab at challenging my 7th graders to read their brains out. I've made some necessary changes for this year, such as requiring fewer books and more writing, and after three weeks, most of my 100+ students are off to a good start.

I started my students off last year with a hefty reading goal in the middle of January - after reading Donalyn Miller's The Book Whisperer (a must read for any teacher of reading - especially in the lower grades [5-8], and, depending on the class, for high school lit teachers as well). This year I hit them hard the first day (well, even before that - at our open house I made it very clear they were going to be challenged to read 21 books this year). Even though this year's students will have much more time to complete the reading itself, the writing part of it all is much more challenging this year.

For every book my students read they have to write me a letter based on the genre of their book. This was another thing Miller does with her classes, however, I have very specific prompts that are designed to hit specific indicators, and according to her book the letters she had her students write were based mainly on aesthetics.

I really like the letter writing for three reasons: it's a great way to communicate one-on-one with every student, a simple way to keep them accountable, and I can differentiate instruction on that same one-on-one level every time I write back. This includes pushing the students who would have read over 20 books anyway, and encouraging those who will barely finish 10 - or one for that matter.

Besides getting every one of my students to read, the most difficult part of this program is convincing my students they actually can sit still. Right at the beginning of each class period we read quietly for 15 minutes. After three weeks we're all settling in to the routine, but it has taken every day of that three weeks to do so. 7th graders by nature are not good at being still - and neither is the rest of our culture - but good and faithful practice does wonders. Of course, I will fight with a stubborn few the whole year, that's just the reality of the beast (I'll fight them on everything else I want from them too).

In future posts, I'll share what I'm reading as well, as I intend to complete the same 21 book goal.

Read about last year's attempt by clicking here: Reading Goal (along with yet another endorsement for George MacDonald).

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