Today was the kick-off day for our inaugural Read-A-Thon in my ninth grade classes. I have been struggling with how to find more time for independent reading, especially after I read Readicide a few years ago. This passage, in particular, continues to haunt me:
Shouldn’t schools be the place where students interact with interesting books? Shouldn’t the faculty have an ongoing, laser-like commitment to put good books in our students’ hands? Shouldn’t this be a front-burner issue at all times?
This year, I’ve continued my quest to integrate more independent reading into an already too-stuffed curriculum, but more on that in future post. For now, I thought I’d use this space to document Day 1 of our Read-A-Thon.
In short, the Read-A-Thon is what the name suggests: a continuous period of time dedicated to free, voluntary reading. Originally, it was supposed to be 10 days straight (including the weekends), but because of two snow days last week, our consecutive number of days is now 8 (still not too bad, though).
Here’s how we kicked it off:
First, goals. I asked students to write down what their goals were for this week. Specifically, I asked them to set two types: a “concrete” goal and a “personal reading” goal. A concrete goal would be something tangible, like the number of books they wanted to finish or start, or the number of pages they would read. A personal reading goal, on the other hand, is a skill they’d like to improve, like visualizing the action, staying focused, or checking for understanding.
As a way of helping students help meet a concrete reading goal, I also shared different strategies for figuring out how many pages or for how many minutes they would need to read daily. The first two minutes of this YouTube video is helpful.
Next, the writing component. Earlier this year, students would write a one page reflection on one of the “sign posts” from Kylene Beers and Robert Proust’s Notice and Note. Because our Read-a-Thon is a more concentrated period of daily/nightly reading, I didn’t want to interrupt student’s reading flow.* So I decided to keep writing to a minimum by limiting students’ writing responses to a single 3×5 index card.
Each night, students choose a “quote of the day” from their reading. They may choose any passage from their reading so far that stands out to them, perhaps for its message, or for its style, or even for its sound. They write this “quote of the day” on one side of the index card and then 3-4 sentences explaining why this passage stood out to them on the other. To give students an idea of the type of quote they might look for, I share some videos from “Now Quoting,” a playlist created by Epic Reads featuring some noteworthy quotes from YA books (I especially like the “Words of Wisdom” video below).
* I’ve become more conscious of protecting the “flow” reading experiences since seeing Jeff Wilhelm and Michael W. Smith present research from their latest book, Reading Unbound, at the NCTE conference last November. Wilhelm and Smith argue that the first principle of pleasure reading is play. In other words, that the reading experience is immersive. When we interupt students during their reading—with study guide questions, journal entries, and graphic organizers to fill out, however well-intentioned—we hamper their ability to experience that full immersive experience.
Later, we’ll draw from students’ “quotes of the day” to create a video as well as visuals (more on that in a future post).
Finally, the celebration. I wanted to make this Read-a-Thon feel like a celebration of reading. And what celebration doesn’t include food? So I passed around a sign-up sheet for students to bring in snacks each day. We have a wonderful librarian who also made special bookmarks for our Read-a-Thon. And for some added fun, we’re also having a daily raffle for some small prizes (remember those “quote of the day” cards from above? Each day, I’ll choose randomly from one of those).
And begin. We had about 20 minutes left by the time we set up the our Read-a-Thon. Some students calculated how many pages they would read, while most others dove headfirst into their books. Can’t wait for tomorrow…
This post is part of the “Slice of Life” series, organized by the teachers at Two Writing Teachers, whose goal is to give teachers a place to write and reflect. This March, more than 250 teachers have committed to daily writing. If you’d like to read more “slices” (from other teachers and even some students), visit twowritingteachers.wordpress.com/challenges.
I LOVE this idea. I agree that stopping to fill out graphic organizers and like is disruptive to the process of pleasurable reading. This would work with my preschoolers, if I was able to get parents on board. I could definitely use this idea with my 3rd and 6th graders. A fabulous summer project! Keep us updated!!
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I would love to hear more about your read-a-thon and how it worked for you last year. Will you use it again? Do you have your 9th graders for a full year? I only have my journalism students for a full year and so I am curious about the thought of giving up 10 days for a read-a-thon. How do you set it up and I saw in one of the posts that you mentioned prizes, do you have guidelines of minimums that you give the students? If you don’t mind sharing more of what you do I would really appreciate it.
I also saw in one blog post but now I can’t seem to find it a mention of a This American Life project. I love the name of the project and was curious what the project is and what you do exactly.
I am so glad I found your blog the other day. I have really enjoyed it. It is so helpful for a rookie teacher with a lot of insightful ideas. I can really relate to the constantly creating new lessons, This will be my 4th year and each year I have done so many different thing in each of the 6 different classes I teach each semester. I think this year I will try to tweak a little, re-use a little more and spend a little more time with my kids and husband. Thanks again for the great posts and sharing.
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Thanks for asking. The Read-a-thon was great – by far, probably the favorite thing my students said they did all year. They LOVED it. It was well-worth it. In fact, after the first one, we did another in early May for 6 days. I wish we could have done the full 10 days, but we were running a bit out of time with exams coming up. I actually asked students to write letters to future teachers/admin about the value of reading during class. Here are excerpts from each letter. Some are about IR in general, others specifically address having a Read-A-Thon: http://bit.ly/1DCEnNr
To answer your other questions – yes, I have my 9th graders for an entire year. All of my classes are full-year courses. Even if taught half-year courses, I would definitely make time for in-class independent reading, whether it’s once per week (that’s what we do first semester) or in a cluster like having Read-A-Thons between whole class texts.
Another way to think about whether or not it’s worth “giving up” the days for in-class reading: The 100+ books my students read in those days would have gone unread otherwise. Period. I know that. Even students who identify themselves as readers will not read during the school year because they tend to prioritize all their other obligations. So I do think we have to make the time in class. Research has also consistently shown that the number one thing that improves reading is volume. As one of my students said in a reflection, “the premise of a literature course is to compel students to be able to independently analyze literature. What better way to accomplish this than having students read independently in class?”
Now that you’ve got me thinking back, I think I will write a longer blog post about this. Should be up later today or tomorrow. 🙂
As far as This American Life, I have had my juniors in AP Lang do a podcast project similar to This American Life – we call it This Stoga Life (Stoga is short for Conestoga High School). Students work in groups, choose a theme to explore, and then compose “radio” essays. Sometimes these essays are just one student talking; other times, it’s a conversation between students, like you hear on This American Life. Some examples of themes students did: peer pressure, the “bubble” of high school, teacher-student relationships, etc. They were pretty good – students enjoyed doing them. But they do take a lot of time.
Glad you are finding my site helpful! 🙂
Thanks for the feedback. I think I am going to try and make some time for the read-a-thon. I have been looking at the 20 project and thinking of doing that as well. I am really looking at ways to help students to be engaged and empowered in their learning. I loved seeing some of the letters. Do you have samples of some of the kids podcasts? I would love to hear some of those if you have any available. Thanks so much for you insight and sharing what you have learned. I really do enjoy reading your posts and look forward to the next.
Thank you for your response to my questions. We have been trying out some of your techniques and ideas with our 9th and 10th grade students. The hardest part for me is all my classes are just one semester. Anyway, I have another question. I noticed that you have a Goodreads group for your class. Can you explain how you created and use this group? We have a school book club and I have been looking for a way for the students and teachers involved in book club to communicate and discuss the books we read. In between our monthly meetings. Thanks for all of your previous ideas, they have been great additions to our school year.
*“**One sees clearly only with the heart. Anything essential is invisible to the eyes.” * *― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, **The Little Prince *