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.