Personalizing Goals for Outside of School Reading Time


Last semester we tried as a grade level to require students to read a uniform number of minutes outside of school time.  I really wanted to stay away from reading logs or anything like that, so I provided my students a calendar to keep in their literacy notebooks to track their minutes.  Unfortunately, the endeavor was a big fail for many reasons.  Most of our 8th graders have not had an expectation for reading outside of school until this year, and our desire to not impose any accountability measures that might impede the joy of reading were a perfect storm for failure.    Students DO love reading in class, so that aspect is not the reason; I think just not having that mindset or habit of reading on their own time is the core challenge.

I will be the first to tell you I don’t have this piece of the puzzle figured out though I do have some resources I want to read and explore this summer to better contemplate how to nurture outside of school reading.  For now, I decided to let students set personalized goals for the next nine weeks.  We talked about how we are all juggling many responsibilities outside of school—clubs, sports, church, hobbies, family commitments, homework—and how that may impact the time we have at home to read.  We talked about setting a goal that would be realistic and doable yet would nudge them just a little and stretch them as readers.   The only responses that were not acceptable were “none” or “I don’t read outside of school.” Each student was asked to think about a goal for a total number of minutes to read each week and what that might look like in terms of days and time per day though the total number of minutes was the main focus.

We then took our goals and made them public in our classroom for easy reference:

I’m setting cycles of independent reading outside of class of 7-10 days.  At the beginning of the reading cycle, students receive a tracking sheet on a neon colored piece of paper; they update it each day as part of our “warm up” activity.   My plan is to then have them do a written reflection at the end of the cycle and to complete it in class.  We completed our first cycle this past Friday, and while I still need to take a second pass at reading student responses, most seem to have been pretty honest in their tracking of their target goal of minutes.  In addition, the responses to the reflection questions are also telling and revealing.

While I want my students to meet or exceed their goals for reading time outside of class, I hope that the personalized aspect of our reading goals will help students begin to cultivate a habit of making space in this busy non-school lives for reading.  These reading cycle reflections will become part of their literacy portfolios, and we’ll do a formative self-assessment at the end of this nine week grading period.  Right now I am really inspired by Julie Swinehart’s work with student reading identities, reflections, and goal setting; I think I might adapt her work for my 8th graders.

How are you nurturing habits of reading outside of school time with your secondary students?

Annotation Conferences as Formative Assessment

We are racing toward the end of the year, and my juniors have been working hard between their prep work for our first American lit book club meeting tomorrow (for A day classes) and Friday (for B day classes) and our state End of Course testing.  About 10 days ago, we revisited two sets of annotation strategies we have used all year:

I also introduced fiction signposts from Bob Probst and Kylene Beers; I am using this beautiful interpretation/version crafted by the amazing Julie Swinehart.  We came up with shortcut codes of CC, Aha!, TQ, WW, AA, and MM.  I also modeled sample annotations for students in all classes.

For our American Lit book club project (blog post way overdue and coming soon!), my juniors participated in a book tasting of five texts:  Of Mice and Men, Catcher in the Rye, The Great Gatsby, Raisin in the Sun, and Our Town.  I’ll write more about the book selection process, but in a nutshell, nearly everyone got his/her first choice, and I developed reading schedules for each text around our testing calendar to balance testing days with in-class time for reading and prep work for the first book club meetings.

One of the requirements for the first round of reading is for students to craft at least 10 high quality annotations; students can do more for bonus points, but 10 is the minimum for this first reading round.  Students must do the following with their annotations:

  1.  Include a shortcut code or text symbol
  2. Write at least one complete sentence
  3. Use any combination of the three strategy sets (and students could also craft their own additional codes if needed).
  4. Craft meaningful annotations to help them be reflective and active readers.

I provided a multitude of Post-It notes in a diverse range of colors, sizes, and styles to meet everyone’s needs (yes, I bought these with my own money, but monitor Amazon for great sales on Post-It notes!).  With our mini-lesson and supplies at hand, students jumped right into their work:

This week I have been conferencing with students 1:1 about their annotation work.  The procedure is very simple:  I have a chair next to my desk, students come over for a conference when ready (and sign up on the board if we get busy with a waiting list), we sit side by side, and we spend 7-10 minutes chatting about their annotations.  These conferences are reveal much about students’ thinking and questions about the text, and the annotations provide us some quick talking points for me to get an idea about the student and how he/she is progressing with engagement and understanding of the book.  The concept sounds so simple, but I have learned so much about my juniors as readers, thinkers, and individuals this week in a short time; these conferences, though brief, are incredibly insightful much like a writing conference.

Though the conferences do take up time, I highly encourage you to try them with your students!  Here is a sampler of work from all levels of 11th English–I have been impressed by the intellectual and emotional investment my students have put into their work.  The effort and quality of work is even more impressive considering the high stakes testing that is happening on any given day right now!  I know this work is helping them with their book club meeting prep graphic organizer (I’ll share in my next blog post) and will be the fuel for rich book club discussions tomorrow and Friday.