It’s Thanksgiving break, a full week off. I think it’s a good time to reflect on the school year so far, and to make some plans for the rest of it. We have only three weeks left in the first semester, so when vacation is over we’ll have time for one more good project, and then we’ll wind up the semester. This is an important time for the eighth graders because their promotion depends on their grades for each quarter. It’s an important time for all of us, because we still have half a year left, and we really need to figure out how to make the most of the time we have left this year. The year has been difficult so far, without a doubt. I think some areas are improving, and some, well some just aren’t. As I take a look at what’s working and what’s not, I need to make some plans. Hm…
Reading: We’ve read some stories from the core. “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street,” “Thank You Ma’am,” “The Telltale Heart,” and the like. I guess they’ve enjoyed them, but I have a problem with teaching literature in a loud and commanding voice. I feel that good literature deserves a finesse that I seldom arrive at in my classes. Someone is always hopping up to sharpen their pencil or clean their hands which have just touched gum (that they themselves probably put) under their desk. So the reading happens between me reading some parts aloud, allowing the students to read some parts aloud, and me telling someone to sit back down or stop playing around every few minutes.
Along with the (not so) brilliant class reading we do, our school has implemented a requirement to amass Accelerated Reader points this year in an effort to get kids to read. This has translated to either no points at all, or kids taking tests on books they read in fourth or fifth or sixth grade, or on the children’s books (as opposed to YA books) they find in my classroom library. If you get enough .5 point tests taken, you will eventually amass the required/desired number of points. No matter that you haven’t actually read much of anything.
The bottom line is, my students read at about a second or third grade level, most of them. Reading is hard for them, so they hate to read. Or at least that is what they proclaim loudly any time I suggest they do so. When we do silent reading time (10 minutes a day) they grab any old thing that has words in it and open it and look at it. Some have actual chapter books, and one or two of them will actually read their book, but mostly the grab and stare thing happens. So, I think I need to do something different. Because this does not seem like something that is working advantageously for anyone.
Here’s my idea for second semester: I’m thinking of doing some reading of very short pieces twice weekly to build speed and comprehension. (See Longman’s book “Reading Drills”) In between maybe we’ll read some informational articles like those found in Scholastic’s Choices magazine, and a few core short stories. I will read a novel to them during silent reading time, so they can hear a good book read well and realize that they can follow a book all the way through and that a book can be interesting. Possible book candidates are: “Al Capone Does My Shirts,” by Gennifer Choldenko, “Skellig,” by David Almond, or “Touching Spirit Bear,” by Ben Mikaelson. I think I’m climbing a glass hill trying to drag them through the seventh grade core, even though they do seem to like what they understand of the stories.
I don’t want to debase my students or diminish their abilities. I do want to be real about what is and is not possible or probable to accomplish with their current level of skill, and devise activities which will help to improve it rather than making everything be such a struggle that ends up being completely disconnected from their understanding. Do you have any recommendations for read aloud novels? What do you think of this idea? I really want them to gain the skills to actually be able to be people who read on purpose, because they like it.
And that’s it for today. I’ll work on Part 2 of this post tomorrow.