Hitting the Books—and Loving It!
February 14, 2020
February 14, 2020
By Courtney Cutright
I love to read. Books always have been part of my life.
In elementary school, I recall racing through assignments (sometimes carelessly) so I could get lost in stories penned by the likes of Judy Blume, Beverly Cleary, and Ann M. Martin. I know times have changed, but I was surprised when I entered the classroom in 2014 to see how few middle and high school students enjoyed reading.
The district in which I work promotes independent reading time. Our 95-minute blocks accommodate it well, but I struggled to successfully implement it for the first few years I taught. It took a while to figure out a routine that worked.
I decided to follow the lead of my English teaching heroes, Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle, and shifted my focus to demonstrate my own passion for reading. After all, enthusiasm is contagious, right?
My intention was to build a community of readers. I hit it hard on the first day of school, showing photos of the bookshelves in my home and sharing statistics about how reading prepares students for college. I told anecdotes about how an underpaid teacher acquires books for a classroom library by scouring yard sales, rifling through thrift store inventory, applying for grants, and spending out of my own wallet.
I ran a speed-dating activity with books to introduce my new students to different genres and authors. I gave book talks. I modeled independent reading. By the second week, my students were reading for 20 minutes per day in class. I added one minute to the timer every two weeks, and by the middle of the year, we were up to 27 minutes.
When it was time to read a novel together as a class during the second quarter, I was so pleased with the success of independent reading that I was hesitant to disrupt the protected time I’d established for it. In years past, I’d suspended independent reading while we were in a novel study, but this year I decided not to break the routine. The tradeoff was while we slowly slogged through the novel, students seemed more excited about reading together.
Here are some small ways independent reading time works for my students:
Reading response logs: I use biweekly logs, but I collect them daily to hold students accountable. Their responses must be a minimum of two sentences using sentence stems I provide. I use the reading logs as talking points when I conference with students. Most of my conferencing, however, is done very casually or in the form of questions I leave on their papers.
I write comments and students know I expect them to either write back or to address these with me face-to-face. The reading logs help me weed out the “fake” readers, and I use the logs to track what students have read in order to make recommendations when they ask or need a nudge.
Color-coded library: I reorganized the shelves in my classroom and color-coded each title to match the genre system used by our school library. I am constantly reading and adding to my classroom collection. It’s a great resource for students who need recommendations or don’t like what is in the library.
Contests: Anything competitive grabs the attention of middle school students. Our school librarian already has conducted two reading competitions. The first was book bingo. Students who read four or five books and made bingo were invited to an ice cream sundae party during school.
The librarian launched a 10,000-page class reading contest later in the fall. One of my blocks was one of two classes in the school to reach the goal. The prize was a board game day in the library with popcorn and pizza. It was a great way to celebrate the end of the semester and the upcoming holiday break.
The absolute best part of this for me is to see students fall in love with books. One student, Zoey, finished reading a novel I recommended. When she returned it, she asked where she could buy it. She loved the book so much she wanted her own copy to keep and treasure. I surprised her a few days later with a copy I ordered online and inscribed for her. I want more of my students to love books as much as I do.
Cutright, a member o the Roanoke County Education Association, teaches English at Northside Middle School.