On Reading Logs and Other Experiments in Teaching

This year, my high school students are getting credit for reading. Wait, you ask, isn't that what an English class always does? Well, yes. And no.

See, high school students are always being assigned things to read, being assessed on their comprehension of what they read, being made to slog through a book they might not have read on their own, and all of these are good things. I do not believe it is wrong to train a student in how to persevere, in how to be disciplined, in how to tackle something outside of his/her comfort zone; however, I believe we have been teaching these skills in the absence of those other, readerly skills we all know and use:

How to choose a book. How to enjoy a book. How to stretch yourself from one type of reading to a new genre or style. How to have an opinion. How to reflect. How to abandon a book that is not serving you well.

These are the marks of a mature reader, and unfortunately, school doesn't often teach these, so if a student is not a reader already, he or she will never learn how to be one. And though it may be naive, I believe every student is already more of a reader than he/she may think and every student can be a mature reader. Even students who "hate" to read.

In an effort to encourage, develop, celebrate, and stretch these skills, I have reduced the number of complete works we will read together to make room for them to read things they choose themselves. I've had them create a Google Sheets Reading Log where they must record all titles (books, audiobooks, stories, poetry collections, articles, blogposts, etc...) they read this year. They will set goals for themselves at the beginning of each quarter, and they will be assessed on how satisfactorily they meet those goals and the ones I've established for every student. I've required them to read diversely (not just all white men) and to read something from at least two countries of origin. I've asked them to read at least one item from a list of genres I provided and to use their goal-setting as a way to stretch themselves each quarter.

They get to pick. They are asked to rate what they pick. They are given the chance to DNF something and mark it in their log as such. They are, in short, doing what you and I do everyday.

It is an experiment. What if students fake it? How would I know? (in part, their weekly journals will do this, but it is still possible to fool me). What if students just don't do it? What if they still hate reading at the end of the year? (this last one is, of course, not just possible but likely in some cases).

But if just a handful of kids move from hating reading to seeing themselves as actively engaged readers, I will consider it a success. After all, what's more important: that they read every word of The Odyssey or that they appreciate words and writing in new and exciting ways?

I'm putting my money (and my grades) on the last one.

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