I teach ninth grade at a school in Houston, Texas. I teach three double-blocked classes, meaning that I teach the same group of kids for two class periods in a row, three times a day. That’s 100 minutes of class time. Fifteen of those minutes are dedicated to independent reading. We call it JRB time, because, ideally, kids are reading their “just right book” – a book that is perfect just for them.
At the beginning of the year, I felt like this time was well-spent. Kids read. But our routine was quickly interrupted by Harvey, and when we returned, we tried to get back to it. We never did reach the same level of reading satisfaction, though. With the New Year, however, I want to make things right. Getting kids to read–and to do so willingly and enthusiastically–is not as simple as telling them they have to read for a set amount of time. In fact, that is usually the exact wrong way to do it. So, here’s what I’m going to do instead.
1. Talk about books. This one should come easily to me. I have been telling the internet about books for years. Yet I find that I don’t take the time to talk about books to the kids as often as I should.
When I took a moment after JRB time to talk about a nearby school district removing The Hate U Give from their shelves, the kids acted surprised, like it was odd that I knew anything about a book that we weren’t explicitly studying in class. But they were also interested, and more than one person asked to borrow it. Those who had already read it chimed in with their own positive reviews.
2. Read with the kids. I don’t mean read to them, though that can be enjoyable on occasion (for me, anyway). I mean that it would be so much more effective if they saw me sitting there, enthusiastically digging into my own JRB. They have seen me read a few pages of the next book on our class reading list, but I don’t think they have ever seen me read for fun. I’ve reported back that I finished a book or two over a weekend or a holiday break, but I think that seeing me do it will make a greater impact than just telling them I do. The proof, they say, is in the pudding.
3. Ask them what they want to read. I’ve done okay at this one. I have a whole shelf for manga, and I know next to nothing about them. One kid asked, and now I let them take turns making requests. I buy one or two every time I get paid.
The rest of the books are there because I think they should be. They are the books that I think my kids would like. And they do! But they have been on the shelves for a while, and they need something new. One of the first things I intend to do when we are back in class in January is to ask them what they want to read – specific titles or genres or authors – and I’m going to do my future book shopping from that list.
None of these resolutions should be difficult to keep, as long as I don’t let responsibility and obligation get in the way. If things go the way I hope, then I’ll have 72 students who are a lot more enthusiastic about reading when the school year ends. That’s the kind of motivation that would make all of my resolutions a lot easier to keep.