Instead of assigning everything my students will read, I’m trying something new this year: a move to Reading Workshop in my English 9 class. My ninth graders will participate in The 1,000,000 Word Challenge.
When I look at the research (thank you, Stephen Krashen), it’s a no-brainer. Free, voluminous, voluntary reading is the way to go. Besides, test scores have gone down among ninth graders at my school (to only 27 percent proficiency) over the last five years, so something new needs to happen.
Still, it’s a controversial choice. Questions abound. Here are a few: (1) Will students actually read? (2) If they read, will their reading be rigorous enough? (3) Aren’t you giving up on “real” homework?
Instead of getting caught up in those questions, I’ve decided to focus my attention to connecting my students with good books. Donalyn Miller, Kelly Gallagher, and Nancie Atwell are my inspirations. If I unabashedly share my love of reading — if I show my students I know them and care about them through the books I recommend to them — they will like reading, too.
One of the requirements of a Reading Workshop is to have a substantial classroom library so students have access to high-quality books. Although Gallagher is correct when he writes in Readicide that “building a classroom library is a career-long pursuit,” I can’t wait. I need books now.
In addition to finding books at used book stores and Salvation Army stores, this summer I turned to DonorsChoose for help. It was easy: I selected the books I wanted, 10 to 15 books at a time, wrote up a little proposal, submitted the project, and waited.
I didn’t end up having to wait that long.
Six projects, 100-plus books, and an Amazon Kindle later, I can safely say that I love anonymous donors on DonorsChoose! Sure, a few of my friends and family helped out, too (thank you!), but my main donors have been strangers: wonderful people out there who love reading and learning and who believe in my project.
If anonymous donors have contributed more than $1,000 in just one 8-week summer, perhaps I have struck a chord. My donors will help me to withstand any criticism I’ll face and to remain singularly focused on working with students to deepen their interest in reading.
You too can be one of my anonymous donors! Here are my current open projects on DonorsChoose. (No pressure, you don’t need to remain anonymous!)