It’s Finals Week, so that means that instead of helping my students with their exams and projects, I’m thinking about ways to improve my teaching next semester.
Topic #1: Reading.
I must say, I’m a tad obsessed with reading. It sort of makes me crazy, actually. My general feeling about reading is that everybody says it’s important but nobody does it anymore.
In To Read or Not to Read (2007), the National Endowment for the Arts concluded that 15- to 24-year-olds read an average of 7 minutes a day.
When I wrote my AP English syllabus in August, I decided that my students and I would study 12 books this year. That’s a lot, but I did the math: If students read 20 pages a day, six days a week, we could get there.
It just hasn’t happened. I mean, we’ve studied six novels so far. But it’s pretty clear that all my students haven’t really read them closely (if at all). Here’s why:
1. My students don’t yet read consistently on their own. They might read on Monday but then skip Tuesday. We need to build daily habits.
2. If the book is difficult, my students read really slowly. I can’t fault them for this. If I want them to study the books and annotate them, I must meet them where they are.
3. When you’re overloaded with work, reading always comes last. If I’m a student and have three hours of homework, most likely I’m going to put reading off until the end (when I’m most tired).
It’s pretty easy for me to figure out what’s going wrong about reading, but it’s really hard to figure out how to make things better. But I do have some ideas. I’d like to hear yours, too. Here are mine for next semester:
1. Read four books (more) closely, rather than six superficially. My fear is that I’m lowering the standard and that my students will follow suit and read even less. But I was looking at The Scarlet Letter today (which we’re reading in January), and no normal person can actually understand that in two weeks. After all, “physiognomy” and “ignominious” are run-of-the-mill words in the novel.
2. Require reading and evidence of reading every night. This semester, I broke up the reading into chunks — sort of like college — and told students to make their own schedules. Wrong! If my students don’t yet read every night, I must force it on them. But the question is how. I’m not interested in reading quizzes or thought journals. Annotations work for students who do them, not for ones who don’t (or who fake them). In addition, I don’t want to have to check their reading every day (including weekends). I’ll have to think more about this.
3. Spend more time in class reading and talking about reading. This semester, I focused on writing, especially on Mondays, when we did AP test practice essays. If I’m going to make progress with reading, I’m going to have to devote much more class time to it. I just don’t know exactly how.
4. Build the social aspect of reading. This semester, I tried online video chats to promote reading, especially on weekends. But the technology just didn’t work well enough. So my latest idea is to do more in-class group activities with the books and to do regular one-on-one conferences with my students on their reading.
Please let me know what you think — and if you have ideas.