The other day I was in a conversation on Facebook around accountability and independent reading. The original post was looking for ways to help reluctant readers both increase their reading and also how to have some form of an accountability check. Now before I keep going I should state that I am pretty easy on my kids when it comes to independent reading accountability. We do this crazy thing called talking about our books. If a student really can’t tell me much about it we have either a comprehension issue or the text is not really being read. Both things that can be addressed in the future. I will talk about it more in detail in a minute but I do think it is only fair to put that out there as a preface to what is to come.
Back to the Facebook conversation, I love social media as a way to connect with other educators. I love the opportunity to talk to other educators and share ideas and approaches. I do not love the ever-growing presence of quick fixes, worksheets and for lack of a better word corruption of great ideas to streamline a process that should be about savouring.
When we look at independent choice reading we should be looking at it with two objectives in mind first and foremost for me it is the development of joyful reading, followed up as a form of practising the skills we learn each day. I understand that I am lucky in not needing to attach a mark to everything I do. Every minute of my instructional day does not need to be assessed and I understand that is not a luxury that is afforded to all so let’s look at some options out there to help with this apparently needed check without making independent reading just another task that students must suffer through.
The inspiration for my title came from a response to the request for assistance in helping reluctant readers, in the post the person suggested downloading a novel unit from Teachers Pay Teachers that students would have to do to show accountability for the novel that they were given. SO a couple problems here lead of course to my big mouth having to weigh in on the suggestion and I questioned how an assigned text with a mandatory Teachers Pay Teachers Unit was going to lead to more engaged, joyful reading for students that already viewed reading as a task. The poster responded with, “It has a five star rating so others must like it as well so it can’t be that bad” I paused for a moment as I read the line, I reminded them of the work of Pernille Ripp, Donalyn Miller and Kelly Gallagher I offered alternatives and was then accused of lecturing them. I wondered after that for a moment about this whole 5-star rating. I am curious if they let kids rate the crap they are pushing out on TPT if there would still be a lot of 5-star ratings. I feel safe in saying it would not be as common. When we have novel units to complete it becomes just a task. So what about an alternative.
First I don’t think anything more than a conversation is required for accountability in IR but if we extend the conversation to book clubs and whole class novels where I am looking at measuring objectives I do have a few things my students do. First, we have our thought logs. They pick their best few entries every couple weeks and I mark for compliance mostly but also it gives me great conferencing points later. We have started taking some time each week for TQE which you can find here and here and then we do a midpoint check-in assignment (WCN, not in Book Clubs) and then a final assignment. Both the assignments are choice-driven, students can create whatever they want to address the questions that they are assessed on. These are not fill in the blank or matching questions with cute clip art. These are questions that depend on a students understanding of character and theme, their ability to analyze a conflict. This is where I measure those objectives so that independent reading can become just about reading.
I think we are 5-Star worksheeting reading to death. I do not think when Donalyn Miller wrote The Book Whisperer or Reading in the Wild that she ever thought I hope someone sells a 5-star worksheet on Teachers Pay Teachers to map the 40 book challenge. (Side note- if you need to download a 5-star worksheet to monitor a 40 book challenge…I don’t even know) I am pretty sure when the very inspiring GRA in all its book celebrating forms was envisioned by Pernille Ripp she did not think “I hope someone will create some worksheets to compliment these fantastic books, it is just what they need”. And yet they are being created and sold (without permission using GRA label) to teachers who either are overwhelmed by the requirements of their job, are too busy doing all the other things we need to do as teachers or they just don’t want to put in the effort to create joyful reading moments for their students. I don’t care about the 5-star ratings on TPT.
I care about the engagement of my students, the gasps as an AHA moment is had, the discussions around the girl in the blue dress that Chase remembers, the small moments where a connection is made that was not there before. You can’t put a star rating on practices that grow readers because they are so much better than a booklet full of questions to make sure they read paragraph 3 on page 267 and notice the “juicy” words on the page.
Teachers of reading lets stop worrying about star ratings and busy booklets and let’s remember that our end goal should be joyful reading.