Thursday, October 15, 2015

Bringing "Guided Outside Reading" Into the Classroom

One of the year-to-year mainstays of English class at CAJ from Middle School on up through High School is Guided Outside Reading, or G.O.R. for short.

The intent behind G.O.R. was originally to ensure that students were reading on their own time, outside of class, and when I started teaching at CAJ back in 2009, we as teachers tried to be consistent about emphasizing the outside part of Guided Outside Reading.  I personally did not provide time in class for G.O.R. and adamantly refused to have book conferences with students during class: I expected them to sign up for a 10-minute conference with me before or after school, during study hall or during lunch.  During those book conferences, I would ask a variety of questions about what stood out in the students' minds, how the book impacted them, what reading strategies they used, and how they could apply a Biblical perspective to what they read.  All worthwhile questions--unfortunately, 90% of the students would inevitably sign up for book conferences during the last two or three weeks of the semester, and a handful would simply not sign up, and therefore lose a lot of points off of their final reading grade for failing to complete G.O.R.

Students would cut corners, using SparkNote summaries instead of actually reading the book, or superficially skimming rather than really getting into the book.

Instead of developing within students a love for reading that would carry over outside of class, it was quickly becoming an annoyance--a hoop to be jumped through.

It became clear to my colleagues and me that Guided Outside Reading needed a bit more rooting inside the classroom.  

This year, one of my personal challenges has been to set aside the occasional class-day for reading.  Of course, this is tremendously hard to do--so many different activities compete for our precious in-class time--but I finally offered students a free reading day on Thursday this week.  The rules were simple: they had to bring their G.O.R. book and they had to keep electronic devices and other homework in their bags so that they would not be distracted.  I informed them that I would come around and talk briefly with each student as they read to find out a little bit about what they were reading.  What followed in both my English and Humanities class was a fascinating 40 minutes of short conversations with my students:

I heard from several students about books that they had just finished, and we were able to make connections with themes from class.

I heard from a number of students who had just chosen a book the day before when I had sent a reminder email about our reading day.  I was able to talk with them about why they chose the book, what they expected the book to be like, and if they had already made it a chapter or more in, what they thought about the book thus far.

I heard from many students who were in the middle of the book they had chosen, and we were able to talk about interesting moments in the books up to that point, predictions about what would happen next, and what reading strategies they were currently using to make progress.  

I made recommendations to students who had finished and were looking for a new book to read, and suggestions for students who were struggling or stuck.  

In each class, I managed to speak with 17 or 18 kids.  While I did notice a few kids who had dozed off, noses pressed against the pages, most were reading carefully and none were working on other homework, or on their computers.  

I am willing to bet that even with this one day of reading, a number of students found traction in reading their books that they would not have had the opportunity to find if it had been a purely out-of-class expectation.  I realize that I cannot stop at just one reading day.  While I cannot afford to set aside a day each week for reading, I intend to set aside at least one reading day each month.  Each time, as the students march further into the books that they are reading, I hope that our discussions about their reading will also become deeper and richer.  

And maybe, just maybe, my self-professed "non-reader" students will stumble upon that book--the book that makes them into readers--and reading outside of class will become not a chore, but a joy!

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