Sunday, July 28, 2013

Nightly Reading Requirements

Today Jeanie posed a question on the Organized Classroom’s Facebook page.  It’s something I feel passionate about and have a system which I love, so I thought I’d answer her question here...
Jeanie wrote, "I teach 5th grade, and I am looking for a new easy reading log that I can check quickly without hassle. In the past I have assigned the students to read 20 minutes each night and have their parents sign the agenda...they tried to outsmart me and sign themselves. I have used "ThinkBooks" where they write two entries a week about what they read however it can take time on Fridays to read 2 entries per child when you have 25 I tried to comment on each entry. I was curious what others are doing. It’s important to read and be held accountable...I welcome any and all suggestions!"
I teach fifth grade in a self-contained classroom and am also a certified reading specialist.  I require students to read a certain number of pages instead of reading for a length of time.  Although I'd rather have it be for a certain amount of time, it's too hard to track (and verify) so I’ve found page numbers just work better for me.  This also enables me to easily differentiate when needed (so not all students necessarily read the same number of pages) and students also know they can come to me if they are reading something above their grade level that may make it more challenging to get their pages done each night (ie: Harry Potter is one that comes to mind).  I also tell students I may increase the number of pages per night when appropriate.  For example, sometimes I have fifth graders who want to read Junie B. Jones, Horrible Harry, Magic Tree House, etc.  These are typically below my students’ grade level, so I might require them to read more pages.   I don't always change the requirements, but take it on a case by case basis.   I know some teachers cringe when I tell them I allow my students to read books that are so obviously below their grade level, but I look at it this way – I’m trying to help students become life-long readers.  I want them to read for enjoyment.  When I read for enjoyment I don’t read challenging, technical, or hard to follow books that I’m not interested in.  I read mysteries or historical romance, or whatever else I’m in the mood to read.  When I’m told to read something specific (maybe something for professional development), I do it, but with a different purpose.  I make sure we’re reading what I consider quality literature in the classroom.  I make sure they are exposed to a variety of genres in class.  I make sure they are reading books at their grade level (in class) on a regular basis….so when I’m asking them to read at home, for THEIR enjoyment, I think they should be able to read what they are interested in. 

Now, I do offer incentives – last year when my theme was oceans they each had a treasure chest that they put jewels on.  The first picture shows their treasure chests at the very beginning of the year with no jewels on them, the second picture shows them at the end of the year.  I gave them their chests at Meet the Teacher Night and they brought them back, decorated, the first day of school.

For every five AR points they earned a jewel (there were different colors for each month and each color had 10 different styles for them to choose from).  They got silver gems (diamonds) when they reached 25 points, gold at 50, and at 100 points they got a bigger treasure chest to decorate and put on the board. If they recommended a book they had read to another student and that student read and took a quiz, then they got a string of pearls to glue on their treasure chest.  I have even had several occasions where a student has recommended a book to me!  I love that and of course I read the book!  I love having them ask me what part I'm on and then having little informal chats about the book!  I also did other challenges that they could earn different "pirate treasures" (coins, cups, etc.) – if we read a book in class by a certain author and they read another book by that author the could earn something to glue onto their treasure chest.  Every month there was a special challenge that related to that month.  For example, in January I put out a number of books about MLK, Jr.  When we were studying something like the American Revolution I offered treasures for books relating to those concepts, too. Over long breaks I would assign a certain number of pages, anyone who read double that number got a special treasure.  They loved having colorful treasure chests and liked getting the next size chest!  Since they are still 10 and 11 year olds, these incentives worked for my students.  However, don’t get me wrong, I know it wouldn’t work for everyone – I just take it year by year! 
These are just a few of some of the jewels they could earn.  The green was March, blue was January, silver was 25 points, gold was 50 points, pearls for book recommendations, coin and cup for special challenges.

In terms of accountability, they have to take an AR test when they finish a book.  If they don’t pass the test, then I conference with them about their thoughts on why they think they didn’t pass and we decide jointly what the next step should be.  That said, last year my 13 students (it was a very small class!) took 629 quizzes and passed 619 of them.  That’s a 98% rate of success.  In addition, the average quiz score was a 93%, so I feel confident that for the most part they are reading and understanding their books.   Keep in mind my goal for this is to just get students reading on a regular basis.  I do not use my nightly reading requirement for any type of assessment purposes. 

I have a form I use to record page numbers daily.  At the beginning this takes a little while to do, but after a couple of weeks I can get 20 students done in under 2 minutes.  The first day this of course takes forever.  First, I get the title of the book everyone is reading and then they tell me what page their book begins on (many books do not begin on page 1!).  Then each day they simply tell me a page number unless they have finished their book.  On the day they finish their book they would say something like, “Island of the Blue Dolphins ended on page 218.  My new book is Number the Stars.  It starts on page 3.”  Then I call the next student’s name.  It really goes very smoothly once they get the hang of it!  You can click on the image to download an editable version of this chart.
Here is an example of what a completed form would look like.  I write the page number they were on the previous Friday under page number and then document page numbers each day.  Once in a while we'll get busy and not take page numbers, but I typically take them at least 4 days per week and always on Mondays and Fridays.  A few other things I do…when they finish a book I put a star at the end of the page number the book ended on so I know the book is finished and I should expect to see a quiz taken. I usually check at the end of each week to make sure they’ve taken the quizzes they were supposed to. Once I’ve verified that they’ve taken (and passed) the quiz, I check it off in my grade book. Although it’s their responsibility to remember to take a quiz, when they tell me they’ve finished the book, I do remind them to take the quiz before the end of the day.

Just to make this sound a little more's another twist...although students are required to read a certain number of pages each evening....let's say 10 per night for easy math...they can (and are encouraged to) read ahead.  Once I take page numbers on Friday, all page numbers start over.  They are then required to read 10 pages per school night (so 5 nights per week) for a total of 50 pages a week.  If they know they have something to do on Wednesday night, I encourage them to read their pages ahead of time.  Theoretically they could read all 50 pages over the weekend and then be done for the entire week.  I feel by allowing them to do this, they are able to start working on their time management skills, which as we all know is very important in life.  I still continue to take their page numbers and give them accolades when they are reading more than they are required.  When they are doing some great reading at home (above and beyond my expectations) I let them add their name to our class BINGO chart that students really like getting their name on.  I will say that I have NEVER had students who have read all their pages over the weekend and then don't read again for the rest of the week.  For whatever reason, my kids just read every night.  I have to emphasize, I'm really positive about students reading and praise, praise, praise them!  There are consequences when they don't read, primarily they don't get to go to recess until they are caught up on their pages (which rarely happens), but I really try to focus on how great it is they are reading and liking it!
I realize this really sounds complicated.  I promise you, it’s not.  If you want more information or clarification, feel free to email me and we can chat back and forth or even arrange a time to chat on the phone.

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