Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Getting to know Students Who "Hate Reading" Using Multigenre Reading Autobiographies

Like scraping fingernails on a chalkboard, hearing a student chant, "I hate reading" or its variant "I haven't read a book since seventh grade" sends chills down our spines and literally breaks our book-loving hearts.

How did this tragedy happen? More importantly, what can we do about it?

Increasingly, I offer students choice in the texts they read, and as I have written in this space, I have some reservations about the trade offs. Nevertheless, I have one class of seniors this trimester in which I'm giving an unprecedented reading choice opportunity.

But first, I wanted to get to know my students as readers so that I could better direct their reading choices and help the most reluctant readers find books. For this, I use a project from William Kist's The Socially Networked Classroom (Corwin 2010).

The project begins with students responding to a questionnaire, which is in the book and offered here via google docs.

Here is a portion of one student's responses to the questionnaire:

6. I never pretended to read as a child. I started to read when I was in first grade. 
8. Whenever I would read aloud, I had a stutter.
9. I prefer teen romance.
12. We were more able to afford books that came with tapes, so I was able to read or follow along.
13. I never was subscribed to a magazine, but my father would get Reader’s Digest.
14. My parents were never in a book club, but they had a small library of books and read often.
17. My parents really influenced me to read. They read to me every night to help me.
21. I always read the Junie B. Jones series in elementary.
26. I always liked to check out scary stories and read them during A.R.
27. The first book I loved what called The Bad Beginning.
31. When I read the Great Gaspy, it was very difficult to understand, but when I finished, I felt accomplished.
35. My religion reads the scriptures a lot which it has helped me improve.
38. I read the Unfortunate Events series when I was young. I love to read books that have the character have great challenges.
39.  I was required to read The Book Thief in high school, and I loved it from beginning to end.
40. My favorite book when I was young was Harry Potter. My favorite book that I read as a young adult is The Hour Glass Door.
41. I read the Hunger Games before it came out on film.
44. My father has really influenced me on reading. He is constantly reading and tells me the adventures that his story is going through.
45.  I know I understand a lot more vocabulary than a lot of teenagers do because of my reading habits.
46. Yes, I am currently reading.
49. I am reading the fifth Harry Potter: Order of the Phoenix. 

       From this student's responses, I know she is a reader. I also learned that given a choice, she'll pick a "easy" read, Harry Potter: Order of the Phoenix, over a more challenging classic text. Thus, my challenge is to help her find joy in choosing to read classics, which she enjoys reading as assigned texts.  

     Other students describe their struggles with reading and, sadly, how much they hated reading in middle school. I resounding theme for many is the constraints imposed on them by Accelerated Reader. 

Once students complete the questionnaire, they move on to the multigenre project. Some take a rather less is more approach and create a Prezi that groups their reading choices. Others, like Brigham, offer much detail about their reading choices. Here is Brigham's Prezi:                                                             

Once students begin speaking about their reading lives and sharing their reading experiences, which we do in a very informal way, I often hear other students commenting about also having read a particular book or series. Many students have read Lemony Snicket but aren't aware that he is Daniel Handler. That gives me the opportunity to introduce them to Why We Broke Up, a book I'm sure Marissa, whose questionnaire appears above, would like.

Through their projects, students open the book on their lives and tell me stories about how they game the AR system and how teachers wouldn't allow them to choose their own books, ironically as part of a program that's, at least theoretically, based on choice. I find myself defending the teachers who have no choice but to limit student choice. Kids often don't know this. 

We meander through the presentations, taking our time to share book titles and get to know one another through our talk about books. 

But before the questionnaire and the multigenre project, I share with students my project, which I created using Animoto:

The Multigenre Reading Autobiography project set the scene for my trimester of experimentation and increased reading choice, the plan for which I'll describe in my next post.

Feel free to create your own Reading Autobiography and share it in the comment section, and thanks for taking the time to read. I know you have a towering TBR book pile, too.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

An Allegorical Christmas Story, "The Singer" Excerpt

My friend Martha Lively posted a portion of Calvin Miller's retelling of the biblical Christmas story from The Singer over on her blog, Sharing Air. I first encountered Miller's powerful allegory in college. Reading Martha's post this morning, I found the allegory just as powerful all these years later and think it's a fitting reminder that the holidays hold a plethora of personal meaning for each individual.

May your day be happy, bright, and filled with meaningful stories. Thank you for spending part of your valuable time here with me.

from The Singer by Calvin Miller

The Father and his Troubadour sat down upon the outer rim of space.  "And here, My Singer," said Earthmaker,  "is the crown of all my endless skies—the green, brown sphere of all my hopes." He reached and took the round new planet down and held it to his ear. "They're crying, Troubadour," he said. "They cry so hopelessly." He gave the little ball unto his Son, who also held it by His ear.

"Year after weary year they all keep crying. They seem born to weep then die. Our new man taught them crying in the fall. It is a peaceless globe. Some are sincere in desperate desire to see her freed of her absurdity, but war is here. Men die in conflict, bathed in blood and greed."  Then with his nail he scraped the atmosphere and both of them beheld the planet bleed.


Earthmaker set earth spinning on its way
And said, "Give me your vast infinity
My son; I'll wrap it in a bit of clay.
Then enter Terra microscopically
To love the little souls who weep away
Their lives." "I will," I said, "set Terra free."

And then I fell asleep and all awareness fled.
I felt my very being shrinking down.
My vastness ebbed away. In dwindling dread,
All size decayed. The universe around
Drew back. I woke upon a tiny bed
Of straw in one of Terra's smaller towns.

And now the great reduction has begun:
Earthmaker and his Troubadour are one.
And here's the new redeeming melody—
The only song that can set Terra free.

The Shrine of older days must be laid by.
Mankind must see Earthmaker left the sky,
And he is with us. They must concede that I am he.
They must believe the Song or die.