Thursday, March 15, 2012

40 is Just a Number...

A year and a half ago, I read Donalyn Miller's The Book Whisperer.  I loved it.  It was a great reminder that it is my responsibility, as a teacher of literacy, to encourage students to read; but most importantly, to model myself as a reader.   I was also encouraged to force myself to read books from genres that I have never been comfortable with or a fan of.  As a result, I can have a lot more conversations about books with my students which also allows me to guide my students to more appropriate reading choices.  (By appropriate, I mean books that will hook them or keep them interested.) I've even read sports fiction!  I hate sports, but I found Tim Green's Football Hero very enjoyable and since reading and doing a book talk on it--Carl Deuker's Gym Candy never gets a rest on my classroom bookshelf! 

The point of this entry is not to review Donalyn's book--although I highly encourage all teachers of literacy to read it.  The point is to inform readers that I decided to try Donalyn's "40 book requirement" approach as an experiement.  Now that the end of the first year of the experiment is approaching, kids are asking me if they are going to get a "bad grade" (we don't use grades, we use standards based grading)  if they didn't reach the 40 book requirement. So far, almost every conversation has gone something like this:

Student:  Um.  Mrs. R.,  I don't think I am going to be able read 40 books this year.  Does that mean I'm going to fail?

Me: (smile on the inside/serious look on the outside) How many books have you read this year? 

Student: (hesitation or sigh) I've only read 22.

Me: How many books did you read LAST year?

Student:  I don't know.  Like, 5?

Me:  You read 5 books last year and you've read 22 THIS year?

Student: (confusion)  Um.  Yeah?

Me:  Let me get this straight. You've already quadrupled the amount of books you read last year?

Student: (still confused) I guess so.

(Awkward silence)

Student: Wait a minute!  Are you telling me that I didn't HAVE to read 40 books?

Me: I'm not telling you that.

Student:  But I don't HAVE to read 40.  I could read another 10 books and I'd still be good.

Me:  (smiles) What do you think?

Student: Yes?

Me:  Some kids already read 20-30 books a year.  It's about getting you to read more than you ever have before. Does the number really matter if you have increased the amount of reading you've done in a year?

Student:  (Jaw drops.)

Me: Have you improved? Have you grown as a reader?

Student:  (Jaw still open but gives me a small nod.)

Me:  You certainly have. Now, if I had told you that at the beginning of the year. Would you have tried to read more than you ever had before? Be honest.

Student: Probably not. No.

Me:  Right.  So, let's keep this our little secret for now. You learned something really fantastic about yourself today.

Same Student: (pause) I'm glad you didn't tell us. That's actually pretty smart of you to do that.

(Yes, a student actually said these words to me.)

Me:  Yes, (Student's Name), that is why they pay me the big bucks! (Smile and wink.)

Overall, I'd say this experiment was a success.