Asking students to set goals without context just begs for fluffy, surface responses that students have no interest in looking at or thinking about ever again. But we all want to see our students setting concrete, challenging, and attainable goals. Setting the context makes all the difference; students will set great goals when given a solid set-up.
I tried something new at the end of this semester. I won’t know for sure if it works until June, but I can tell you that the energy I’m sensing from my students now is encouraging.
Let me explain. I was specifically inspired by chapters three and eight of Penny Kittle’s Book Love.
At the end of first semester, I asked my students to list out all of the books that they had read since the first day of school. I told them to include the books they had dropped, and write down how many pages they had read in the dropped books, then add that number to the total pages from the books they had finished. It was a nice moment when they realized how many pages they had each read during the semester. It’s worth celebrating – they need to acknowledge their accomplishments! As part of that celebration, we made a class poster with all of the titles of the books, and students’ individual page numbers. Then, we totaled the class page numbers and posted it all publicly.
After that we had a class discussion about what makes a book hard to read? We brainstormed together, discussed different qualifications, and ended up with a good list.
Next, I asked them to rank their books. They didn’t realize it, but they were creating their own personal book ladders. Then, they posted the list on their online readers notebooks (more on that in a later post).
I grabbed a screenshot from one of my students. I like how this student reflected on each book – it wasn’t something I required the students to do for this post, but he wanted to share some thinking. I really like what is said about Carrie – Stephen King is known for having somewhat weak endings, and this student picked up on it, even though it is the fist book by King he has read. Good on him.
I asked them to reflect on how they’ve grown as readers over the course of the semester. I’ll share some of those responses in a later post, but they were overwhelmingly positive and encouraging.
The next step was to do the ten-minute timed read that is described in chapter three of Book Love. Here’s what I instructed them to do:
Using your current book, read for ten minutes, and note how many pages you were able to finish. Multiply that number by 6, which gets you to your hourly reading rate. Take that number, multiply by two, which is the minimum goal for how many hours to read per week. Now that you have your pages per week goal, multiply it by how many weeks are left in the semester. (At this point, they will probably have a number somewhere in the thousands.) Then divide by 250 pages, which Penny Kittle says is a “book equivalent.” After this bit of math, you will have a number of books you should read per semester, down to a decimal point.
At this point, I give them the choice to round up or down. Remember, choice matters. The boundary is that they have to read at least two hours per week. The choice is in this “formula.” The students perceive choice and that matters a lot. And now they have their number.
Here’s where it gets interesting: I tell them to take their number and add two.
I made a bag of categories, which are fun, arbitrary, general, and sometimes specific. Students draw their number of slips of paper out of the bag, and are then challenged to read books that match the categories. It’s a way to challenge them to read outside of their comfort zone, to try something new. It also gives them the agency to read what they’ve been wanting to read all along. They can match up the cards with their next reads lists, and leave some open categories for when they like books they hear about in future book talks.
The extra two cards are so they continue to have choice – by May or June, they will make an informed choice about which cards they can scratch off the list, or maybe they will surprise themselves, branch out, and read them all.
Kids love this. It’s got all the power of math, which they believe in, and they have confidence that they can complete this challenge.
I also remind them that this exercise was based off of their current book, and the next book they choose may be easier or harder, which impacts the number of pages they can read in a sitting, but the goal is that they read a minimum two hours per week.
They believe in themselves. They believe they can do it.
If I’d challenged them like this at the beginning of the school year, they would have laughed and never taken me seriously again. But because they recorded and reflected and celebrated, they have faith in themselves. They are excited to try something new.
We’ll see how it goes. So far, so good.