“The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read.”
― Attributed to Mark Twain
Today’s professional development day opened with a session about Focus on Reading. Part of that discussion was around the drop-off in students’ engagement with reading, the so-called fourth grade slump and what we, as teachers, could do to re-excite and reengage students with reading.
There are, I believe, a number of things that we can do. Some of them are simple, and others will take a little more effort, while some will open up doors for lessons or discussions that you would be doing or having, at some point any way.
The first idea is, I think, fairly obvious. Select texts that will engage readers. You may have a text that you have been using for the last ten years with every cohort you teach. Look at retiring that text and trying something new and more contemporary. Consider the cultural context withing which that book was situated when it was published and taken up as being a quality text and ask yourself if it is still relevant. I certainly am not advocating removing all old books, just suggesting that we be more selective about the texts which we ask our students to engage with.
When doing class reading, or readers theater, encourage, strongly, the use of expression, or where appropriate, character voices. My supervising teacher whilst I was on my internship was reading The Hobbit as the class text. It was an over and above novel deliberately chosen for the complex language structure, the rich vocabulary and imagery and as something separate to all the learning that was going on, as an enjoyment read. When Gollum had dialogue, the students were required to read it in their impersonation of Gollum’s voice, as made famous by Andy Serkis in the Lord of the Rings movies. Expression and character voices can liven up the often monotone sounds of class readings.
Another option is to ban a word for a week (or a different time frame appropriate within your context). For example, I might ban the word said for a week. The word is not part of the permissible vocabulary in writing or speech for that week. This then requires a conversation about what are our alternatives – synonyms and antonyms, and understanding what the various words mean and how they can be used, and why whispered and muttered are not the same, even though they are both synonyms of said. Create a word wall, or have students create their own word wall in the back of a writing book or somewhere similarly easily accessible.
I wrote recently about using newspapers in the classroom. They are also tools that can be used to increase engagement with reading, and some of the strategies I discussed in that article will be relevant here.
I would love to hear from people about what ideas they have about how we can excite our students about reading. Please leave your suggestions in the comments section.