Last semester we tried as a grade level to require students to read a uniform number of minutes outside of school time.  I really wanted to stay away from reading logs or anything like that, so I provided my students a calendar to keep in their literacy notebooks to track their minutes.  Unfortunately, the endeavor was a big fail for many reasons.  Most of our 8th graders have not had an expectation for reading outside of school until this year, and our desire to not impose any accountability measures that might impede the joy of reading were a perfect storm for failure.    Students DO love reading in class, so that aspect is not the reason; I think just not having that mindset or habit of reading on their own time is the core challenge.

I will be the first to tell you I don’t have this piece of the puzzle figured out though I do have some resources I want to read and explore this summer to better contemplate how to nurture outside of school reading.  For now, I decided to let students set personalized goals for the next nine weeks.  We talked about how we are all juggling many responsibilities outside of school—clubs, sports, church, hobbies, family commitments, homework—and how that may impact the time we have at home to read.  We talked about setting a goal that would be realistic and doable yet would nudge them just a little and stretch them as readers.   The only responses that were not acceptable were “none” or “I don’t read outside of school.” Each student was asked to think about a goal for a total number of minutes to read each week and what that might look like in terms of days and time per day though the total number of minutes was the main focus.

We then took our goals and made them public in our classroom for easy reference:

I’m setting cycles of independent reading outside of class of 7-10 days.  At the beginning of the reading cycle, students receive a tracking sheet on a neon colored piece of paper; they update it each day as part of our “warm up” activity.   My plan is to then have them do a written reflection at the end of the cycle and to complete it in class.  We completed our first cycle this past Friday, and while I still need to take a second pass at reading student responses, most seem to have been pretty honest in their tracking of their target goal of minutes.  In addition, the responses to the reflection questions are also telling and revealing.

While I want my students to meet or exceed their goals for reading time outside of class, I hope that the personalized aspect of our reading goals will help students begin to cultivate a habit of making space in this busy non-school lives for reading.  These reading cycle reflections will become part of their literacy portfolios, and we’ll do a formative self-assessment at the end of this nine week grading period.  Right now I am really inspired by Julie Swinehart’s work with student reading identities, reflections, and goal setting; I think I might adapt her work for my 8th graders.

How are you nurturing habits of reading outside of school time with your secondary students?