You know what I could use? A bookmark.
Actually, I could use five bookmarks right now.
I’m not proud and it’s not pretty, but I’m suffering from tented book syndrome these days. On my desk at school. My nightstand at home. The corner of the couch. The kitchen counter.
A vast field of tented texts. Books in progress. I know Amy can relate.
We share this affliction.
It always starts innocently enough. I’m between books. In the market for another. Speed dating texts to book talk, but not really committing myself yet. Then, I get sucked in.
It’s just one book to start. One book I want to come back to, so I’ll just leave it…here.
This time I blame Alyssa, one of my AP Language students. She enthusiastically book talked Anita Diamant’s The Red Tent. I immediately ordered it and it’s now flipped open on the coffee table as I type. Shortly after, Errin, an inquisitive sophomore, asked me to read Kafka’s Metamorphosis and that (to keep the creature in) is flipped upside down under a stack of papers. Don Quixote has been languishing on my desk at school since the start of the year. I will finish it this time; I’ve just been distracted by about twenty-seven other amazing books since I started (I did read six whole pages today. That leaves 788 pages to go. So, I’m really cruising).
Penny Kittle’s Write Beside Them is eternally tented on the shelf behind my desk. And I’ve been flying through another ‘I can’t believe I haven’t read this text,’ The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros. Esperanza was actually flipped open on the front seat of my car last week. I started it during an oil change.
So…I have a problem. For a bibliophile, this is a good problem to have. It is both damaging to my books and a testament to my deteriorating organizational skills, but it does keep those books at my fingertips. It’s super nerdy, but I love to see them, open and waiting for my return.
However, while having a good book close at hand might excite those of us already full of passion for reading, it takes a little something more to get our students geared up to keep turning the pages day after day. Just ask the local library. If merely having the books available led to literacy, I might be out of a job. I bet librarians would be willing to open and tent books if they thought it would get kids reading, but shockingly enough, few students are as willing to be as visually nerdy as the average English teacher.
What we need is to not only get the texts in front of kids, but keep them there in a meaningful way.
Bright. Catchy. Student-centered.
So, here are two very easy ways to appeal to our students’ goal oriented nature, if not their occasional tendency to let their eyes wander around the room during class. If we can’t hook them with tented texts, these approaches just might catch their eye.
1. Reading Goal Bookmarks
This is a hybrid of a number of measures I’ve seen and read about for helping hold students accountable for their reading. While I certainly want to keep track of what they are reading and how they are progressing, I wanted to try and incorporate a visual reminder of their reading goals into the experience.
In the rare occasions I get into an exercise regiment (regiment may be a strong word…spurt, perhaps?), I stay accountable, in part, because I make the routine visible and harder to ignore. I set alerts on my phone, schedule time on the calendar, and put my workout clothes out where I can see them. In short, I make it so I can’t avoid seeing what I know I should be doing.
In that same way, I decided to purchase neon colored index cards for students to record their goals and progress. I’ve marked my own calendar for the days when we should be setting a weekly reading goal, and ask students to record their current book, the date, the page they are starting on, a weekly goal based on reading for two hours per week, and reflection the following week as to whether or not they met their goals.
Students keep track of their reading, I use the cards to help guide conferences, and even more wonderfully, I have them put their cards in the book not where they are currently in their reading, but where they want to be by week’s end. The bright neon cards stand all week as visual reminders of where students are aiming for the week.
2. Recommendation Walls
Sometimes, it just takes the support of one’s peers to keep texts fresh. In the same way that a book talk from students allows kids a glimpse into the texts their peers are enjoying, visually displaying recommendations and books completed, by both teacher and students, keeps suggestions fresh for everyone. Get those suggestions up on the wall and let kids take a peek.
How do you keep recommended texts at the forefront of your readers workshop? Please leave your ideas in the comments below!