November is a weird month for educators. We’re nearing the end, but also barely in the middle of the fall semester. The dreams we devised for our classrooms in the summer have been shattered with reality, and we are just beginning to get our feet back under us from that October slump. Just as we feel we’ve picked up our stride, we reach Thanksgiving break–thank you, baby Jesus–and begin the mad-dash to Christmas break. I always leave school for Christmas break with wind-blown hair and a what-just-happened feeling. This is largely contrasted to the sentiments of Spring semester such as, Am I starring in the remake of Groundhog Day, and nobody told me?
As I thought about what I wanted to share this week, I thought, Okay, Jess. Keep it simple. What are you doing in your classroom that is tiny, promotes engagement, and reinforces the values of workshop?
Enter the Friendly Book Competition.
This year, as students finish books, they get to create a book spine with the title of the book and their name written on a strip of paper. Then, they tape the book spine to the cabinet door for their class period. Each class period is competing against one another for who reads the most books.
While this seems like a simple activity, I’ve been really surprised at how this is helping my students to rewrite their own experience with reading. These are the conversations I hear when students check the status of the competition:
What?! They read Harry Potter. Does that even count?!
How does one student read so much?! There’s no way they’re only reading in class.
Oh, that title sounds interesting. Who is this student? Can I ask them about it?
The overwhelming feeling of my students at the beginning of the year is that reading is simply a task that is assigned. As we traverse through the year, my goal is for them to see themselves as readers and writers. That means realizing that, YES, Harry always counts. Reading for fun is the best kind of reading. Tracking your reading doesn’t always mean writing down minutes or pages. You don’t become a reader by only reading for 10 minutes in class.
Competition is not the end goal, in this case, but it’s what I’m using to disguise a conversation about reading life and growth between class periods. They probably will be very surprised when the winners are presented with a “ticket to success in life” at the end of the semester.
How do your students converse about reading? What visual representations of reading growth do you have in your classroom?
Jessica Paxson teaches English IV, AP Lang, and Creative Writing in Arlington, TX. She is currently obsessing over Ember in the Ashes and Torch Against the Night and pondering ways to help her students write themselves out of their circumstances, trials, and personal villains, and attempts to do the same through her own writing (Jessica Jordana). Her kryptonite is when the coffee runs out before ordering more on Amazon, and her secret weapon is her writer’s notebook. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram at @jessjordana–especially if would like to awkwardly meet in person at #NCTE17!