What You Can Do Right Now: Students Inform Readings

We’ve been talking about reading identities, what they are, and how they are formed.  Today, I want to give you a practical tip for how you can help students reshape their reading identities. Remember a couple of weeks ago when I asked you to talk to your students? Well, one of the things I hoped you learned was that your students do read, and they have ideas about what to read in class (or they want to hear some suggestions!). Now we’re going to build off of the things you learned from them.

One of the key aspects to improving your students’ reading abilities (and their reading identities) is about giving them time to read in school. Your students would actually like to have some quiet time where they can simply sit and read. This doesn’t have to be free-choice. This can be reading that you assign that is relevant to your subject matter.

I can hear you saying that you do provide time for your students to read and your students still don’t read or they complain about it heavily. Ok. I get that. That’s why we’re going to switch it up a bit.

Ever feel like you work here?
Ever feel like you work here?

Ask your students to provide you with a reading list on past, current, or future topics. Make it a homework assignment or give them class time, but have them come up with suggestions for readings. This can be anything including a traditional textbook, a novel, a short story, a news article, or a piece on the internet. Literally – take anything.

For example, let’s say that you are going to be studying the civil war next month. Go ahead and tell your students about it now. Give them a brief overview of what you will be learning, and talk to them about some of the things you plan to read. Then ask them to spend some time thinking about what they would like to read when you get to the topic. There are a number of ways this can play out:

(a) devote one or two class sessions to going to the library, spending time on the internet, and collecting resources

(b) have a rotating committee of students who volunteer to identify and collect ideas from others. students who have an interest in a particular topic can serve on the committee

(c) send students home for a day or two to work on gathering ideas. meet back as a class to discuss

Once you get a list of resources there are any number of ways you can use them. First, compile them into a list that goes on a class website. You may even wish to compile a list across multiple classes. This can amount into a huge resource!

Decide what will be required reading and what will be recommended. Students who have an interest in the topic (or who develop one!) will be interested in doing some additional reading on their own.

Of course it may not be practical to require that your students read everything nor is it necessary. What you are doing here is giving them a voice in the texts that are read. Some of what you need to assign will be included in this list as well, but the end result will be a balance between you and them. This comes back to the idea of working with students and creating reading partnerships. Your students will see that you value what is important to them in their learning of the given topic.

What Does This Have to Do with Reading Identities?

Let’s think about your students who have negative reading identities. We want to change that, right? We want them to start having positive experiences with reading and seeing themselves in a more positive light when they read. One way to do that is to provide them with opportunities to choose their texts and to contribute to what is read in class.

When students have some choice in text (even if it is restricted to a particular topic and not a full on free-choice), they can select things that

Let's give the students some choice.
Let’s give the students some choice.

interest them and that they are likely to stick with. For students who have negative reading identities, this provides them with a positive experience. They get to pick a text they like and know they can read – or want to learn how to read.

When these same students get to contribute to what is read in class they are put in a positive position amongst their peers. Students with negative reading identities often think they have little to offer. But, if you can tap into their interests, they can find ways to contribute to classroom life in a productive manner.

It is through a collection of positive experiences with reading that students’ reading identities can start to shift from negative to positive, but they have to start having these experiences.



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