For the first time in my 16 year tenure of teaching high school English, our department is trying something new to encourage students to read more. We are requiring our ‘advanced’ classes at every grade level to read, independently, a book of their choice as long as it is at or above their reading level. As a department, our goal is for students to increase their rate of reading, learn to enjoy reading, and share their experiences with their peers.
On a data retreat in August, we discovered that our students struggle with ACT test sections that involve extensive reading with follow up comprehension and inference questions. In talking to some of our finest students who struggled on these sections of the ACT, we found, almost categorically, that our students complained about not having the capacity to read fast enough, lacking retention, and, ultimately, being rushed. One of our brainstorms was to encourage students to read something of their choice and making this a low-value requirement. Near the end of the quarter we hold semi-formal book talks in class where students can share what they have read, give a brief analysis, and make a recommendation. So far, as the first quarter of our school year is nearing its end, the reviews of these book talks by teachers and students alike have been interesting and positive. Personally, I have been impressed with the keen interest the students have taken in this endeavor and the enthusiasm with which they present what they have read.
Recently, a male senior who is in my class gave his book talk. He talked about the book he chose and read, Hunting for God, Fishing for the Lord by Rev. Joseph F. Classen. This young man is an avid hunter and fisherman and, obviously, well grounded in his faith. He showed comfort and eagerness when sharing his faith with his peers. I was impressed by his courage and his witness to make himself vulnerable in a public environment where God is not a part of many conversations, especially among teenagers.
This young man found a book that combined three of his deep seeded interests: hunting, fishing, and faith. I am proud of young men and women who have the courage to share what they know is right and do it with unwavering confidence in front of a tough crowd, their peers. I must say, I wasn’t expecting this type of presentation or choice when I introduced this activity to the students, but I am optimistic that there are students who have a foundation of faith to build their lives upon and are willing to share this with their peers.
Overall, I must admit that this experiment of having students read independently outside of class has been a huge success. Only time will tell if this trend continues, but for now I am happy to have had the opportunity to learn more about my students, their lives, and their interests through this activity.