November 28, 2002
One of our school-wide goals last year (we are a middle school of grades 6, 7, and 8) was to improve reading scores. We had 13-year-old students who were reading at the second and third grade levels; our sixth graders take reading for one period a day, but trained reading teachers do not teach it. I followed the suggestions of Stephen Krashen with good results: Students must read everyday self-selected material (stuff they are genuinely interested in). They won't do it at home since they aren't good readers. You must provide time during the school day. Twenty to thirty minutes of sustained reading every day is a minimum. Remember that writing helps develop good readers, and reading helps develop good writers. I had my kids write in journal every day. Sometimes use prompts, (a potent photo image, a mundane item such as a broom or a bucket, a current event, a video clip from a talk show or movie (2-3 minutes long), a line or two from a potent poem...), and other times let them write whatever is on their minds. The thing is they must not stop writing for 5 minutes (later build to 10 and to 15min.) Call stop, have kids who wish to, share what they wrote. Remind them they may hate what they wrote, may have no feeling for it, or may feel inspired to write more and edit to publish. All writers have these kinds of responses to what they write. 'Real' authors dislike a great deal of what they write. We just read the stuff they were proud to share. Use the share time to identify genre: poetry, memoir, fiction, non-fiction, etc. Write letters. Get hooked up with a pen pal class on-line or in another classroom. Find reasons for them to want to write, and to look forward to reading what comes their way. Ask your librarian to purchase a plethora of books written high interest low reading level. Kate Kinsella is an excellent author for very usable tips to teach reading in the content areas so that your students will be learning reading strategies all day every day in all classes. I highly suggest Strategies that Work by Harvey and Goudvis for very usable tips for teaching comprehension strategies. Many of my students made 2 to 3 years of reading gains in a single year and they had a good time. These are very fragile learners at this point. Go forward gently and respectfully. Expect success. Good luck. And have a really good time. You are helping them open a door into a miracle.