Helping students improve their reading levels is more important than ever before. Reading proficiency scores have been essentially unchanged for high school seniors since the 1970s, and fewer students read for fun (40% of 17-year-olds read for fun either “almost every day” or “once or twice a week”, down from 64% in 1984).
Some studies suggest that fewer students are ready for college-level reading by the time they graduate from high school than would be expected given their performance levels in the 8th and 10th grades, suggesting that a drop-off occurs in college-ready literacy between the 8th and 12th grades. WIth the Common Core being implemented across the nation, there is greater urgency to pay attention to high schooler’s reading levels.
There are many ways teachers can help their students improve reading levels, but we’ve found, in our work with students, that one of most effective ways is to get them excited about reading.
Easier said than done, right? Especially given that upwards of 40 percent of students are disengaged in school.
We totally agree. But, all the same, since turning students into readers is perhaps the most important and noble thing that we as teachers can do, here are some ideas for what works with our students (we’d love to hear yours, too):
Experiment with texts outside of the cannon
Many english curriculums are (understandably) structured around great canonical works - like The Great Gatsby or The Scarlet Letter. In our work with students, we often find that they are less engaged by these classic works than with texts that are modern or speak to their direct experiences. That doesn’t mean that these works need to go away. Some ways to keep the canon but also try new things include assigning contemporary articles to accompany a canonical work (like articles about class conflict or materialism to go with Gatsby) or a unit on only essays and persuasive writing. It’s a great way to build towards the 70% non-fiction common core requirement.
Books are the core foundation of reading, and the meat-and-potatoes of a reading meal. But articles and short stories are the amuse-bouche, the appetizer that makes a reader want more, and gives them the chance to sample many tastes. We’ve found that shorter works can be a great entry point to more advanced reading. Later, students can move onto books.
Let them curate their reading journey
Many teachers give free reading time, but another option might be to let students choose what articles they want to read, perhaps all on one theme.
Push them to figure out what they’re actually interested in.
It’s hard to do in a big class, but if you find a few minutes with a student, push them to discover what they’re really interested in. Everyone likes movies and sports - they’re designed to be enjoyed and consumed! What really gets them fired up? Politics? Business? Psychology? History? Technology? Philosophy? Who are their heroes?
Students are always more engaged by what’s happening now.
Obviously, there are many, many ways to get students engaged with reading, but these are a few that we’ve found to be particularly effective with our students.
We liked them so much that we’ve used them to guide the development of Zinc Learning Labs' tools. Contact us for more information about signing up for a free one month pilot.