My previous post gave 4 factors to persuade teachers to start giving outside reading assignments. I am sure, however, that you still have concerns about your students’ motivation to complete an assignment like this while avoiding the temptation to cut corners and cheat. I share in those concerns.
Over the years, though, I have come up with ways to steer students to complete their outside reading assignment faithfully. I still have to guard against apathy and students who insist on cutting corners instead of doing the work, but I have drastically reduced the amount of energy I spend on keeping watch over this behavior. And I would like to share these tips with you!
5 Ways to Nudge Your Students to Engage in Outside Reading
1. Frequent Visits to the School Library. I kick off outside reading assignments with a trip to the school library and let students know that we will be back in two weeks (when the books are due). Once we arrive at the library, I tell my students that they must pick a book and they cannot sit down until they have checked one out. If students are struggling to find a book, I send them to tastedive.com, which will give them recommendations on many forms of entertainment, including books and authors. When students aren’t sure about their choice, I remind them we will be back in two weeks.
2. Silent Reading in Class. I have my students read silently in class, three to five days a week. I protect this time with religious devotion. For many of my young readers, this is the only time during the week where they have a quiet space in their day to read. So this is the best chance they have to get hooked by their books. If they aren’t given this time, many will not allow themselves to be taken up into a story they are reading.
If you’re thinking, “you said ‘outside’ reading, but that looks like it’s ‘inside’ the class.” Okay, you caught me. I simply reframe this accusation by declaring their book “outside” the common curriculum because they are choosing the reading, not me, not the district. There. Outside. Now have them read during class!
3. Public Book Sign-Ups. The assignment spans six weeks. Three weeks in, I make them commit to a title. They do this publicly on a sign-up sheet I display in class. I give them frequent reminders. I ask them face-to-face, “Have you signed up yet?” If they don’t sign up before that three week marker, I start to reduce the amount of points possible they can earn on the assignment (because the more likely they are to look to cut corners and turn in an assignment they didn’t really complete).
4. Informal Writing. One of the other signature assignments in my classroom is The Writer’s Notebook. It’s a place for low-pressure, informal writing and revision practice that I use daily. Every other week, I will have the students double-dip assignments by prompting the students to write about their outside reading book. I might give them something like, “What are the three most confusing things about your book? Explain what is so confusing about those things in one page. And while you’re at it, predict/speculate how this confusion will be cleared up!” The informal writing gives them a chance to stop and think, which they most likely won’t do without being prompted. As they collect their thoughts, they renew their desire to read on.
5. Public Display of Reading Progress. During one period of silent reading a week, I will walk the classroom and jot down page numbers. As I pass each student, I note the page number next to their names. After silent reading time is over, I will announce the reading progress I noted. Most students in the room have no idea the page count of their classmates, but when I declare, “We’re two weeks in to our outside reading assignment and five students are already past page 150,” they gain an awareness of what they can accomplish as readers.
I have found these five ways to nudge students incredibly effective. Also, they give me opportunities to engage with the students around an interest they are developing. The walks to the library are great moments for this type of informal connection. The times in class when I can handout atta boys and atta girls to the students for their page counts is meaningful too. All five nudges working together tend to keep the students on track and completing this assignment faithfully.
Which nudge would influence your students the most? What other ways do you nudge your students to complete their work?
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