Encouraging students to read books they choose is hugely beneficial, but how do you fit it into the curriculum? Diploma Programme (DP) English language and literature teacher Mike Mackenna shares his tips with IB World Magazine.
Students who read for pleasure get all kinds of benefits out of it: They become more empathetic, sleep better, have higher self-esteem, and are less likely to be stressed out or depressed. As a teacher, you have probably heard of extensive reading and don’t need to be convinced of its value. You probably practice it yourself when you can find the time.
Educators have written widely on the topic. Nancie Atwell, Kelly Gallagher, Donalyn Miller and Lucy Calkins are all champions of extensive reading because of the aforementioned mental health benefits and academic benefits: vocabulary growth, improved reading comprehension and stronger oral communication skills.
I know that you would love to give all of your students the opportunity to read books they choose, and access to all the advantages that extensive reading brings. But how do you fit in extensive reading if you have to study all the literary and non-literary texts and prepare them for the coursework and exams? How do students find their own time for reading? We all know that school is, tragically, the only place where many students have the three conditions Kelly Gallagher identifies as necessary for reading:
I faced this very same challenge in my own classroom and here are five ways I find that time for extensive reading in my Diploma Programme (DP) English language and literature classes. I hope it might give you some ideas for your own class.
Encourage students to choose text-types for extensive reading different from the ones they’re studying in class.
I do this in order to make extensive reading feel like a break from formal classwork. In language and literature, this might mean that if students are studying non-literary texts as a class, they do extensive reading of literary texts like novels, poems or plays. In literature, it might mean that if students are reading say, poetry as a class, they choose other literary forms, like graphic novels; or non-literary texts, like magazines; for their extensive reading. Though if students want to use the same text type for extensive reading as they’re using for the whole-class work, that is completely fine.
Set aside about 20% of class time for extensive reading.
In my 90-minute blocks, I give students 20 minutes at the start of class to read.
Discuss the books very briefly.
We discuss their books for about 10 minutes each class after they finish their 20 minutes of reading. We’ll talk about if they like their books and why/why not, or we’ll discuss basic elements of literature, like plot, characterization, tone, mood, etc.
Do very simple assessments
This idea is based on Kelly Gallagher’s one pagers, which are one-page assignments he has students complete after reading a book just for pleasure. Like Gallagher, I have students complete very short assignments, though not all of them are written. They might write very short newspaper articles based on news-worthy events in the book or get together with a classmate and present their books in pairs, finding a way to talk about both of them.
For example, who would win in a fight, this character from student X’s book or that character from student Y’s book? Or if this character and that character met, would they fall in love/be friends/hate each other, etc? And why? These assignments help students develop writing and presentation skills, and knowledge of text types that are essential in DP language A.
If they’re doing a very short writing assignment, I’ll give them one complete class to finish the first draft, then part of the following class to improve the writing using my feedback. If they’re doing a very short presentation, I’ll give them one class to prepare, and they present the next class. The fact that the writing and presentations are short saves time in class (and out of class, since I can grade the work quickly).
I don’t give any other assessments about the books. No chapter quizzes or anything like that. I avoid those to save time and because I don’t want to ruin books read for pleasure with quizzes. I don’t imagine any of us would enjoy our extensive reading as much if we had to take quizzes on it. And I should clarify that students can’t use these books for any of the official DP assessments.
No extensive reading in the second year of DP
Finally, the pressure is really on in year two of the DP, which is why I don’t do extensive reading then. As much as I hate that students lose the chance to read the books they choose, I just can’t fit it in.
Mike Mackenna has taught Diploma Programme (DP) English language and literature since 2015. He is head of English and extended essay coordinator at Knightsbridge Schools International in Bogotá, Colombia. He also teaches TOK and graduated with a degree in English literature from the University of Colorado, USA in 2004, and has taught outside the U.S. ever since. When he’s not teaching or reading, he and his partner stay busy raising their three-year-old son and 16-year-old beagle. You can connect with him here.
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