Friday, March 15, 2013

How many books have our students read this year so far?

My assumption has long been that our students are not reading enough, and that the most important thing we could do to help them improve in this essential area would be to help them read more.  I just did a quick check of their reading logs and my own records, and we put up some stickers on our chart--so I'm going to spend a quick post on how it's going.

Last Year's results
Last year I asked this same question about the students in my own classes and the students in the academic support program I was working in, and the results were interesting:

Students in the academic support program (from both Honors and Standard classes): 6 books in ten months (on average)

Students in my classes (all Standard classes): 8.5 books in ten months (on average)

Both groups were reading, on average less than a book a month--far from ideal.  (I'd say the average should be three books a month, but I would be happy with two.  My 12 year old reads four or five every month, and it doesn't take up much of his spare time.)

This year: slight improvement

I have made an even more concerted effort this year to get my students to read more.  We have done more independent reading, and less reading of whole-class texts.  I am pretty sure there has been a real opportunity cost to this focus, but it has at least resulted in somewhat more reading.  This week my students and I calculated their reading, and the results were:

Ninth graders in my (standard-level) classes this year so far: 8.2 books in 7 months (on average)

(This average is skewed a bit by a few kids who are reading a lot (over 20); the median is 6.)

This is better than last year--by the end of the schoolyear, the average should be up to 11 or 12 books--but it is still not great.  Two of my 32 ninth grade students have only read two books all year.  (On the other hand, one of those students is actually a success story, having read zero books in the first three months and two books in the second three months.)

Does more reading mean increased vocabulary and improved skills?
So, I have been somewhat successful at getting my students to read more.  What remains unclear is how much benefit my students have gained from the increased reading.  My assumption is that the increased reading volume will mean increased vocabulary, improved reading comprehension skills, and perhaps even improved writing--but I don't know if that's true, and I can't check in a very reliable way, because I really only have a good baseline for their vocabulary.

Interestingly, whether their skills are improved or not, the reading is not obviously correlated to how well the students do in school.  One of my students, who has failed ninth grade twice already and is now taking both my grade English class and a tenth grade English class, has read 14 books this year.  He tells me he didn't finish any last year.  Nevertheless, he is failing both my class and the tenth grade English class--because he never does any written work outside of class.  In fact, as I write this, I am waiting for him to show up for an afterschool appointment to do some of his missing work.  He's not going to show; we need a new system to help kids like him!  Success or failure in school has less to do with skill than with being able to get the work done--we need to figure out how to help them do it.  I've figured out how to get this kid to read books; now I need to work on the writing piece.

I'll look into this again in June. Until then, I'll keep trying to get them to read, and I'll get the Dean to help me get my failing students to come after school to do their work.

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