Introducing … a class meant to be fun

Barely more than a week before we reported back to school for professional development, I learned that I had had a class added to my varied schedule. I already teach two sections of Intro to Journalism, Digital Communications, advise newspaper and yearbook. But with Oklahoma’s education system in the shambles it’s in, budgets have been cut, which means two things: cutting teachers and cutting electives (OK, probably means reducing supplies, cutting field trips, and a number of other things, as well, but let’s focus on the class thing, here.)

Some of the electives that students pre-enrolled in in the spring simply no longer existed after lots of careful consideration this summer, classes like driver education and family and consumer sciences. Others, like psychology and sociology, were merely reduced in section offerings. But kids had to be put somewhere. We needed an elective that could be added to existing teachers schedules.

Reading for Fun. Yep. Reading for Fun. Sounds like I’m making fun, but I’m not. I’d actually already run across the concept from a fellow adviser across the state who’s been teaching Reading for Pleasure. But my principal found the idea from yet another district, so I guess it’s a thing. I think it has the potential to be a good thing.

Three of us are teaching a section or three, and we’re pretty much free to interpret the way we want as long as there is reading, some accountability and fewer demands so that reading has the potential to be fun.

It didn’t take me long to come up with ideas for a class like this. Students will have freedom to choose their reading material, but they are expected to spend the majority of the time, you know, reading. There needs to be accountability, so they will use a reading journal without too many demands. Note something about your book a couple times a week that helps me see that you are advancing through it. I’m a tech teacher and happen to think tech is fun and adds variety and another skill, so the journals are in Google Drive. For more accountability, more tech, continued choice, and the addition of fun, students will prepare some sort of “response” upon completion of each book. I’m putting together quite a list of options.

My Twitter PLN community was very helpful during a recent #sunchat (8 a.m. CT, Sunday). Besides my own ideas of reviews or reflections posted to personal blogs, or mini-reviews tweeted out or posted on Instagram with shoutouts to the authors, book trailers, and a few other ideas, my tweeps shared with me links to long lists of options like writing alternate endings, scenes from another character’s point of view, character analyses, drawings or posters that can be scanned and posted to the blogs, and more. I will create a post for the lists on my class reading blog this weekend.

Here at the end of the first full week, out of my 17 students, three have already finished a book and are well on their way to finishing another. I want to provide that resource for them to choose what they want to do to celebrate that book.

I spent most of this week having individual conferences with each of them to learn their genre preferences, what they were reading currently, what goals they had for the 9-week period and so forth. I was able to make good connections with almost everyone. If I hadn’t read a book they mentioned, I’d seen the movie, or I knew the author, or if I didn’t, I was interested in having them tell me about it. One showed me some very skilled drawings on his phone that he had done as he told me he’d probably draw a scene or two for the book he’d just finished. A couple of them rolled with me in our rolling chairs to the collection of books I’d brought in from home to see if there was something there they might like. One asked to use Photoshop to work on his project for the book one day out of the week while he read for four, since he reads at home, too. You wanna learn a newer version of Photoshop AND read? And put them together? And this makes reading this book more exciting for you? You bet. Do it. (Lucky me, having a journalism lab). Since I’d mentioned blogs the first day, two asked if I’d show them how next week. Yep. We’ll find time for that.

With everyone doing something different (it’s this way in all my classes – kids are different, right?), how do I grade this? I don’t. They’ve each chosen something to focus on for growth in some area: build vocabulary, increase reading speed or comprehension of increasingly more difficult material, try another genre, or classics of favorite genre, or even try to like reading. They will choose from the set of standards we are using, reflect on their work, referring to specific areas that show their learning, and they will assess themselves. We will conference and come to an agreement.

With no one standing over them judging them and collecting points, with them having control of what they read and how they respond to it, the environment is relaxed and conducive to, well, fun with reading.

About teachjournalism
I am a high school teacher of journalism, technology and reading. I advise the school's newspaper and yearbook, both student-led publications. Documenting and sharing my experiences is a way of reflecting to improve my own work and and inviting commentary so that we might all benefit. I believe, as I tell my students each year, that we all learn from each other.

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