How often do we teachers moan that our students never read, but we do not give them time to do so because we are so busy with other activities? Unfortunately, the very lack of time which prevents us from giving reading time to students also affects students at home. Their lives after school are just as frenetic as their classrooms. This thought seems to elude us while we also miss the obvious: students will not read if they do not have the chance. I see this as the water and horse analogy. We keep comforting ourselves with the idea that students can not be made to read which is true, but unless we provide the “water,” they will not ever drink it.
In an effort to counteract this situation, I have established one day a week as free-reading days. Unfortunately, I am not comfortable allowing one-fifth of my teaching time to pass unmonitored or evaluated. This is free-reading time, not free time. I felt it was important to establish some criteria so that my students were aware of the difference. I constructed a sheet listing the date, name of book, author, page started and page ended. Each page had room for five entries which would last for a six week grading period. On Fridays, I handed each students his copy and they filled in the information. They were given an assignment the previous day to bring a book- not a magazine, comic, fact digest, or picture book, but instead a book which would lend itself to sustained reading. After each reading period I collected these free reading records and graded them. A student who had failed to bring a book lost half credit , and I supplied a book for the student to read. Very soon the student began to bring a book of his or her choosing. A student who failed to underline the title lost partial credit (when they left my class they would at least have this habit). Any student who was observed sleeping, talking, writing notes, or other non-reading behavior received a note of the infraction on his/her paper at the time of the infraction and consequently lost half credit. Each entry was worth 20 points for a total of 100 for the six-week period. I generally scheduled six such reading days which allowed one extra for absences. Absences above this number had to be made up with a book report. This combined grade then was treated as a major test grade for the six weeks.
The simplicity of the system appealed to me as well as the reinforcement it provided my students. They were reading and getting a potentially very high one just for the act of bringing a book and reading it. I had some control and method of rewarding those who spent their time in appropriate behavior. In addition, I could quickly evaluate each student’s reading record. It gave me a way to see what my students were reading, how fast they read, and what their interests were. Since there was no penalty for slow reading, they had no reason to “fudge” on the pages they read so I could tell which students were going to have difficulty finishing classroom reading assignments. One other benefit was that frequently students would tell me that this was the only time during the week they could read or did read. Fifty minutes a week may not end the reading barrier but it is a start.