Sophomore English is centered on the study of World Literature and is organized to complement Modern World History classes taught by members of the Social Studies Department. This means, when students are taught about World War I, the English classes read All Quiet on the Western Front.
One of the goals this year for every member of the English Department is to increase the amount of reading opportunities. To meet this goal, the EnglishII classes have just completed a unit where they chose books written by world (not American) authors or books about world events. The unit ran for 18 days-11 days class periods designed with 20 minutes of silent sustained reading combined with lit circles for a total of 3 hours and 40 minutes of in-class reading time.
Students choose the book they wanted to read after researching book titles with reviews (from Amazon) promoted in a prepared folder on Livebinders. Literature circles were organized by student selection of titles; teachers made recommendations for low-level readers.
80% of the texts offered in this unit were added to the classroom library as used books. Books were purchased for $.50-$4.00 each over the period of two years through visits to thrift stores, public library sales, and online used book vendors. The remaining 20% of texts were already purchased for classroom libraries through the retail market. The most popular titles selected by the students included: A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, The Alchemist, Hiroshima, and The Life of Pi (titles initially purchased at retail price); Like Water for Chocolate, City of Thieves, The Girl with the Pearl Earring, The God of Small Things and Ella Minnow Pea (all titles added through used book markets).
Literature activities were designed to encourage student creativity and to be simple enough so that students could complete the tasks during the period. Students were continually reminded that they need to read for homework as well as in class.
Once the literature circles were organized, students kept all group work in folders. Literature circles were not divided with assigned roles; all members of the group participated in the daily scheduled activity.
Daily activities included:
- Members of the group developed five questions each which were shared in the group. All members chose three question from this pool and responded to them;
- Members of the group each located a passage with figurative imagery and used that passage to create a found poem;
- Members of the group illustrated a scene from the book as a six-panel comic strip;
- Members of the group researched 14 facts about the text they chose, the author, and the context when the book was published;
- Members of the group each wrote three character haikus;
- Members of the group created one timeline of 10 events from the text and organized these on Timetoast.com interactive software.
Once students had chosen their texts, they were given an index card to record data about their reading habits. Students recorded their progress on these cards with the following data: page # at the beginning of a reading session, page # at the conclusion of a reading session; the number of minutes for the reading session; the location of the reading session. At the conclusion of the unit, this card was used as a self-reflection exercise, and the data card attached to a sheet with the following questions:
1. According to the data you recorded on the card, how long did it take you to read this book?
2. What was your average reading rate (pages per minute)?
3. In which location did you read most frequently?
4. If you had to take a detailed multiple choice quiz or test on this book, would you have scored well? WHY or WHY NOT?
5. Who would you recommend should read this book?
As a final assessment, students completed a dialectical journal of 10 quotes (5 from the beginning of the book; 5 from the end of the book).
The unit was successful in having students engage with their texts daily; students would enter the classroom saying, “We get to read first, right?” while literature circles allowed for student centered activities. Assessments of responses collected in literature circles allowed teachers an opportunity to monitor student understanding. Several students completed their chosen text early. These students were given one page book review sheets to complete for extra credit; no other assessments were given for extra credit reading.
The goal was to increase student engagement in texts with SSR and literature circles while exposing students to author voices from around the world. This unit has proven to be flexible and teachers will schedule this unit with some changes to literature circle activities during standardized state testing and again at the end of of the school year. The 20 minutes a day also provided time for teachers to familiarize themselves with many of the texts as well. Why should students be the only ones enjoying a book? What teacher wouldn’t want a little reading time for themselves?