Last week, I discussed how I hooked students after winter break with Kwame Alexander’s engaging novel, The Crossover. While many students were highly invested from the get-go, I underestimated their sheer interest in literature written in verse.
Student (and teacher) buy-in with text is extremely important. I never assign a text that I am not excited about, because then why would my students want to read it? I am lucky in that I have a great deal of freedom when choosing texts for my students. However, I have taught at schools where the literature was chosen for me. Let’s just say that I was made to teach Enders Game one year and I couldn’t even finish the book, I despised it so much. I had a student tell me what happened at the end. Not my proudest teacher moment, but definitely reality. (For the record, I am all for teaching genres out of my comfort zone, I just think teachers should have a say in the text selection process).
So, how can you achieve student buy-in with text?
- Allow space for read-alouds and partner reading
I believe there’s a time and a place for read-alouds in middle grades. During class, I incorporate a lot of read-aloud time, especially when first starting a book. This includes me using my best inflection to model enunciation, pronunciation and inflection. In the case of The Crossover, I also had a colleague, whose experience with the spoken word goes beyond the classroom walls, join our class and read some of the poems aloud. After the adults modeled reading, students were then given the opportunity to read aloud. I did this as a whole-class exercise, but it could also be beneficial for students to read-aloud with partners, especially if your class is a bit timid (most of mine are not!) Partner reading also ensures that all students who want to read get the opportunity.
- Give students time to discuss and reflect
After reading some of the poems in class, I had students participate in a socratic seminar (more on this in a later post). This way of teaching allows students to generate their own thoughts about the reading in their journal and then hear from their peers. Allowing students to openly discuss the text with peers gives them ownership of their learning and increases their motivation because they know their voice is important and will be heard. After the discussion, students then go back to their written response and expand, adding more details and evidence based on what was discussed with their peers.
How do you know when students have bought-in?
- They ask to read ahead
- They compose their own inquiries about the text without prompting
- They come and ask you questions about the text during their recess, lunch, etc.
- They borrow the book during study hall
- They ask to take the book home
- They ask to read other books by the same author
- They tell their parents about the book
- They tell other teachers about the book
One of my students saw that I had Booked, another book by Alexander. I was given a class set of this novel as a gift and I hadn’t decided what to do with it yet. When my student asked to read Booked, I allowed him, thinking that I would use it as a supplemental independent read for this year. Shortly after the student began reading the book, other students came in drones wanting to read it. I even spied two students sharing the book after finishing a standardized reading test!!
In addition to peers encouraging peers to read, I also had one student hurriedly take Booked to another teacher (one who teaches a social group we call “Crew”) begging him to have their crew group read it. The fact that these (and many other) students are encouraging their peers to read makes me smile from ear-to-ear.
What do you do to encourage student buy-in with text?