Boys Literacy Part 1 of 4
Birth of the Reading Challenge
Just before I went to teachers’ college (2000) was the time my interest in IT really took off. I made a deal with my boss at the time regarding lieu time and overtime and started taking courses at Nipissing. The hardest by far was called Introduction to Computers or something innocuous like that but it was really a C++ programming course. The prof was amazing. He was originally from somewhere in Eastern Europe and had been immersed in computers since birth I think. He knew all the machine language and binary code stuff and had a wealth of anecdotes about computers, and many humourous tricks to get us to understand the patterns and routines of programming. The students were also quite a mixed bag. My favourites were those Dr. Schreyer called the ‘squirrels’ or ‘chipmunks.’ Can’t remember which…. these first-year boys who sat in the back row and would pop their heads up over the monitors occasionally to attend to the lesson. They told me they had taken all the usual maths and high school computer courses plus an OAC-level Java course. This little C++ course that was keeping me up at night was a walk in the park for them. The first test separated the sheep from the goats. Over half the class dropped the course. Remaining were the boy geniuses and a few determined others such as me. One day I asked the prof if I would ever really get the hang of programming without a math background. He said, “Sure. To be good at programming you don’t need math. To get good at programming, you need to program.”
About three years later I had a Grade 7 class where in April only three kids were reading at grade level and his words came back to me. What if it was a case of, “In order to become a strong reader, you need to read”?
This was the birth of the Reading Challenge, eight to 10 weeks of extended silent reading using texts selected by the students. And yes it worked.
Boys’ Literacy Part 2 of 4
The first Reading Challenge
Each student in 7C set a personal, secret goal. How many pages could they read during the challenge? They were strongly encouraged to have this be at least the minimum set by me of 10 pages a day, 5 days a week, for 10 weeks. Parents had to sign the form containing their goal.
They were freaked out at the way this translated into a class goal of 14,500 pages! Much complaining and disbelief!
Then we began. They read 40-50 minutes a day in class. In total silence.
Several tools were used to motivate the kids and also get at aspects of the curriculum. All involved minimal writing.
At the end of each class they filled out response journals (visualizing, character, journal style, making connections, etc.) They also created bar graphs of their progress. Because the books were self-selected from texts at appropriate levels, no one was at a real disadvantage. Whether they were reading a high-interest/low-vocab novel or the latest Harry Potter, they had an equal chance to get their 10 pages logged.
There were big celebrations held to mark the halfway point. First we tabulated the bar graphs. Wow! As in all subsequent years, to the students’ amazement, by the halfway point the overall goal had been reached. This was incredibly energizing. We also borrowed the button-making machine from the board and made buttons promoting literacy, our goals, etc., as well as making and laminating bookmarks. At the end, we took an afternoon and used all the new phys ed game equipment outside and ate ice cream cones – their own choice of reward.
When testing took place, two thirds of the class achieved level 3 or greater on a Grade 7 test.