In the beginning of each year when I tell parents at back to school that we don’t have any class novels, I’m met with shocked looks–mouths agape, eyes doing impossible math. The first question out of their mouths is, “But how do you check if they’re reading?” The other implicit concern is probably, “Oh no, my child doesn’t read independently.”
Teachers, too, are often concerned. With similar looks at parents, they ask, “But you can’t possibly read every book they read. How do you really know they’re reading? Do you really trust them that much?”
To answer the first question, it is correct that I can’t read every book. However, most of the books in the young adult world aren’t overly complex and are, for the most part, pretty predictable. To answer the third question, I do trust them, to a degree. You can’t go into a classroom not trusting your students. If you don’t trust them from the beginning, they’re not going to trust you as an authority on the subject.
To monitor independent reading in my class, I’ve developed, with my grade 8 counterpart, Independent Reading Checkpoints. This is still something I’m working on and changing as time goes on; it’s not perfect (although nothing ever is or will be), but I think it takes us down a road worth exploring.
Independent Reading Checkpoints are made up of a series of questions, most of which require textual evidence. In this regard, students can’t just make things up. Sure, they probably can make up any old quote, but as a teacher, you know what student writing sounds like and what published authors’ writing sounds like.
Method of Delivery
There are two ways I give the checkpoint, both of which I think have their merits, both of which I’m still experimenting with.
In my school, we have Language Arts (Gen-Ed) and Accelerated Language Arts. For the Gen-Ed classes, I typically choose ten questions from the bank and give them three days to complete it. They are given one full class period (about 55 minutes) to work on it, and it must be handed in two days later.
For the Accelerated Language Arts class, I typically give them the entire bank of questions. They have one week to complete, and one period in class to work on it. Students are given a number of points they must achieve. Usually, the accelerated class’s requirements increase over the marking period (first checkpoint might have a 40 point requirement, then the next one will have 50 points, etc.), while the gen-ed usually remains the same (about 10 questions).
The delivery method for the accelerated class does not go over well with the gen-ed classes (I’ve tried). Students in the gen-ed class get overwhelmed by the choice of questions and figuring out which questions to answer.
Does this influence independent reading?
When I created the checkpoints, the goal was for them to encourage students to read. Students go into each marking period knowing when all three checkpoints were scheduled. However, this did not serve as an impetus for some groups of students to read, particularly the gen-ed crowd. Often, they would start reading something the day before a checkpoint and only read enough to be able to answer the questions to their own satisfaction. Due to this, many of these students would fail the checkpoints repeatedly.
The resistance to independent reading has made the workshop model very difficult. I have a huge classroom library (around 700 books) with many different genres, and I still have students who say, “There’s nothing good in there. It’s all boring.” These students generally accept failure and attribute their failure to “Mr. Chiappone’s teaching style.”
Students who refuse to read independently do not do well in the workshop model because they typically have to read and think a little more deeply than just reading a book for enjoyment, which many fail to do to begin with. If you can’t read a book for enjoyment, you will not do well in workshop. This is the problem that the checkpoints attempted to solve, but they have not yet.
To view the question bank for the independent reading checkpoint, click here.