Instead of watching Netflix, I just read now


When a student chooses a book over Netflix, it’s a victory. When a student tries to read straight through from before the bell rings through my instructions, and into reading time, it’s a victory. And when a student is already on his fourth book just 15 days into the school year, it is a huge victory!

For the past two years in my classroom we read on Mondays. It was a great way to start the week, give students time to read for pleasure, and build reading stamina. But in the interest of improving, I had to move out of my comfort zone.

This year we are doing it a little differently. Each class period starts with 10 minutes of reading. Being the time protestor that I am, there are days when we go 12. I admit it. But I do my best to stick to a quick book talk to start class (2-3 minutes), independent reading (10 minutes), then our instruction for the day. The shift was a little different for students right away, especially those who had been expecting full reading days, but it seems like we have gotten ourselves into a nice groove now.

Here’s what I notice:

  1. I never have to wake anyone up. We start first period at 8:00 am, and there were times when students would fall asleep. I get it. It is a lot to ask of a 17-year-old kid to be awake enough and engaged enough to read for 40 minutes at the beginning of a day on only a few hours of sleep. This problem is no more. I once heard someone say, “You can do anything for 10 minutes.” Even students who see themselves as nonreaders. My hope is that I can even trick a few students into becoming readers through these painless reading sessions.
  2. The pace of class is much faster. Everything we do has to be done with a sense of urgency. Instead of taking an entire hour to write, we have to get things done quicker. Instead of me babbling on a tangent, I have to be focused and know where we need to get to during the class. One piece of feedback I got in my first year teaching high school English was that the pace needed to increase. I finally feel like I have done it.
  3. It is not as hard to get into a book for a short time. To start the year I have been reading at the same time as students. I was a little concerned after the first class because I had a little trouble settling in and getting going. This went away after a few sessions. Now when we get to reading, the room is quiet within a few seconds and everyone is reading. They know that there is only 10 minutes, so it isn’t nearly as cool to waste time now.
  4. When I begin conferencing with students in the next few weeks, I will be forced to be focused with my questions and discussions. The goal will be to get to 3 students each day. My note-taking sills will need to be sharp so that I am prepared and make sure each conference builds on the previous one.
  5. Having a book talk each day right when the bell rings gives students insight to the possibilities that are out there. It is building this idea that books are important enough to talk about every single day.

My hope is that by reading every day our class builds a culture that is centered around reading and a celebration of books. When I over heard a junior girl say, “Instead of watching Netflix, I just read now,” I have to say, I felt pretty good about the culture we have here in the basement.


Advice for a new teacher

I was recently asked for advice for a first year teacher. It seemed like a perfect thing to share in this space!

Teach the behaviors that you expect and be clear about them. I know this, and I am still guilty of not doing it at times. For example, I used to be incredibly frustrated at how messy the computer cart was in my classroom. The cords would be everywhere but hardly ever plugged into the computers. I’ve now taught and practiced the process, and I never have to deal with the headache of organizing it anymore.

Join Twitter. I know it sounds funny, but it is absolutely the best professional development that I get. There are so many educators out there that post regularly and post great things. Lesson ideas, positive messages, management tips and all kinds of other things. I don’t post very often, but that isn’t the important part. There are so many resources out there to take advantage of and stay connected to.

It isn’t the students. At least most of the time it isn’t. Sometimes I find myself (and my team) asking what is wrong with the students that makes them not do something or not enjoy something. I always try to remember to ask, “What am I going to do to fix this?” And when it IS the student, it is important to know that there is probably a reason for that, too.

Do what you expect your students to do. Actually doing the assignment in a desk with them can be a powerful tool. It is great modeling and it shows that we struggle with difficult things, too. This is especially true in writing if students only see polished examples and not the process. Not only is it a good example, but it makes you think about your assignments.

Give students a choice. We always hear, “When there is something he wants to do, he’ll do it!” and it is always a complaint. Use that to your advantage! If students feel in control of what they are learning and want to do it, just think of the possibilities for what they can accomplish!

It is important to have a reason for what we are doing, know what that reason is, and be able to express it! Let’s take advantage of our chances to communicate and help each other.