Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Take Back Advisory: DEAR Time for All

At first, I hated advisory. I have no problem with DEAR (Drop Everything and Read) time, but at my school, it is largely a joke. Many teachers let their students roam the halls, use their cellphones, put on make up, or otherwise do nothing related to reading for our 30 minute period. Worse yet, our students were not at all encouraged or motivated to read independently, and so they didn't. I struggled all last year to get my kids reading, and in the end wasn't at all successful.

When the new year's advisory period started to go the same way, I decided to take back advisory.

If they didn't want to read independently, we would read together. I would extend the principles I used to build my classroom library to pick out engaging books for my students, and then we would take Accelerated Reader tests on each book together. Ideally, our program would help improve reading comprehension, increase student interest in reading, and provide a structure that students would easily adapt to.

Here are five tips to get you started:
  1. Provide extra credit or other small incentives to encourage students to keep reading. For example, after we read Gary Soto's Pacific Crossing, about a Mexican-American teenager who travels to Japan as part of an exchange program, I brought in some Japanese snacks to eat while we read. I brought ramune, a Japanese soda mentioned often in the book as well as some rice crackers purchased from a local market. The students enjoyed drinking it and it helped make the book (and our advisory) more memorable. Alternatively, you could organize a trip to a local bookstore or large public/college library to check out or buy books for your top readers.
  2. Pick engaging books. If you have reluctant readers like I do, a good place to start is the ALA Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Readers. Read online reviews of popular teen titles, ask your English Language Arts teachers, and most importantly, watch for trends and interests among your students. You will always have a handful of enthusiast readers in your classes--keep an eye out for what they're reading and ask them what they think of particular titles and authors.
  3. Don't start with anything difficult. If you're trying to save your advisory period from the abyss, you can't start with Finnegans Wake. That doesn't mean you can't challenge your students--it just means you have to build up to it. You are trying to show your students that reading is something they might actually like to do.
  4. Take them to get their own books from the library... especially if they don't read novels in English class!
  5. As another incentive (and as a jumping off point for discussion and reflection), you can perhaps watch the movie version of whatever you're reading.
If you read your students well enough, you should start to see the students get into reading every day, and any discipline problems you have will be quelled by the majority. I actually enjoy advisory each day, which is far cry from where it once was.