While adults worry about making decisions about the canon and whether it should or shouldn’t be in the 21st-century English classroom, many students in middle school and high school worry about autonomy and when they’ll be able to make decisions about what they read.
I’ve found that many teachers want to implement independent reading in the classroom, but the perennial challenge of student accountability is a concern. This dilemma may cause them to stray from embracing what might be the most meaningful personal engagement for readers in the English classroom.
As a middle level teacher, I worked for years to refine independent reading routines in my classroom. I’ve grappled with the following questions and many others:
- How can I motivate my students to want to read?
- How will I know that students are really reading?
- What if students forget their books?
- Is a reading log really effective?
- Do I really want to have my students do book reports?
To tackle accountability means to think about what matters to students and what makes reading relevant. For some adolescents, the question is: Why should I care about reading? For teachers, the question is: How can I create meaningful opportunities for students to demonstrate their understanding of text and apply strategies learned?
Here are some compelling ideas for answering those two questions.
Social Media Catalyst
Social media is ubiquitous in our society, and many students at the secondary level are socially connected through digital platforms. We can use how adolescents socialize and fuse those practices with independent reading. Social media may seem solitary, but it becomes communal when it’s shared. We need to leverage students’ social media connectivity to help them see the relevance of their reading and to cultivate lifelong readers.
We can hold students accountable for reading through a response menu that uses social media formats, real or simulated. Most response options don’t require the use of a real social media account; they’re simply pathways for students to consider lifelong reading practices. It’s helpful to showcase how reading communities emerge through media platforms. Expose students to examples of reader response posts on Twitter, TikTok, Snapchat, Instagram, YouTube, and Goodreads to contextualize the experience. Make screenshot examples from your own social media accounts if you belong to an online reading community, scour author accounts, or do a quick internet search.
Below are some social media reading-related options to share with students. Students can use their own personal devices and apps for some of these options. Teachers may consider getting parent or caregiver permission to employ personal technologies for classroom use through a permissions letter.
- Blog as you read: Write a blog entry each time you come across an event or idea in your reading that you connect to in some way. Share your thoughts, reactions, and/or wonderings in a conversational tone.
- Vlog as you read: Record a vlog entry each time you come across an event or idea in your reading that you’d like to comment on. You can record videos on your school-issued device (if available) or use the camera on your phone. If you choose to use your phone, upload the videos onto a Google slide or Flipgrid.
- Hashtags: When you come across a powerful excerpt that you connect to or that represents a working idea in society, snap a picture of it, share it to your Google Drive, and put it into a Google slide. Create a hashtag that captures the idea or feeling of that excerpt.
- Snapchat or Instagram Story: Assume the role of the character, and create a Snapchat or Instagram Story that illustrates how the character experiences his or her world. Simulate this on Google Slides, or use your own parent-approved social media account, if you have one.
- Bitmoji Character Change: Create a Bitmoji for a character. Document character emotions and reactions to major plot events through various Bitmojis to show your interpretation of how the character develops. Make screenshots of your Bitmojis and put them onto a Google slide. (If the school district has approved the Bitmoji app for student use, students can use a school-issued email for access. Another option is to request that the Bitmoji app be put on a classroom device so that students can take turns using the shared account.)
Students need to know that their teacher values their interactions with texts and that they can celebrate their choices about reading in popular spaces. What students choose to read matters. If we authenticate the practices of readers for students, they’ll begin to understand the relevance of having a reading identity that exists beyond the walls (or grid boxes) of a classroom.