We were in a rut. Maybe that happens to you, too (please say it does!). Around here, my children learn the drill and how to manipulate it to require the least amount of effort from them. In the past, I’ve asked them to read by time (anywhere from 10 minutes to 60 minutes a day), or a book a week, or a number of pages. Once I created a summer reading program with rewards and prizes. All of those had the effect of encouraging the children to read, but not to read for content.
When we were in Guatemala, we took several long bus trips on aged greyhound buses that served bologna sandwiches and showed 1980’s movies. Two of the movies were inappropriate and terrible, but one of them was fantastic. It was the story of Ben Carson, a neurosurgeon. As inspiring as he was, his mother really impressed me and Sam, and in an effort to emulate her, we’ve made a few changes around here.
Here is a link to the Gifted Hands excerpt that impressed me most. (The part to which I’m referring is from 0:40-1:38). In short, Ben’s mother turned off the TV and insisted that her children read two books per week and give her written reports. Ben Carson’s reading wasn’t just novels (inspiring or not) but also biographies and non-fiction. In fact, one of the books he checked out was on obsidian, a rock we learned about in Guatemala. It was a sign. (Cue suspenseful music.)
Sign or not, in January I implemented our new reading plan. Each week, the children have to read at least 4 books: 2 biographies, a non-fiction book, and a “free” book, which is usually a novel. Jonah obviously reads lots more, but 4 is just right for Owen and a bit of a stretch for Moriah. Their daily writing assignment often comes from the previous week’s reading. I have received narrations of biographies of Saint Patrick, Clara Barton, Henry Bergh, Dolly Madison, Joseph Chevalier de Saint-George, Betsy Ross, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Louisa May Alcott, Harriet Tubman, Brother Andrew, Rosa Parks, Philippe Petit, and Benjamin Franklin. They have chosen to read about poisons and venoms, ice planets, tornadoes, Saturn, rocks and minerals, Saudi Arabia, basketball, ballet, architecture, fungus, and cheetahs.
It has worked best to go back to the library frequently. The children know where the biographies and NF books live, and the boys happily go to pick out their own books. Moriah needs a little help, so I let her find her “free” book while I choose a selection of biographies and a few non-fiction books that might tickle her fancy. Often these are the books the stuffed animals choose to read.
I’m sure this won’t last forever, but right now it’s working and I’m happy with it.
What’s working (or not) for your learners?