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Saturday, January 22, 2011

How Do You Encourage Students to Read Assigned Selections at Home?

In a previous post titled Stirring the Pot: Fueling Discussion in Reading Class, I mentioned that I'd share some ideas for ensuring that all students read assigned chapters for homework. In truth I have several methods that will increase the probability that all students will read the assigned selection. Unfortunately, you and I know that no method will guarantee it (but I certainly welcome your ideas!).

Testmoz: Simple Online Assessment

My number one strategy these days is to individually assess students online using Testmoz. If your students have one-to-one access to computers in the classroom, this might be for you.

Test Moz is a simple-to-create, simple-to-use, online assessment application. You can create interactive, self-checking quizzes in several formats (multiple choice, true/false, check boxes, and type in boxes). Detailed reports tell you who took the test, how long it took them, which questions they answered correctly, and their overall percentage score. A separate grid of corrects/incorrects also visually reveals whether one question was missed an inordinate number of times versus another.

Before we move on, take a sample quiz. You'll get a feel for the format and the ease of use.

In my own class, I typically use this tool to assess student understanding of a chapter assigned the night before. With every student on a computer, it's quick and easy. It also provides a permanent, printable record of the test.

If you don't have one-to-one computers in the class, students can complete the assessments at home. But won't they be able to look back at the reading selection and cheat? If your goal is to ensure that students read the selection, then is "looking back at the text" really a big issue? When I create quizzes with Testmoz, they're so text-specific that even a student who gets a peek at the assessment before class will still need to know the reading passage to score well.

You can also use this assessment tool in conjunction with any online reading selection. Have students open the target reading selection in one window, and the Test Moz quiz in another. With the windows side by side, students can answer questions about the reading selection as they read.
Need some reading or viewing materials? I like the online news articles at Scholastic News for younger students, and the current events articles chosen specifically for learners at The New York Times. You can also learn about and access images from the NY Times photo prompt site. Or, simply search for a daily, student-friendly article (such as this one on the Attack on Pearl Harbor) and create a quick five question quiz for a warm-up.

I will warn you, however, to RECORD your test number and your passwords carefully! There is no way to retrieve either from the site once you've created a test!

Google Docs

If you need another assessment tool that provides students with a more open-space writing environment, I'd recommend using a Google Form to collect student responses. Google Forms allow you to solicit answers of all lengths and types, and then organizes all student responses nicely into a spreadsheet. Writing prompts from the NY Times Learning Network would work nicely for this approach (the linked article about pet peeves will really get your middle schoolers writing!).

Google Forms can also be used with video prompts, such as those offered at TeachHub. Check out some lesson plans and ideas for this approach at a previous post on video writing prompts.

Other Quiz Generators

If you like Testmoz but want to see what else is out there, check out this link listing online quiz generators. You might find one there that better serves your purposes. Zoho Challenge is another you might want to check out; while it's a pay application, it does offer more bells and whistles than your typical free program.

Online Discussions

For online discussions, I'd recommend the new Collaborize Classroom site, which is a social media tool designed for specifically for education. You can read more about it in my previous post on Stirring Up Discussions. This free online portal allows students to vote on ideas, post their own, engage in online discussions, and share many types of digital media. Requiring students to respond to prompts at home eliminates the need for accessing computers at school. By asking for responses to be supported by text evidence, you're increasing the likelihood that students will read the assigned selections.

Character Dialogues

One method I used in third and fourth grade, and a bit last year in sixth, required students to take on the persona of a character from the book and converse with another.

When students read Because of Winn Dixie they didn't seem to mind that young Opal is permitted unlimited freedom to go where she wants, and to spend time with whomever she chooses. She disappears for hours at a time, unaccountable to anyone (not a mistake by the author, mind you, but a necessary element of the relationship between Opal and her father, the Preacher).

In one dialogue exercise, some students are presented with this scenario:
You are Sweetie Pie's mother. You're concerned that your young daughter has been spending too much time with the Preacher's daughter Opal. It seems to you that Opal not only roams unsupervised, but also befriends the "less desirables" in the community. On top of that, Sweetie Pie has been telling you some far-fetched stories about what happens at Gertrude's Pet Shop. You confront the Preacher with your concerns.
Students know that they'll need to not only read through tonight's assignment to get "ammunition," but also skim through previous chapters for examples to include in their dialogue.

The dialogues are unscripted, and the flow is entirely dependent on the two actors. The student who plays the part of the Preacher is likewise prompted with details, but his perspective of Opal's activities is naturally different. 

The fun of this particular exercise is its unpredictability. Halfway through one such dialogue in our classroom, "Mom" called up her daughter Sweetie Pie from the audience, and the unsuspecting Sweetie Pie had to immediately fall into character! Not to be outdone, Preacher called up his daughter, Opal, to explain her side. (By the way, all of this was done in Southern accents to match the story's setting). Students quickly learned they would need to read assigned chapters each night or be ill prepared to engage their peers the next day.

What methods have you used to encourage your students to complete reading assignments?


Shana Ray said...

Thanks for posting about Collaborize Classroom again. We love that you are enjoying using it with your students!

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