"Your mission, READ 180 students, should you choose to accept it, is to work together as a class to read a million words by the winter break." This mission is one of the key ways we get students in our district to read often. We support our teachers to help them get their students to engage in the work. Once we have our first class hit the million-word mark, it motivates other classes, who then work on the goal with more effort. Soon, we have many classes that have hit the mark.
Reading a million words is a basic expectation for our READ 180 classrooms. Students cannot become better readers without practicing every day. Many research studies show that adding 10 minutes a day of reading outside of school has a tremendous impact on reading volume. Our ultimate goal is to get students reading not only in READ 180 class, but also outside of class.
The recipe for getting classes to read one million words, and then two million, and upwards to ten million words per year is fairly simple. It begins the first week of school by matching students to books. We use the 50L above a student's reading level and 100 Lexiles below a student's ability as demonstrated on the Reading Inventory. Then, we go beyond the metric and connect to interests by enticing students with book reviews and book trailers from last year’s students. Many of our teachers even do one sample book altogether. The reasons for this practice is twofold: it sets an expectation for what a completed reading portfolio for each book looks like and helps everyone pass their first Reading Counts! Quiz successfully.
Every class that hits the million-word goal gets an 18 x 24 inch color poster to hang to show their achievement. Many of the teachers contribute to the celebration with some snacks and a fun book-related activity. Years ago, we decided these posters were a great investment. The students and teachers really like them. Plus, they serve as a daily reminder that the class is headed to the next milestone. We take pictures (or have our teachers take pictures and submit them) of every class of millionaires. We post them on our website and we post them on Instagram and Twitter. We see this goal met across the district; whether you have 5 students or 18 in a class or the classes’ average Lexile is 212 or 658, the goal is the same. To build students up to see that this goal is attainable, we strive to get students engaged and engrossed in books and series as quickly as possible. We do this with passion and purposeful enticements. You’re welcome to join in our journey by following us @CyFairREAD180.
You are the sales person in your room for reading. Just like any good salesperson, you first have to believe that you can sell a book to any reader--it's all about finding the match. A few things we do to help readers find the right book are:
Creating appealing displays can be a lot of fun. One of my favorites is when the teachers place books on their whiteboard trays and write creative hashtags above them. Alternately, you could print out memes and tape them above the books of the week. We've also had teachers print out page-size speech bubbles on cardstock and tuck them into books. The bubbles said things like "Check me out!" "Let's spend some time together."
Student goal setting is an integral part of the work. We ask students to read a book for one minute and then count the number of words they read. Then we show them the number of words that their book contains, which is readily available in the Reading Counts! Then we have them figure out how many days it will take them to read the book. We add two class periods to complete paperwork. For example, the book 24/7 Killer Bees has ___________________words. If Student X reads 80 words per minute and they read for 20 minutes a day, they'll be able to read "Creatures Infest Local School" which has 7020 words in about 5 days. Then we multiply this number by the number of weeks in a grading period and set a reasonable reading goal for the marking period. When students overachieve their goal, we celebrate. When they underachieve, we troubleshoot, scaffold, and cajole them into meeting their goal next time.
Harnessing the power of the reading community is also integral to accomplishing the goal. Readers are social and they need to be exposed to the joy of having a reading community. This often takes the form of student-generated book talks or student-made book trailers. Another of our teachers has a frequent readers rewards program. Just like a credit card or your favorite coffee shop, if you read a book based upon one of your classmate's recommendations, the classmate and you get a bonus buck. You can turn your bonus bucks in for bookmarks, a beverage to drink while you read, choice of seating during independent reading, or even a book.
Offering a school wide or district wide reading promotion or participating in READ 180 sponsored promotions such as Word Up will motivate a lot of students. We offer a simple contest based on the average number of words read per student in a specified time period. During this fall’s promotion, we had 80 classrooms work together to read 35 million words. This works out to over 400,000 words per class!! Those kind of numbers will put a big dent in the goal of getting to a million words.
Have more fun with your readers. Create a fun and inviting theme for reading for a month. One of our teachers created sweet and silly signs for the skeleton that took up residence in October. Another created a Book Wars game for her students. Another has lunch Bluford book clubs; eat lunch and discuss life at Bluford High with other Bluford enthusiasts. Have a book character quote off. Harness your inner creativity, create a few memorable (see post on Peak Moments) moments, and feel the energy around independent reading skyrocket.
Employ just a few of these tips and you’ll be sure to have students zooming towards a million words in no time. There’s nothing mystical about a million words except that it sounds cool to say, "I'm part of a class of millionaires!" What is important is that every minute a student spends reading is a minute that they are growing. I encourage every READ 180 teacher to ask their classes, "Who wants to be a millionaire?"
Share your best tips for getting students to read often and for increasing reading volume.
Charmion Mohning is the Secondary Reading Coordinator and lead reader in Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District. She has presented at local, state, and national conferences about growing a love of reading, word study, and implementing READ 180 with fidelity. She is passionate about ensuring that every student can read. Before becoming an administrator, Charmion taught English as a Second Language in Grades 4-6 and was a curriculum coach for the district’s structured English immersion program. She has degrees from Upper Iowa University and Sam Houston State University.