Thursday, March 10, 2011

Repent... At Reading Homework Taketh Another Look...

It’s Lent.   
     And, according to Lutheran tradition, our church takes on a more penitential mood throughout this season.  We use purple on the alter to signify the penitence we observe, we don’t sing a “Hymn of Praise” on Sundays, and there are no “Alleluias” uttered during the Lenten season… not until Easter.  Lent is a time for meditation and often serves as a time to reflect on our transgressions and shortcomings as we prepare for the Hope that comes on Easter, when all things are made new!
     So, it's somewhat ironic that Mary Lee and Franki at A Year of Reading have asked us to reflect on the issue of "reading homework."  Not to be mocking or insulting to my faith, but I think it's the perfect time to repent for some of the mundane, mindless, and frankly stupid, things I've asked children to do in the name of reading!  I admit it, over the years I've asked students to "prove" to me that they've read, rather than trusted that they'll read at home without my nudging!
     I have done a lot of thinking about this issue AND over the years I've asked my students to do some rather silly things to "prove" to me that they read at home.  In the past, I've required students to keep a log of minutes read, titles read, and genres read.  I've asked parents to sign the logs to further indicate that students are, indeed, reading at home.  I've asked students to respond in a response notebook and to keep accurate records of their "at-home" reading.  I've asked for book projects.  I've asked for lists.  I've asked for number of pages.  I've done everything but ask students to, well, READ!  Basically, I've eliminated all the things that matter in reading... choice, interest, pleasure... and to what end?  
     So, this year my homework requirement for reading is simple... try to read for 20 minutes a day!  That's it!  Read. 
     Now, I know what you're saying, "But how do you know..."  That's the beauty.  I do know.
     Rather than ask students (readers) to complete something that wasn't really for them (it was for parents and for me), I've asked them to simply spend some time reading each day.  And, I have to trust that they are doing it.  I've offered up the following suggestions this year:
     • Start a blog and include some of your favorite at-home reading
     • Join Shelfari and comment regularly
     • Bring in the books you're reading from home and share them
     • Write about your reading in your "Write-at-Home" notebook (their writer's notebook that they use at home each week)
     • Reflect on your reading on our classroom blog
     • Bring in a book from home and explain to us the strategies you are using to comprehend it
     • Invite your parents or siblings to read together with you
     At first I felt a little guilty, but then I realized, I'm asking my students to do the same things I like to do as a reader.  It's not rocket science.  Of course, we have discussions about the types of things we're reading at home.  Of course,  I have parents who want more specific tasks.  Of course, I don't have something I can hold in my hand... but I think that I have helped encourage kids to read at home more peacefully and thoughtfully.  How do I know?
     • Readers are bringing in more titles than ever before to share with their peers
     • Readers are talking more with language like, "Last night while I was reading, I..."  or "When I was trying ____ at home in my reading, I..."
     • Readers are talking about their at-home reading with more enthusiasm and purpose
     • Readers are seemingly more accountable for actually doing some at-home reading because they know I trust that they are reading
     • Readers are modeling their "at-home" habits during our morning greeting
     • Readers are reading books of interest and sharing their learning with their peers
     • Readers are talking about their at-home reading during reading conferences
     A few years ago I read a post by a frustrated parent and a frustrated mother and they stuck with me.  Alfie Kohn has also done a lot of writing about the myths of homework and the research behind it.  Articles like these made me wonder, "How many parents are feeling the same frustration?"  I know as a parent, I did.  I saw my own children reading and loving it, but every Monday morning (the day their "reading whales" were due) we were frantically stacking books in piles and trying to fill in their reading logs.  Trouble was, they WERE reading, not because they had to, but because they wanted.  Trouble was, they had to PROVE it!  As a parent, I started questioning the actual amount of reading my child was doing in school.  That's what their teacher was doing to me, right?
     Now, don't get me wrong.  Do I think reading at home is important?  Absolutely!  But it has to be individualized and worth a student's time!
     However, his year I've just decided to let my students read.  I don't need them to spend time filling in a reading log to prove it.  I trust that they are reading.  Reading homework is simple.  
It's time to repent!  And reconsider...


  1. Patrick, what a lovely post. My thinking about reading homework has also changed over the years as I've evolved as a teacher. I know kids are reading because I talk to them about what they've read, and I ask them to keep a list of titles they read over the school year, not to check up on them, but rather so they look back and feel a sense of accomplishment. I do the same thing each year when I look back at my list of books read.

  2. Patrick,
    You've said everything so well. I love your thoughts on reading at home to include technology that kids would be interested in and your How do I know? section is valuable evidence to support your beliefs. Thanks for sharing and saying it so well.

  3. I thank you for this post. It says so beautifully what I have been trying to express to colleagues and students for years. If we really feel reading is important, we need to foster a love of it, not make it into a chore. Reading changes people; if students are doing it, and we know our students, we will know they are reading.

  4. Loved the description of the "reading whales". My daughter is only in Kindergarten, but this post will be one that I will remember as she moves through school. I hope my daughter has a teacher like you that recognizes what reading is all about.

    Thanks for the post!

  5. I'm with you, Patrick. There are some great ways to kill the joy of reading -- the least of which are the dreaded reading log and non-meaningful reading experiences.

    Stop by and say hi at - it's been forever since I worked at PEBC and saw you around. :)

    Congrats on all your success.

  6. I'm not sure whether to say "hear hear", or just let rip with a resounding "Hallelujah!" so I will confine myself to agreeing wholeheartedly.

  7. Amen, Patrick! I have been on both sides of the reading homework dilemma as a parent and a teacher. I think you are on the right track...readers need to be nurtured so they can bloom! Thanks for sharing!

  8. Wow, wow, wow! Great stuff (as always!) Patrick. I'm sharing this with our teachers right now.

  9. I repented this year, too, with one slight change. At first conference time, I showed parents and kids (most came along) the child's DRA score and asked the parent if they wanted/would support nightly "reading homework" (20-30 minutes of reading and 3 sentences of writing). About half of the parents opted in. My sense is that those are families where reading is not part of the regular family routine. They needed the "assignment" to make sure their child read each night. The rest knew that their child already read 20+ minutes each day, so the assignment would be redundant.

    Here's the fun part -- I "grade" this homework by giving them a little sticker for each night they read. When they get 10 stickers, they get to choose a prize from my "dorky prize" box. VERY low stress/time output on my part.

    And if I measure the outcome of this "homework" by the growth of the readers, I'd say that for about 6 of the 12 who do it, I have seen them grow in leaps and bounds as readers this year. For the other 6, it's just homework and they are fairly hit-and-miss about doing it. Luckily, they get a strong dose of reading every day in the classroom!

  10. This is great! Wonderful ideas and information. Thanks for this.

    Sarah Allen
    (my creative writing blog)

  11. Patrick, It's amazing to see a lovely post. This is a wonderful opinion. The things mentioned are unanimous and needs to be appreciated by everyone.