Lately I’ve been teaching Provincial Level English (the Grade 12 equivalent), which has its own challenges but is an entirely different animal than Adult Literacy Fundamental Level English (ALFE). As I prepare to teach ALFE in the fall, I’ve been thinking about different strategies to try this time around. I implemented some good strategies last time I taught, but what can I do better? What can I try that is more effective?
One issue I’m contemplating is how to get students used to reading regularly and enjoying it! One of the keys is letting them choose their own reading material (aka free reading), but this can be fraught: sometimes students will choose materials that are far above their reading level, and then they get frustrated and bogged down. This leaves a dilemma for me: I don’t want to pick books for my students, but I do want them to experience a sense of success at finishing more than one book.
In her blog, Working in Adult Literacy, Kate Nonesuch shares a great strategy for avoiding some of these potential pitfalls. Kate has only one requirement for free reading–her students have to Read a Book a Week. This helps students avoid the temptation to choose books that are too difficult and thus end up frustrating them:
“Your assignment is to read a book a week,” I said to the next incoming class. Many groans. Shrugging of shoulders. Mutters of “How do you expect us to do that?” and “I never even finished one book yet.”
“Pick a short book,” I said. “Of course, you’re welcome to read a longer book that takes more than a week, and the week you finish it, it can be your book of the week. But in the meantime, your assignment is to finish a book a week, so find a short one to read on the side.”
For students who don’t like to read, and who doubt that any book can be interesting, picking a free reading book is a chore, not a pleasure. They don’t see the point. This assignment gives them some new criteria. Pick one that is easy to read. Get through it. They don’t have to pretend to like it, and if they really pick a short one, the pain doesn’t last very long.
The benefits I saw after I introduced this assignment were many. Students who had never finished a book were able to finish several in a few weeks, which was a big accomplishment. Because of the need to finish it in a week, they picked books well within their comfort zone, and so, sometimes, they enjoyed them. They got used to reading at a comfortable pace.They talked to each other about books, something they rarely did before: “Here, pick this one. It’s not too long, and it’s easy.” And, sometimes: “It’s funny.”
We have a good selection of easy readers at our college library. I think at the beginning of the semester, I’ll
a) have students identify what types of books (mystery, adventure, non-fiction, romance) they enjoy
b) provide some lists of easy readers available in our library, organized by genre
c) take them to the library and get them to find a book they like.
Thanks for a great idea, Kate!