Most students hate required reading. Hacking Literacy author Gerard Dawson explains how to improve this issue with the 80/20 Analysis in the Hack Learning Podcast episode above.
Here are the highlights:
The Problem: Required Reading is a Drag
Many literacy teachers face a conundrum: They are handed a stack of dusty novels or an aging anthology and told to teach the texts by June.
These texts are often inaccessible to students.
Why are required texts often so inaccessible? These texts are often not modern. They may occur in a different historical, geographical, or cultural setting than the setting of your classroom.
They are often written at a reading level that may far exceed that of your students, and the characters’ experiences may not immediately appear relevant to your students’ lives.
Consider the text my (Gerard's) current sophomore students are reading: Arthur Miller’s seminal drama, The Crucible.
This play was written in the 1950s but set in the 1690s. The characters speak in an often-confusing syntax. The characters live in an isolated, super-religious community, with few immediate parallels to my students’ lives. And it is written as a play, which students are less familiar with reading than a novel.
With all that working against us, we can still make the required texts work for our students.
But it takes a hack.
The Hack: Use 80/20 Analysis
This style of thinking, which I first encountered in Tim Ferris’s best-selling The 4-Hour Work Week, involves examining how we spend our time to determine the areas of our life that lead to the best results and those that lead to the biggest headaches.
In this case of teaching required texts, it means to stop thinking of the required text as a massive log that must be cut with a handsaw, and instead, a perfect piece of lumber that you can craft into whatever you need it to be.
In other words, abandon the notion of just getting through the book. Cut away all that’s unnecessary in your teaching of required texts. You’ll be left with:
For many students, reading required texts means reading at or above the upper end of their ability, forcing them through 200 pages of a novel far above their reading level? That will lead to disengagement, frustration, and students taking shortcuts to “beat” your assessments.
But by providing good teaching and proper support, we can help students benefit from reading and studying the essential parts of a required text.
These short, focused bursts of rigorous reading, when supplemented with relevant nonfiction reading and student-appropriate independent reading, will stretch students’ literacy skills more than the bored-to-death approach that is typical with required reading.
The curriculum requires the whole text. This may be true, but does that mean students must slog through every chapter? Can the class read, analyze, and discuss the essential excerpts together while students listen to, watch, or even read summaries of the less important parts?
Students need the experience of reading a rigorous text. This hack does not suggest abandoning whole class texts altogether (though in some situations, that may be appropriate). Instead, choose the best parts of the text to challenge your students.
When you carefully examine 1-2 pages of a novel, instead of slogging through a close reading of all 200 pages, students will be more focused and willing to push themselves into the deeper reading required by a challenging text.
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