Setting Individual Goals for Readers

Notes from the Classroom Oakland Writing Project

shutterstock_171474932At my school, we had a reading goal of 20 books a year for each student. This goal was further broken down into page goals for grade levels — 400 pages each month for 6th graders, 500 for 7th graders, and 600 for 8th graders.

These goals were set for vertical consistency, and for my first few years, I heeded the expertise of my colleagues, and I did as they did. I kept my own reading log. I meticulously tallied student totals for books and pages. I helped kids choose books.

I realized, though, that page and book goals were not complementary. Many of my students’ favorite 8th-grade texts were 200 pages or less, so they were meeting the book total, but not the page total. Then there were texts that were far more that 200 pages, causing students to not meet the book goal.

There are many ways to finagle this information, but I was left questioning what this school-wide goal actually meant for my readers. Also, I saw my struggling learners feel defeat each month when they didn’t reach the goal, or their reading-level-appropriate books were much shorter than those of their peers. Additionally, I had to grade these reading logs, but the grading wasn’t aligned to any standard, except the arbitrary number that my colleagues set.

I couldn’t keep allowing students to fail in this task, so I changed my approach to reading logs.

Personalized Goals

I used the following strategies with students:

1. Students, working with me, set a personalized monthly reading goal.
2. I provided a variety of logs to choose from — monthly, daily, even yearly.
3. Conferences became about setting good goals and making good book choices.

The first month, we started with just a two-week goal. Students were eager to repeat their previous goals, but as I conferenced with them, many admitted that they didn’t often meet those goals. So I asked, What goal can we reach to be successful? They paused and breathed, and set a goal they thought they could achieve based on prior knowledge and experience.

As a result, more students than ever turned in their logs and reached their goals.

shutterstock_323492543As we continued, for many it was easy to double the two-week goal. For others who struggled to meet their goals, the common theme was that they didn’t make time to read daily. So we used a daily reading log, a visual tool that allowed students to see their amount of reading.

This wasn’t a punishment, though. It was a learning activity. Students who felt they established a good reading routine could switch logs at any time. One student, an avid athlete, found the daily log more beneficial because she could see her progress each day, just like her training. She has kept that log all year.

The types of goals also had to shift for students. Some kids set page goals, some set book goals, and some set goals based on the books they chose to read that month. Others have learned to look at the events going on in their lives, and to adjust their goals accordingly.

You may wonder whether students set purposely low goals. I didn’t see that. Each month as we revisit these goals, students who reach their goals set higher goals for themselves. One young woman started with 250 pages monthly and has successfully increased to 600 pages monthly. She wants to finish the year with 700 pages in a month. She says this is the most she’s ever read because she feels successful and in charge of the success.

Outcomes and Recommendations

This is just my experience with a new reading mindset in my classroom. But consider my students’ responses to an open-ended survey with two prompts. For the first prompt, students explained “what I like best about reading logs in this class.” The second prompt was, “What could be improved on in reading logs in this class?”

Student responses included:

  • “I like setting my own goals because it gives me motivation to read more.”
  • “I love that we can set our own goals because we can accomplish what we think is good. There are no easy or impossible standards.”
  • “Your goal is specific and achievable.”
  • “Goals make me feel accomplished.”
  • “We set honest goals.”

Now I know that these goals for my readers encourage their growth and commitment to reading. I recommend allowing kids to set such personal goals, which increase students’ engagement and lifelong skills.

pic 2Amy Gurney is an 8th grade Language Arts teacher for Bloomfield Hills School District. She was a facilitator for the release of the MAISA units of study. She has studied, researched, and practiced reading and writing workshop through Oakland Schools, The Teacher’s College, and action research projects. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Education at Central Michigan University and a Master’s in Educational Administration at Michigan State University.

Routines, Goals, and Risks for Struggling Readers

AARI Notes from the Classroom Oakland Writing Project

AARI LogoNow that I’ve covered the elements of a strong learning community, I want to delve deeper into some of the practical strategies you might use when building a community in AARI, the Adolescent Accelerated Reading Initiative, which brings students quickly to grade level. The students you have in your class might start out afraid and guarded. And so it’s appropriate to look closer at routines, protocols, goal setting, and risk taking.

Use Routines and Protocols to Promote Community

Consider teaching your students ways in which to talk to each other. I learned the 7 Norms of Collaborative Work from an Oakland Schools consultant (Jen Davidson), and I have used them with teachers and students alike. You could start small, with just the first three, and challenge your students to pause, paraphrase, and pose questions. You will probably have to adjust the language for students and use a “sounds like”/ “looks like” approach to show students how to carry these out.

Use thinking routines. Consider using some of these routines to check in with students each month, or at the start or end of your books.

Set Goals and Share them to Encourage Community

Try posing some questions for students. What has been a struggle for you in reading? What do you hope to get out of this class?

Develop shared goals. These include improving nonfiction reading through inferential questions and text mapping.

Don’t forget to revisit these goals throughout the year. Also, post them in a place that students will look at every day (like their work folder or a bulletin board). If your students are tech savvy, you could have them tweet their goals or use some other platform to share the goals and be held accountable.

Take Risks as Readers and Be a Vulnerable Teacher

Draw on your previous struggles. Youshutterstock_117860992 (2) are probably not a struggling reader. But you probably have struggled with learning something new or tackling something difficult. You could try something new, or bring in your graduate school work and explain what is difficult for you–anything to show that improvement takes time, practice, and strategies to succeed.

Give students an initial success. In order for students to take risks in reading, they have to feel comfortable. For this reason, I often started my teaching in AARI with a much lower-level book, so students can experience some initial success in the class and become experts at the texts’ structures.

Try a new book, one you’ve never taught before. (You can always borrow a set of AARI books from the Oakland Schools Library.) If you are new to AARI, don’t be afraid to tell students the areas in which you are struggling. Being vulnerable goes a long way with struggling readers.

All of these areas, when used to help students soften and open up, lead to strong communities. You are setting up your students for success when they have a group they can turn to for support and growth.

Caroline Thompson

Caroline Thompson (@TeacherThompson) taught middle school ELA for 12 years in Lake Orion before becoming a stay-at-home mom. She supports AARI teachers for Oakland Schools as an independent consultant in the areas of digital media, professional development, and non-fiction resources. Caroline is a Reading and Writing Workshop advocate, a 2008 Oakland Writing Project Teacher Consultant, and a 2009 Oakland County Outstanding Teacher of the Year Nominee. She lives in Berkley with her husband and their 2 year old daughter.

Workshop: To Go Digital…or Not?

Literacy & Technology Notes from the Classroom Oakland Writing Project

shutterstock_211771828At the end of the year, teachers must officially reflect on their teaching and the impact that it had on kids. Now, this is not to say that teachers don’t reflect throughout the year and observe the impact they have on their students, but it is hard to avoid this question at the end of the year. So, I took out my neatly labeled evaluation folder and looked at my goals. My district requires that I write 3 goals that align with curriculum standards, but also with our district goals. We write these in the SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, timely) goal format. While, I’m a methodical and organized person, I realized quickly that my projected outcomes turned out very differently than I expected. Additionally, my actual student outcomes produced additional questions I need to consider.

Knowing the importance of our district’s technology goal and my own desire to incorporate technology into my teaching practice, I set a goal to create digital Reading/Writing notebooks. In an earlier post, I wrote about my school introducing 1:1 iPads as part of the 1:world project . My plan, subsidized by a small district grant, was to offer students the same notebook experience we used in a workshop classroom, but in a digital format. I researched and realized that Evernote had a sister app that uses styluses for writing rather than a keyboard. With the purchase of Evernote Premium, I could also share out whole notebooks with users, like my students. I thought that this would be a good option for kids.

shutterstock_196017134Still, this brings up an issue I’m still pondering: I believe that in order to consider work truly digital it must be transformed technology–not able to be created without technology. Clearly, we were already doing this notebook work before technology, so how did this digital version help to accomplish my goal? My students and I quickly realized that styluses leave many things to be desired, and we knew that simply putting this work in an online notebook versus a regular notebook wasn’t enhancing the writing process so much. So, I was on my way to creating a digital reading/writing notebook as my goal stated, but at this point, I had to alter the the attainable part of this goal.

As an open-minded and reflective educator, I realized we needed to shift our use of this wonderful tool. As we did this work, I had paper/pencil versions of assignments, notebook tape-ins, examples, etc. available for students to use if they chose to, but I also had opportunities for digital versions, such as an electronic peer review or generating maps. I have to admit that this dual opportunity was more for my benefit in case the digital version didn’t work (if students were unable to load a file or to work collaboratively).

Along with this shift and my first questions, I set a second goal to use a digital notebook to enhance collaborative feedback between students and between teacher and students. By setting this additional goal, there was now a purpose for the online work that could professionally enhance my practice and the reading and writing of my kids. My students and I quickly transferred to all digital reading and writing work. It was user-friendly, and I thought it was important for students to learn how to use technology in a positive way and in a way that could grow their reading and writing skills.

shutterstock_186259448Then, I found myself with a day of digital mishaps that opened the opportunity for students to choose how they organized and crafted their work. I punted quickly with paper copies of the work or the choice for students to create their own page of notes and examples rather than using my digital versions. Students made their choices, and we moved forward with learning for the day. The next day, with all technology working, a student inquired if I had any paper copies like yesterday. This simple question gave me pause. I was embarrassed. I used to be so proud of the choices I provided the students in my classroom, and even more proud when they found their niche and created something that was special to them. I also used to cherish the beauty and variety that students brought to their notebooks – they had my lesson labels and tape-in notes, but they had doodles that added beauty to their pages and colors that shone through the typed notes, as well as messy, but purposeful writing. Now, the beautiful handwriting scripts are gone as are the doodles in the page margins. Their work is still unique in their content and their work is still special to who they are as writers, but it looks very uniform. When I paused, I realized that I also missed my colorful handwritten pages and the little anecdotes from kids that I would add. I got so caught up in using the technology because it was my goal that I forgot about being the teacher that I was.

Admittedly, I couldn’t say that the shift was all bad. I also had to stop and consider if any of the digital work was good for kids, and I realized some significant outcomes.

  • Students received more direct, consistent feedback from me than they had in the past.
  • Students had a record of the feedback notes rather than just verbal notes they had to remember.
  • I also realized that they now had opportunities to read the work of students who weren’t in their class. With shared folders on Google Drive, students could see, read, and comment across class sections.
  • I was also able to offer more short, consistent feedback pieces between students, which students even began requesting.
  • Also, students were able to easily research online.
  • And they increased their audience beyond our school classroom due to online publishing opportunities.

shutterstock_31745713As I reflect at the end of the year, I recall what a mentor said to me–that with older students like mine, I could let them choose. She suggested a short research project where kids choose a way to do their writing work as I offer them options and teach about how writing in different genres requires different tools. I know now that my projected outcomes differed from my goal statements because we had to find the right tools for our needs. While I did accomplish my goal – incorporating a digital reading/writing notebook into students’ practice, I am left with my second question: what is a workshop teacher to do without paper notebooks? And I am still thinking about how digital work can enhance the reading/writing workshop in my classroom.

pic 2Amy Gurney is an 8th grade Language Arts teacher for Bloomfield Hills School District. She was a facilitator for the release of the MAISA units of study. She has studied, researched, and practiced reading and writing workshop through Oakland Schools, The Teacher’s College, and action research projects. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Education at Central Michigan University and a Master’s in Educational Administration at Michigan State University.