A New Year’s Reading Party

Notes from the Classroom

dress upHaving a son in elementary school has really been eye opening. My first grader seems to always be partying for something at his school: Spirit Days, Game Days, Thursdays. And you know what? That kid loves school.

Sometimes at the high school level we focus so much on content, I think, that we squeeze all the fun out of school. Don’t get me wrong—my students work really hard. So hard, in fact, that I’ve likened them to
water buffalos in the past. But they’re still kids, and they like to have fun. Learning can and should be fun sometimes.

So, as we were nearing the end of the semester, I decided we needed to have a reading party. It would have a New Year’s Eve theme. We could set Reading Resolutions for the new year.

It started as a gimmicky way to make a reading day a little more special. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it had the potential to be a powerful day for my students’ lives as readers.

I enlisted the help of our school librarian, and our party plan started to take shape. Twenty minutes of independent reading at the beginning of the hour—more than the 10 minutes of independent reading we do every day. At the 20-minute mark, we’d drop the ball (a YouTube video of the Times Square Ball Drop), and then the party would start. We’d have three stations for about 10 minutes each.

Station One: Your TBR (to-be-read) List

listOur librarian led the students in a discussion about books they want to read. Between the books they already wanted to read and some suggestions from our librarian, each class was able to generate a huge TBR list.

→Why is this a key activity for readers? Reading guru Donalyn Miller explains best in her book Reading in the Wild:Improving students’ ability to choose their own books begins with lots of positive reading experiences and frequent opportunities to preview, share and discuss books. Making this list as a group, with the help of our librarian, was a reminder to my students that they can and should get recommendations from their peers. AND there is a pretty useful adult right in our building—the librarian!—who can help them track those books down.

Station Two: Snacks and Visitors

Kids ate and talked with visiting teachers about their favorite books. This required a little planning. Prior to the party, I asked the students whom I should invite. Some teachers couldn’t make it, but they sent lists of book recommendations, which we posted on the wall. Our superintendent even sent a video recommendation!

→Why is this a key activity for readers? Students need to see adult readers in their lives. Some of my science-y kids, for instance, were interested to hear a popular Physics teacher talk about reading Unwind, by Neal Shusterman. In their heads, he curls up with Physics textbooks every night. But seeing their non-English teacher as a reading role model is key. These kinds of experiences help students commit to lifelong reading.

Station Three: Reading Resolutions

On small whiteboards, students wrote resolutions for the new year of reading. Then they dressed up with silly props for a picture. Most resolutions fell into three categories:

  • Quantity: Many students made goals to increase their reading outside school. I encouraged them to make that commitment specific, and I’ll follow up with those kids to help them hold themselves accountable.
  • Purpose: Some made resolutions about reading more for fun. I’ll be encouraging those students to ask for recommendations and to try lots of different genres.
  • ​​Quality: Some made resolutions to expand the type of reading they do. I’ll work with those students to find a new favorite genre.

whiteboardsThis last station was key for the students. Research proves that clear goals lead to higher achievement and increased motivation.

But clear goals are key for me, too. Now I have pretty clear marching orders for our second semester. I know which kids need which kinds of nudges (or shoves!) from me. I will print the pictures of students holding their resolutions, and I’ll post them in the classroom along with their TBR lists, in order to serve as inspiration all spring.

Not all my kids made resolutions or had their pictures taken. Unfortunately (or fortunately) for them, that short list of students is now a high priority for me. I know who my most resistant readers are, and I know who needs the most encouragement from me.

The day was incredibly beneficial. We took time to read. We celebrated good books. We continued building a supportive, engaged reading community.

But, we also had a lot of fun. That’s important, too.

Hattie profileHattie Maguire is an English teacher and Content Area Leader at Novi High School. She is spending her fifteenth year in the classroom teaching AP English Language and Composition and English 10. She is a National Board Certified Teacher who earned her BS in English and MA in Curriculum and Teaching from Michigan State University.