Thursday, November 02, 2006

Just another day of discussion?

Today with my sophomores, I did a little something different. Like many English teachers out there, I sensed that some of those showing up to my class everyday were not keeping up with the assigned reading. Can you imagine that? We've been reading a series of short stories, and it should be noted that this is a 10th grade completely heterogenously-grouped class. Anyway, before starting the preparation-discussion portion of class, I decided last minute to give a little reading check quiz to smoke the non-readers out. It's amazing how an occassional quiz like that - even only a quick four plot-based questions - can inject a bit of anxiety into the room.

After the quiz, I handed everyone a note-taking sheet that asked them to jot down significant quotes, point out connections to other stories, and pose questions about the text - standard fare as part of my Literature Circle instructional model. As they did that, I circulated through the room and checked their Post-it notes on the stories. But this time, armed with the quiz, I approached a few kids who had obviously not read. And I didn't bother checking their Post-its because they knew they didn't read, and if they had them, they'd obviously be faked.

Instead, I offered the non-readers an option. They couldn't take part in the conversation with their peers, but to earn partial credit for the day, they could answer three of the questions at the end of the stories in the textbook. They shrugged and started to read. The rest of the class I put in their Literature Circles discussion groups.

It got me thinking about about what had happened. Was it right to give those kids who didn't read a second chance for some credit? What kind of message did it send to those who didn't read? Maybe some are figuring they can come to class, read a little, answer a few questions, and shuffle off to their next class. However, the small-group model of discussion seems to genuinely appeal to the students, especially those capable and willing to be more independent. They get to hear each other's opinions, and I stay out of the equation for the most part. With each non-reader, I had a conversation about them being prepared for the discussion and how much more valuable they are contributing to a group. I thought about keeping a tally of how often they come prepared, or participate in a group. Such record-keeping could help me quantify a class participation grade. How about the kids who did read? Are some thinking that they'd rather be reading alone, answering questions. I tend to think not, considering adolescents are such social beasts.