Enhanced English Teacher

A blog about using technology in an English classroom

Why Won’t You Read?

April 13, 2009 by Tara Seale · 13 Comments · class assignments, English Resources, Nings, To Kill a Mockingbird, Web 2.0

I teach two regular 9th grade English classes.  I have some smart students who could be in Pre-AP classes if they pushed themselves, but that is the problem, lack of motivation.
We recently had a three day weekend for Easter.  I assigned two chapters in To Kill a Mockingbird (TKAM) over the long weekend.  My students know that I like to begin class with a short pop quiz just to make sure they read, but most of the class decided not to read anyway.
Unfortunately, I pulled a back muscle over the weekend, so I was not at school.  Instead I was lounging in bed, taking Doans, and using a heating pad.  The quiz went on as planned because I had already created the quiz in Google Forms and e-mailed it to my 2nd and 3rd block students.  I decided to check and see how the students did on the quiz from home.  Considering I was in pain and not exactly myself, this was probably not a good idea.

The quiz was one simple question about Chapter 10, the second of the two chapters my students were suppose to read.  See a screenshot of the quiz below.

If you have not read TKAM, Atticus shoots a rabid dog in this chapter, and his children find out that his nickname is One-shot Finch.  Not bad for a feeble old man.

Some of the answers I received:

Atticus does something that Scout didn’t think he could do.

Scout thought that Atticus was old and old people are always tired, but Atticus proved to them that he was never too tired to play a little game of keep away with them.

Scout thought her dad was a very old and boring person.  He did not do anything fun.  He just read and stayed at home, but he was a very good player at checkers.

I was not happy that it appeared a majority of my students did not complete the reading assignment.  I immediately shot off an e-mail to my students, and I believe I strained my back a little more as I beat on the keys.

I am so frustrated with you guys.
I can tell that the majority of you did not read the assigned reading.  Maybe I should make this quiz worth 100 points.  Would you read then?
Mrs. Seale

Some of the responses to my e-mail.

If you make it worth 100 points, I will start reading.

Mrs. Seale… I’m very sorry for frustrating you.  I’m not having a very good day either, and I promise I’ll read the rest of the book.

My favorite came from a student who is not passing my class anyway.

Yes, I would.

Do I really need to make pop quizzes worth 100 points to get my students to read?
I decided to e-mail 3rd block as well.  I explained what happened to my 2nd block students.  After several 3rd block students admitted to not completing the reading, I further expressed my frustrations in another e-mail.

Why not read it because it is an American classic?  Do you really want to grow up and NOT be considered well-read?  Do you really want to be left out of intellectual conversations because you have not developed a reading habit that engages and expands your mind?  Is it really that inconvenient to read a chapter or two each night?

And still, their main concern was whether I planned to count the quiz for 100 points or 10 points.

So, my question is this…. is it that important that my students read every chapter of TKAM by the assigned day?

I think it is.  Even if the student is not a born lover of books, a student still has a responsibility to come to class prepared.  Although I do use many Web 2.0 tools to spice up our lessons, we are currently contributing our thoughts about TKAM on a class Ning, the Ning is just a tool.  The real learning occurs when the student picks through the passages and studies the arrangement of each word that Harper Lee uses to effectively communicate.  Without learning how to read closely, my students will not understand how to use words to write persuasively or informatively or even understand when someone is using words to persuade or manipulate them.   It is imperative that my students study the art of writing through reading great writers.

That is the real power that I want to give them, and it starts with To Kill a Mockingbird.

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13 Comments so far ↓

  • Tammy Gillmore

    Google Forms…I need to play with that!

    TKAM…I agree…a must read! Just so much in that novel.

    I hope you are soon feeling better!

  • Tara Seale

    @Tammy I like using Google forms to create quizzes. The only draw back is that students won’t know if they got the question right or not which frustrates them. They have to wait until I go over the quiz. I usually use it as a quick and easy quiz as a homework check. All of the submitted answers are placed into a spreadsheet. I usually make the font bigger, and then I print it out to grade later.
    I e-mail my students the website URL of the live form when I send out a quiz. Just make sure you put a name box. Sometimes I find it helpful to put the name last for grading purposes.

  • Allison

    As your student I know that you get angry when we don’t read the books we are supposed to. I would love to read the books you assign to us but its hard to read books that I am forced to read. I like to read books I can relate to and that teach me how to deal with my problems.

  • Tara Seale

    @ Allison Good point! Maybe teachers should take into account a student’s opinion in picking books. Remember this topic. You will have to write about your own personal education soon and this could be your angle.
    Mrs. Seale

  • christa20

    Kids these days….. :)
    I believe in getting an education, and yes, TKAM is kind of boring, but I loved it because it was one of the greatest books in history. I wish kids were not so ” let’s read a book I WANT to read, not what has made English literature today. Kids shouldn’t need to make a quiz 10, 20, 100 points in order to read! What has this world come to?!
    Keep going Mrs. Seale! You are doing a great job!

  • Tara Seale

    @Christa Thank you Christa. As a senior, I guess you can refer to 9th graders as “kids these days…” :)
    I am glad you enjoyed TKAM when you read it in 9th grade. I think my class will appreciate the value of the novel by the time we finish it.

  • christa20

    @Tara Seale. It seems kind of weird to call them “kids”, but it is definitely true. I hope they appreciate the novel, because I did. And what’s weird is I didn’t study TKAM until my sophmore year! But I hope all goes good with these “kids” :)

  • tilgunas

    This whole exchange of ideas is amazing…it’s wonderful you’re kids are chipping in with ideas and opinions besides the rest of us old teachers. I wish I had the answer. I think you’re doing the right thing… what else can you do but keep on them and have conversations about it and keep pushing your students for their own good. I arrived at your blog via the comment you left on The English Teacher’s Companion !

  • Tara Seale

    @tilgunas Thank you for your encouragement. I plan to keep pushing my students, but it is frustrating when I realize the value of introducing great text into their lives, but they do not. I realize it is mostly a maturity issue, and they will eventually come to appreciate what I am trying to accomplish. Although there are those magic moments in class when they get it and they value it, and I get to jump around enthusiastically and think that this is why I am a teacher.
    I visited your great blog. I have subscribed in Google Reader, so I am glad you left a comment so that I could find you!

  • Susanne Nobles

    I looked on your ning, and I like how you are using Malcolm X as evidence for why students should care about reading. Powerful connection.

  • Tara Seale

    Thanks Susanne for looking around. Using Malcolm X was powerful for the students, I think. If he was willing to put out that much effort to get an education that they are taking for granted, the least they can do is use their time wisely in the classroom. I keep telling them they will regret it later if they don’t… hope they believe me.
    Thanks again for commenting.

  • Suzanne Rogers

    I have found that it is important to connect the students to a text . Meaning that it is helpful to see how their own lives are like the characters lives. Atticus is a single father…..many students are raised by single parents or grandparents. Sibling relationships, and crazy neighbors are other ideas that resonate. Marigolds is a short story that relates to the crazy neighbor. I really like to show the importance of tolerance….certainly you could pair Letter from Birmingham Jail with this idea. Non fiction texts could also include statistics about Hate crimes.

  • Tara Seale

    Suzanne,
    That you for your ideas. I probably need to do a better job connecting the students to the text to keep them interested in reading TKAM. I appreciate your comments!

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