Throw Out Study Guides: Bring in Active Reading Inventories!

I get it. It’s hard to throw out the old and bring in the new. You completed study guides. I completed study guides. And I am sure when my daughter gets older, she too, will complete study guides. They are a staple of the English class – so it MUST be adhered to. Right? 

I say throw them out! (And it’s at this moment that we queue angry English teachers across the globe). But hear me out first… Do you enjoy completing study guides while you read? Do you enjoy getting the same answers from student to student? Unless you plan on teaching students HOW to use Google search and FIND the answers they are seeking- then what is the point?

During my last two years teaching HS English, at the same time I gamified/blended/personalized my classroom, and sought ways to (re)engage students – I decided to do away with reading study guides. I got tired of getting the same responses from every student in my class. I got tired of the “busy work” students called it. I got tired of literally watching students Google the questions on my study guide before my eyes- hoping to find the answer online. I got tired of taking the “fun” out of the reading.  I questioned my own practice and what, exactly, it was I was trying to accomplish. Was it important to me that students had “book knowledge” or could remember the color of Holden’s hunting hat?

I wanted my students to enjoy reading. I wanted to read WITH them whenever the opportunity struck itself. It enlightened students to see how reading one novel can change from person to person or time to time, and how each of use can interpret the same text in a multitude of ways. To me, (re)engaging students in the reading became more about the “how” and less about the “what”.” As long as they would find it purposefully engaging hopefully, they would make connections to it that would bring the text to life for them.

So in came the active reading inventory. I made it a point to read at least the opening chapters of every book we read in my class. HS English teachers need to do this more often. This afforded me an opportunity to clarify, to “set-the-stage”, and to guide where it was we were going. I wanted them to dabble in the opening lines with me, and then pull them apart to look closely under its skin, and debate, share, and connect. Then, I wanted my students to CHOOSE their adventure during the text.  There is no right way to read. How they got to the end was on them. They just had to prove something to me. Something they found interesting, connected to, or valued.

So my students completed a “Project Proposal” of sorts- via Google Forms. They had to write a detailed plan as to what active reading would take place during the reading of the text. They had to give me a 1) purpose, a 2) method of how they will achieve and 3) a final product. They had to document the experience of their reading and whatever it is that they did or wrote about it. Whatever “tool” they used they explained why or how. What did this do?

  1. It personalized the reading to each students’ reading style
  2. It made it engaging
  3. It personalized the reading to each text
  4. It made it purposeful
  5. It utilized ed tech
  6. It hit on teaching “skills” over content
  7. It was measurable

Once my students completed the “Project Proposal” I usually conferenced/met with them prior, to discuss what it was that they were going to actively do while they read. What came about was astounding. During our reading of Krakauer’s Into the Wild I had students:

  • track the physical AND psychological journey of Chris McCandless.
  • create an understanding of how Krakauer presents real-life stories.
  • create a dictionary of “Krakauer speak/vocabulary” to assist future students in the reading of Into the Wild.
  • highlight key passages and quotes that encompassed the important points if the text.
  • track and discuss Chris’ relationship with his family.
  • make text-to-text, text-to-self, and text-to-world connections to various things that happened in the text.

The list goes on. These were topics that were chosen by the students themselves. That they found important. That they wanted to engage with. At the end, my students had to submit all of their work, findings, and products. Want was compiled was a “portfolio” for each individual text we read in class. What was compiled was a class of students who found something to get them to open the book just a little longer. To connect with it. To make it their own. And that’s good enough for me.

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One thought on “Throw Out Study Guides: Bring in Active Reading Inventories!

  1. Pingback: Inquiring Minds Want to Know… – Ed Tech Foray

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