5 Important Reasons to Ditch Timers
For years I assigned nightly reading as homework for my students. The intention was good - research proves that the more a child reads, the more successful he will be in school and in other areas of life. However, my methods behind the assignment were poor. Like many teachers, my reading log required students to read "x" number of minutes each night and needed to be signed by an adult before returning to school at the end of the week.
After a couple of years of doing it this way, I became discouraged. Students weren't completing the assignment correctly, notes had to go home when logs were returned unsigned, students "fudged" their work over and over again, etc. It became painfully clear that my well intended assignment wasn't getting its intended results.
I decided that the timers and parent signature lines needed to go. And here's why:
Timers were killing my students’ love of reading.
When they were required to read for 20 minutes, the focus was on a clock, not a book. I listened to parents tell heartbreaking stories of children who would randomly read from books in order to meet their minutes, abandon books when the timer would ring, or start a new book in order to fill time only to never pick it up again.
Reading became a chore.
Students didn't understand the importance of the assignment, but instead viewed it as a chore. It became a very rigid and structured requirement rather than something they might choose to do for themselves.
It limited their reading.
After killing their love of reading and becoming a chore, students chose to do just the bare minimum required. When the timer went off, books were shut. I rarely saw a log were students read for more than the required 20 minutes per night.
Responsibility didn’t end with the student.
Every week I would hear countless stories of how students “didn’t get to” complete their logs because their parents weren’t home or they couldn’t turn them in because their “parents forgot to sign.” I found that students were holding their parents responsible for their work rather than assuming it for themselves.
Parents will love you.
Let’s face it – life is busy. After working a full-time job – or two – the last thing parents want is to start WWIII with their children at night over a homework assignment. Requiring parents to sit by their children with a timer turns them into a boss or an overseer, not a partner in developing literacy. That’s not what we want – teachers or parents.
So – it was time for a complete overhaul.
At the beginning of the year, I began teaching the importance of sustained independent reading and we practiced building our reading stamina together as a class. In time I proved to students that it was possible to read in excess of 20 minutes without being bored or wanting to give up.
Students also learned about the responsibility of trust. I began trusting them with small choices in the classroom such as their seat, their partner, or their work in a center until they were ready for bigger choices. After several weeks of building stamina and trust with each other, it was time for the reading log to go home.
In addition to removing the timers and signature line, I also added a much needed reflection and response piece. I provided students with options in how they responded and included 20 different choices – 10 questions that are appropriate for fiction texts and 10 for nonfiction. In addition to giving students choice, I was able to see if they were able to select appropriate responses, answer them fully, while practicing necessary skills.
The year that I implemented the new log, I saw drastic results. Much less fibbing, much more authentic responses, and even better - I saw transfer of practiced skills in their classwork. Win, win for everyone.
If you're looking to try something new, you can find my reading log here. There are a couple of versions included to reach a variety of readers.
Looking for more ideas, tips, and resources for your ELA block? Visit my English Language Arts Pinterest board.
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