Reading has always been the forgotten younger cousin in flipped learning; there are more tangible ways of doing flipped grammar, writing, and vocabulary instruction, but reading is much more difficult to conceptualise and implement. There are a lot of flipped educators who see the "traditional" English model, where students read at home and discuss in class, but that just never sat right with me. It doesn't move the responsibility from teacher to student - in fact, it almost demands a teacher-centred classroom, which is the exact opposite goal we have in our flipped classroom.
- Reading books the way you do in school kills the joy of the story
- Reading homework is always left for the end, so it's hard to focus on it
- Reading with a purpose becomes "treasure hunting for symbols" where they are so focused on finding Every Little Detail the teacher tells them to that they lose the flow of the story and start to lose interest
- Reading quizzes focus on tiny details and just become ways to lose points
- Class discussions about symbols, themes and interpretation assume that whatever the teacher says is "right" and any other answer is "wrong"
- Chapters are assigned so that there are multiple chapters due every night, regardless of how much homework they have, sports or family schedules, etc.
Now, those are mostly pretty valid reasons to struggle with reading. So instead of trying to come up with ways of flipping reading on our own, we built an Explore-Flip-Apply unit on why and how we read. Here's what we're doing in class. We'll update when the first novel unit is finished to see if students are understanding, enjoying and critically analysing literature in a deeper way.
So, with the guiding questions as how and why we read, here's what we've spent the last week doing in 11th-12th grade American Literature 2.
- Day 1: Class discussion - What books have been memorable for you? What books have you loved or hated? Why should we read literature in English class? What's the purpose of reading for class?
- Days 2-3: Students set up technology for the semester. Then, they worked on two major things: the reading timeline and 5 Books That Changed My Life. First, they read this article and then wrote their own list in the same style. Here's one that I wrote as a model.
- Day 4: Students played Things That Suck, a game from EdCamp. I gave them topic statements and they had to move to either the "it sucks" side or the "it's awesome" side. Here's a video of my 4th period class playing Things That Suck. Special thanks to Bill Selak for sharing his presentation with me.
- Day 4: we watched two videos by Crash Course Literature: How and Why We Read and Catcher In the Rye. Then we discussed what he does in those videos that helped us enjoy Catcher more (most of my students hated it the first time around, but really loved his presentation of it).
- Day 5 (block day): we looked over the My History as a Reader document to find the reasons why we loved the books we loved. We decided on five main categories: Entertainment, Escape, Empathy, Education and Equality (Equality being the fact that any reader has the same opportunity to talk about the Big Important Ideas). Then we wrote which categories fit each of our five "life-changing" books. Finally, we started a new document called "How We Read Novels" and we answered these questions:
- Given that we “have to” read at least two novels that are on the book list, how do we make those novels hit all of the 5 E’s (escape, entertainment, equality, empathy and education)?
- How should we read books - like, how is reading assigned? Do you read at home? Do we read it all in class? Do we read half or all of the novel before having an analytical discussion? What kind of “educational” reading will keep you enjoying the book and not “treasure hunting for symbols”?
- What happens when you aren’t entertained by the book? Assuming we can’t change books, how do we deal with that? Can people be reading different books at the same time? how would that work?
- What are the Big Ideas About Life you’re most interested in talking about? Growing up? Surviving pain? the “American Dream”? How to fit in or feel like you do? What it means to be human? What is love? How can I know what to do with my life? How do I not kill my parents/siblings?
The next step is to actually set out a plan for the first unit, Death of a Salesman, and then set it in motion. I will ask them what things they need from me, what they will commit to doing, and how we will know if it's working.
And if it doesn't work, we'll try something else. The key is that my students are now responsible for every detail, and they have enough schema to go beyond "I hated that book" and figure out what we could do differently to change the experience of reading. They don't have to like all the books they read. But I think this might make a huge difference.