Encouraging young people to read independently should be job #1 of any educator. As a social studies teacher specifically, I realize that there is an extremely strong correlation between strong literacy skills and strong overall classroom performance.

Our school takes part in the Accelerated Reader program to monitor and foster student literacy growth. It’s an awesome program that has statistically improved our students’ reading ability. Yet, the most difficult part… is getting struggling readers to start a book.

Two years ago, the first time that I taught an advisory class I had no idea how to approach it. I modled independent reading with my students by silently reading along with them. Skilled readers, read. Struggling readers, tried to hide their deficiencies by misbehaving. Starting this school year, I wanted to employ strategies that would lesson the cognitive load of reading novels and non-fiction stories for my students so that they could engage with reading in a less threatening way.

I was able to leverage two web resources in particular that I want to share with you:

Project Gutenberg (PG) is a volunteer effort to digitize and archive cultural works, to "encourage the creation and distribution of eBooks".[2] It was founded in 1971 by Michael S. Hart and is the oldest digital library.[3] Most of the items in its collection are the full texts of public domain books. The project tries to make these as free as possible, in long-lasting, open formats that can be used on almost any computer. As of March 2013, Project Gutenberg claimed over 42,000 items in its collection. -Wikipedia

Project Gutenberg (PG) is a volunteer effort to digitize and archive cultural works, to “encourage the creation and distribution of eBooks”.[2] It was founded in 1971 by Michael S. Hart and is the oldest digital library.[3] Most of the items in its collection are the full texts of public domain books. The project tries to make these as free as possible, in long-lasting, open formats that can be used on almost any computer. As of March 2013, Project Gutenberg claimed over 42,000 items in its collection. –Wikipedia

librivox

LibriVox is a website that has a large collection of audiobooks that have been created by a large amateur community of vocal recording artists. All the books are books that are in the public domain (much like Project Gutenberg).

Used in conjunction with one another, these two tools help me and my students in three fantastic ways:

  1. They are free
  2. They have vast collections
  3. Used together, they create a visual/audio conglomerate that let students passively follow along. For students with low literacy skills, this helps ween them on to individual reading and takes away the dreaded starting motivation.

What I’ve done, is split my classroom into two.

The back of the room we call “Independence Hall” (Social studies teachers make social studies puns ;). To sit in this section, a student must have their own personal book (borrowed from me, the library, or brought from home), and they quietly read for the duration of our time together.

The front of the room was originally called the group reading section, but my students quickly renamed it the “LibriVox” section after the vocal tags that are placed at the start and conclusion of every librivox audiobook recording. Here we read kindle versions of Project Gutenberg ebooks and listen to their audiobook counterparts via LibriVox. I simply open the ebook on my hub/smartboard, play the audiobook over the overhead mounted speakers in my room, and give one of the students a remote that will let them change the page when the time is right.

Throughout the course of the year, we have read several books together in this manner. I started off with about half of my 22 students reading in the group format, but as the year has progressed most of these students have elected to move to independence hall… making return visits when the group book is particularly interesting to them. In the end, that’s the goal… get them the lift they need to help them get engulfed the the magic of reading.

If you want to check out the specific books I’ve chosen for my 7th graders this year, click the image below to visit our advisory reading page.

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