When I first started teaching in 2002, a wonderful colleague introduced me to Reading Contracts. These contracts usually involved reading two books per month and completing some type of assessment after the reading was finished. The beauty of these contracts was that the books were chosen by the students and the contract was signed by the parents. Everyone was on the same page and there was the element of CHOICE in reading. The contracts were successful in not only getting students to read outside their comfort zone (often each month was devoted to a separate genre), but it got my sixth graders to read more than they had ever read in the past. Not only were they reading the two books on the contract, but they were reading more books on top of that. Reading begets more reading, afterall.
As the years have gone by, my reading contracts have evolved into literacy contracts. Because of the limited amount of time intermediate and middle school teachers have to teach Language Arts, I’ve adapted my contracts to provide the most bang for my buck. I’ve not only incorporated reading books (typically one book group book and one nonfiction book), but I’ve also incorporated writing about the reading the students are doing and technology. These contracts change each year, depending on the class I have. But one thing stays the same, the expectation for reading is high and my students beg for the next contract so they can once again be a part of a book group, sharing a common text with five or six other kids, and digging into the meat of reading and sharing in a reading community.
Over the course of this year so far, another colleague and I have been working on theme topics for our contracts. September was empathy, in which we focused on animal and human rights. We read aloud The One and Only Ivan and focused our nonfiction book on human rights. The book group book was realistic fiction that involved empathy. Students had to write a claim/evidence paragraph in which they made a claim about empathy and supported it with evidence from the text. In October, we centered our learning on the theme topic fear. What a perfect theme for October! We read another book group book, this time historical fiction, related to some type of fear. Upon completion of the novel, students wrote and acted out a skit of four major plot points of the book, in which they had to provide a summary and background about the time period. They loved it! The nonfiction book was self-selected about a fear the student had, followed by them making a claim about their particular fear and supporting it with evidence from the text. Finally, students found an infographic, video clip, or article that dealt with a fear. They presented to small groups. It was wonderful! This month our topic is family. We’re reading book group books that involve families, again realistic fiction, and students are reading memoirs. The culminating projects this month are creating a digital scrapbook of any “family” that is important to them and writing their own memoir.
We’ll keep working our way through topics this school year and incorporating close reading, writing about reading, and presenting. The possibilities are endless and so easily catered to the group you have! It’s not only fun, but also rewarding to watch as students delve into each contract and work their way through it all month long. And, it guides my teaching. I know I’m hitting all of the standards because I focus my contracts around the reading and writing requirements of the Common Core.
My favorite phrase each year is, “When are we getting the next contract?”, followed by, “I didn’t know if I would like that book, but ended up loving it!” Contracts have not only helped my students read more, they’ve helped broaden their horizons in the reading world. You can’t ask for much more than that!
Check out Choice Literacy (in which my colleague Holly Mueller and I write a monthly article) and my blog, “Adventures in Learning” for more in-depth descriptions about literacy contracts. I think you’ll like what you see!
Thank you Megan for these great insights on how to make reading contracts work!