When we assign reading to students there is always a nagging suspicion that some of them will be fudging their answers when it comes to reporting what and how much they have read. They may exaggerate or out-and-out lie about the reading they have done. Typical teacher questions about verifying student reading are:
• How do we grade reading assignments?
• How do we know that students have actually read?
• How can we tell if students have understood what they have read?
• When there are so many options available (online translation programs, English versions, summaries, other students, etc.), how can students prove that they have actually read the book in the target language?
• How can students prove that they have done the work of reading on their own and that they have not just watched a movie of the book?
Here are some ideas that have worked for me:
Ramp up your Expectations Gradually: Many students are not accustomed to reading novels. Many are not expected to read in other classes or at home. Reading for pleasure may be a foreign concept to them—especially the idea of reading in another language! So go slow. Gradually but inexorably increase the amount you expect students to read throughout the school year. If you go slowly they will adjust. By the mile it’s a trial; by the inch it’s a cinch.
Model Reading: Read when students are reading in class. Just sit there and read. Do not give in to the temptation to grade a few papers, check your email, straighten up the classroom or even answer student questions during reading time. Show that reading is important and pleasurable by your own example. A study by reading expert Jim Trelease indicated that teachers do not tend to read for pleasure very much. Show them that you are different. Show them that reading is important and fun for you. If you read, they will read. Monkey see, monkey do.
Talk about Reading: Show your enthusiasm for reading by talking about what you are reading. Once or twice a week briefly point out some of the titles in the classroom library that they may enjoy. Show and explain a bit of the book to your students. Then display those books prominently and make them available to students. If you talk about a book enthusiastically students will want to read it.
Random Paragraphs: Pull a paragraph at random from the assigned reading passage and ask students to explain what is happening in that paragraph. This can be an indicator of whether or not they have read and understood the chapter.
Book Chats: Talk about books regularly with students. Have them tell you individually what they have read. See if they can elaborate when you ask them questions. See if they are able to use vocabulary from the book when they talk to you in the target language.
Parent Confirmation: Formally or informally check with the parents. This may be the expectation of a signature at the bottom of a reading log. It may be an email. It may be a quick call home, or chatting at a game with a parent. Our chances for success go up when we recruit the parents to our cause, but they cannot help us if they are not informed.
Make Adjustments: Decrease the amount of reading you expect from students at key times in the semester. Do not expect them to read a lot during homecoming, prom, or when the football team is in the state playoffs. It won’t happen and you will be setting up a situation where even honest students will be tempted to cheat a bit.
Put it on the Student: The teacher does not have to do all of the hard work of thinking in the classroom. Have the students come up with ways to prove to you that they have been reading. Their solutions will often be more authentic as well as more rigorous and creative than the teacher’s.