“Welcome back!” Ah, yes, it’s a new year. And likely, our students have heard this “welcome” refrain multiple times by the third day of September. My mother, a teacher for over 40+ years, always told me that for a teacher or parent, the beginning of September marks the beginning of the New Year. New backpacks. New pens and pencils. New binders. New writer’s notebooks. New reader’s notebooks.
New. And it’s exciting!
This is a great time to begin thinking about goals, too. For middle school students, however, this is often not at the forefront of the agenda for beginning a new school year. I remember my first day of middle school– the agenda for me had only one item and might have looked like this:
Maybe it had something to do with the fact I had been filled with horror stories of “initiations” exacted by eighth graders upon poor, unsuspecting sixth graders entering middle school for the first time (which, incidentally turned out to be 100% fictitious). It might also have been the overwhelming sense of body image connected to a very new popularity caste system in which “bigger/taller” equated to “more liked” and hence, “more popular.” Or perhaps it was the fear of how much harder middle school academics would be compared to elementary school.
Hopefully those fears now live in the past, existing only in the memories of the maybe-not-so-good-old-days of today’s parents. But, let’s face it, that’s probably not true. Likely, there lurks some sense of anxiety within each of our middle schoolers even now. So what can we do to help? Allow me to offer a humble suggestion around goal-setting and the power it can possess to assist in setting a positive path toward a new future.
Most successful people in the world have some sense of the process and power of goal-setting. Writer Mark McCormack in his book What They Don’t Teach You in Harvard Business School writes about the importance of not only goal-setting when it comes to laying out a path for success, but the vital step of writing goals down. You can find Ashley Feinstein’s article published in Forbes magazine here. In the article, Mr. McCormack cites a fascinating study that touts the importance of not only crafting goals, but putting those goals into writing.
For our middle schoolers, here are four lenses through which we might encourage them to think about goals as readers (thanks to colleagues Jennifer Kean and Katy Wischow at the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project for the inspiration here):
1. Book Choice— As adults, we know how important a “balanced diet” is when it comes to staying healthy and continuing to grow. This concept can be applied to reading as well. As readers, are our middle schoolers consuming a steady diet that includes a variety of authors? Genres? Series? Topics? Part of our reading lives should always be to work to outgrow ourselves as readers. One way to accomplish this is by being willing to try something new or different. Something possibly unrecognizable. Who we know ourselves to be as readers should not limit our book choices!
2. Habits— Strong readerly habits empower and support growth in reading. As adults, we know about the powerful role habits can play in our lives. So harnessing this lens as a means to support our middle school readers in setting goals can be a positive and productive place to look. Students may think about setting a goal around any/all of the following:
- Carrying books everywhere I go
- Writing about my reading
- Tracking my reading on some type of log
- Recommending books to others
These examples of readerly habits can change the life of any reader. Recently I worked with a student who set a goal around carrying books everywhere he went. Within the year, this student reported reading on the bus, on family outings, in classes, during the evening…and a transformation occurred within his reading proficiency! Habits can make a difference.
3. Volume & Stamina— Athletes know that a big part of success is doing something a lot in order to build stamina. Runners run (a lot), basketball players run (a lot), soccer players run (a lot), swimmers swim (a lot)…you get the idea. The same holds true with reading! Readers must read…a lot. In September, this might mean setting small goals and working to meet them– “Today, I am going to read for 10 minutes without looking up.” Or, “Today I will read 10 pages without stopping.” Then, “Tomorrow, I’ll go for 12 minutes/pages…” and so forth. Building stamina in reading can be similar to training for a marathon; and marathon runners do not train by running marathons. Rather, they typically work up to longer distances as a means by which to build readiness for a big race. Readers can set goals around reading more and more during school time, or perhaps (more importantly) outside of school.
4. Comprehension— One last place to consider setting a reading goal might be within the domain of comprehension– what and how am I thinking as I read? Consider reading my post on “Ways to Outgrow Yourself as a Reader”. In young adult literature, a genre that has exploded (in a good way) within the last several years, lies rich and profoundly meaningful writing worth consuming. Readers might set goals around analyzing characters more deeply; they might set a goal to think across texts and deciding where this text fits with others like it; or perhaps they read for whose voice is heard and whose voice is absent. A comprehension goal ought to be in service of doing new and interesting thinking in texts.
Oprah Winfrey is quoted as saying, “If you want to accomplish the goals of your life, you have to begin with the spirit.” Let’s help our middle schoolers start this year off with a spirit for reading– choosing books they want to read, finding times and places for reading, and– maybe– helping them set some goals for their reading futures. It’s off to another year! May it be a great one!