A lot of planning goes into a novel study. I like to have everything organized in advance so that my students (and their parents) know exactly what will be expected of them – how much reading, how many assignments, etc.
Before assigning a novel, I will go through chapter by chapter (or even page by page) and determine how much I want students to read each week. I will create a calendar that organizes the reading chunks down to the day. At any day, I will know exactly what page we will all be on. It is a beautiful formula of boxes and bullet points.
And then on Day One without fail a student takes a look at the novel, takes a glance at my calendar and says, “So can I read ahead?”
I admit, in the past I used to answer with an adamant “No!” My reasons were valid (and a tad selfish):
- I had already created a perfectly calculated reading schedule
- The student would inevitably spoil one of the surprises in the book
- The student would not remember key details when we had our discussions
This would immediately spark resentment in the student, and I found that the same student who had asked to read ahead would begin slacking on assignments and sitting arms-crossed during discussions.
My solution? Let them read! Never, ever, ever, deny an interested student the chance to continue reading. However, I did find a few different ways to make sure the students were still prepared and that they didn’t spoil the book for others. (As for destroying my calendar? That was just something I learned to deal with!)
Read Ahead Contracts
Have a few read ahead contracts printed and ready to go. Then, if a student wants to read ahead, have them sign the contract and let them go! It seems a little silly that signing a piece of paper could really stop a student from blurting out spoilers, but students feel honored that you respect them and they feel empowered by signing the contract.
Click here for a free download to a Read Ahead contract that I use in my classroom!
Create Their Own Calendars
I might know that in order to not get far behind, we need to be at chapter 4 by Monday. However, why do I need to plan how much a student reads for homework each night? One student might like having a manageable chunk each night, while another might enjoy sitting down the night before and reading it all in one sitting. I will give my student blank calendars with our benchmarks already written in. Then I give them a copy of the book and a calculator (some of them love getting super exact with dividing the number of pages!) and I let them choose how much they will read each night. As long as they reach our benchmarks, it doesn’t matter how they divide the chapters.
Let Them Plan Discussions
Many of the novels that we read in my classes are ones that I have read more times than I can count. I have poured over them, analyzed each line, dissected themes and motifs. I have compiled lists of figurative language and found characterization traits I want my students to discuss.
And still, every discussion there is a student who brings up a new point I have never thought of.
If you have a student begging to read ahead, why not allow them to help you shape discussions? Plan to meet with this student a day or two before your discussion and have them bring a list of key items (or give them post-its so they can mark their book). It will encourage them to read with an analytical lens, and you will get a fresh perspective on the novel.
One of the hardest – and most powerful – lessons I have learned through my years of teaching gifted students is the importance of giving up control. Reading on a schedule was something that had seemed so essential in my mind, however I was sacrificing student engagement. In the end, allowing my students to read ahead was one of the best decisions I made.