Finding Just Right Books

On day 3 and 4 this week (Monday and Tuesday), we’ll be reviewing our independent reading progress and goals. We’ll also be talking about how to choose ‘Just Right’ books.

Just right depends on many things, including language.

‘Just right’ depends on many things, including language.

Just right books are not too hard, and not too easy. Reading books like this is the fastest way to get better at reading. You’ll know a book is too hard if you can’t read or understand many of the words, or if the story does not make sense to you. You’ll know a book is too easy if you feel like you could have read it last year or the year before! Here are a few things you can do to find a just right book.

  • Ask your Humanities or EAL teacher for a recommendation. They know you as a reader, and they may be able to suggest a good book to read.
  • Use the five-finger rule. Pick up an interesting book and try reading the first page. Use your fingers to count the number of words you either can’t read or don’t know. If you count more than five, the book is probably too challenging for now.
  • Read a book in a series you’ve already read, or read another book by an author you like. Books that come in groups, like Narnia or The Hunger Games are usually at similar reading levels. If the first one was just right, then the other ones probably will be too.

Finding a just right book is not a science. If you are really interested in a book, you may be able to understand it even if it is little too challenging. But you’ll have to work at it. Also, if you’ve seen the movie of a book, you may be able to read it even if it is a little too hard. (I was once able to struggle through Harry Potter in Hindi even though it was too hard for me, because I’d read it in English! But nowadays, my just right level in Hindi is really more like the magazine in the picture I posted here!)

We’ll talk more about just right books in class and when we meet to talk about goals.

Study Skills Check-in

Last time we met, we talked about motivation–why we work hard at the things that matter in life. I’ve been reading about motivation more and it turns out that we tend to work harder when we set goals. (If you want to get a taste of the research, you can check out this paper from the Harvard Institute of Learning and Teaching.)

So this Thursday and Friday (Day 1 and Day 2) we’ll be setting goals as part of our regular Study Skills Check in. The research says goals work best if you set them yourself, so I can’t do this for you. But don’t worry–I’m going to make it as easy as I can.

First, you need to do a little research and reflection to see what goal makes sense for you. Since this is a lesson on study skills, I’m asking that your goals are related to that topic. Start by reviewing the study skills goals or ‘next steps’ we set last week, which you can find in the email I sent. How did you do? Is this something you want to keep working on?

Then check PowerSchool. Do you have any missing assessments? If so, you’ll probably want to consider that in your goal setting. How are you doing in your classes? Is there an area that has been hard for you that you want to review and study?

Try to come up with a S.M.A.R.T. goal! We’ll talk a little about what this means in class. But in short, SMART stands for:

Specific–Goals should be specific. What are you aiming to do? Where and when will you do it? That kind of thing.

Measurable–You goal should be measurable. That means there’s some way to know if you’ve reached it!

Attainable and Realistic–Choose a goal you can reach if you work at it, in the short term.

Timely–Choose a goal you can achieve in a reasonable amount of time. We’ll evaluate our goals on the next day 1 or 2, so you should set a goal that you can reach in just over one week.

OK, now you write a goal. Try to keep it short enough to put it on a post it; I’m not asking for an essay today about why you are choosing your goal. We can talk about that in our conference. Once you’ve written a SMART goal, sign up for a conference with me!

Learning Habits: why motivation matters

On Day 7 and 8 this week (Tuesday and Wednesday), we’re going to think a little bit about what motivates us in school: why do we study for important assessments? Why do we turn in homework on-time? Why do we care about what shows up on Powerschool or our report cards?

There are many different answers to these questions. Some students work hard mostly for reasons that come from inside them. They study because they enjoy learning new things;  or because they want to prepare themselves for what comes next–high school, university, their future careers; or  because they find it satisfying to overcome challenges. Motivation that comes from inside us is called intrinsic motivation.

Other students work hard mostly for reasons that come from outside them. They study hard because they like to get praise or rewards from their teachers; or because they want to make their parents happy; or because they want to avoid ‘getting in trouble.’  Motivation that comes from outside us is called extrinsic motivation.

Both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation can work, and most of us are motivated by a mix of things. But there is some interesting research that suggests that extrinsic motivators (e.g., rewards and punishments) work better for mechanical, boring things, while intrinsic motivators (e.g., working hard because it is satisfying to do a job well) work better for things involving creativity and higher level thinking–the things we do in school.

For example, rewarding people with money for picking up trash is likely to result in them picking up more trash. But rewarding people with money to become great writers or to solve high level math problems, is not likely to be effective. This may seem hard to believe, but this video by Daniel Pink explains some of the research and reasons why this is true. (If you’d prefer to read about these ideas, you can look here.)

So what mostly motivates you as a student? Which are more important to you, extrinsic motivators or intrinsic motivators? Share your thinking in the comments below!

Words, words and more words

‘No homework weekends’ are a great time to catch up on any missing work you may have at this point in the year. Please check PowerSchool and make a note of anything you still need to do. Weekends are also a great time to read, so remember to take your independent reading book home when you go on Thursday!

On Day 5 and 6 this week (Wednesday and Thursday), we’ll build some interesting sentences out of words that can be used in mathematical and non-mathematical ways. Each of this week’s words can also be used as a verb or as a noun.

Depending on what grade you are in, please write at least one grammatically correct sentence that uses your word:

  • Sixth graders, please use factor in an interesting way.
  • Seventh graders, please use coordinate in an interesting way.
  • Eighth graders, please use intercept in an interesting way.

Those who want a challenge can write try to use all three words in one or more sentences. It would be great to see some of you post your sentences on the blog.