While struggling to prepare the next LTD reading packet, I quickly realized that although the two books have similar themes, youngsters not trained in survival, who have to "go it alone" in the wilderness, Hatchet shimmers and dances in delightfully descriptive prose, whereas Cabin on Trouble Creek's vapid style does nothing more than provide context clue definitions on a surprising array of period vocabualry words modern children would be unlikely to know and provide descriptions of the Ohio flora the two boys encounter. The plot should have resulted in a better-reading book. I am just PRAYING it can ride Hatchet's coattails to success.
Both seventh and eighth graders are floundering in the new, improved grading system that accompanies the LTD reading program. All the "slack" has been removed from it. Students demonstrate orally that they have really read the story for 50 points, then to earn a C, students choose 35 points' worth of projects that are highly diverse, but cover little traditional ground. If they do NOT demonstrate EFFORT and CREATIVITY at the A quality level on these projects, they DO NOT get the C. IF they desire a B or an A, they may choose from three or four additional projects in each category, requiring more effort, especially more THOUGHTFULNESS of various types, for 15 points each. They decide if they are going to work for the higher score. They have two weeks from start to finish for the completion of all the projects and the reading. This is supposed to result in an upswing in vocabualry scores on standardized tests to comply with the No Child Left Behind legislation.
Resistence to this is incredible. Over half DID NOT read the books, with the resultant F's Now, it looks as if we may NOT have a boy's basketball team in Junior High, since Iowa's new athletic rules demand a "no F" policy.
Now, yesterday we sent out the D and F notices for midquarter. I had my second highest total ever. Many boys rushed to get everything done, handing in the best quality work I've ever seen from them -- but their near 0 first book production from the first of the three books of the quarter BLOCKED THEM from passing. One kid got 100% on his second book, coupled with ONE grade total for his first one to earn a grade in the 60% range (70% = passing in our school). He was livid, throwing his grade sheet in the trash instead of taking it home to his parents. BOTH her sons are now ineligible... and for the same reason... the early total disregard of doing work toward earning a passing grade. Football had ended, basketball not begun yet, so these far-sighted folk decided they NEED NOT put any effort into that unnecessary distraction from their active sports lives: getting an education.
The reverberations from this conflict are stupendous. I HATE being the focus of it all. Nobody asked for or accepted any input from me beforehand, but I am at risk if their policy fails.
So, things get tighter and tighter as the students fail to pick up the slack. Vocabulary lists are MANDATORY. I go through reams of stick-it notes they can put right on the page where they hit words they do not already know. If they "get it" from context, which these books are good to provide for them, they overlook the words, and later, can't tell again what they mean.
Person after person "forgot" great major parts of the story. We furnished "reading logs". They failed to use them. We REQUIRED them. Several still failed to use them. WE checked them daily and went to "math rules" (three no-homeworks = ACADEMIC DETENTION). Oral battles about WHEN and IF they would read led to a mandatory 10 minute a day reading while I did "housekeeping" )attendance, recording the number of pages each student reported as read (published on the internet for parents who cared to look to be able to track from home) discussions/vocabulary stragetites, both for words NOT on their list, and words they hit that REALLY were unknown to them. Some true discussions are beginning to happen. I keep pointing out that IF they've read the story when they enter the class, we can DISCUSS interesting ideas that enhance their understanding of the material and its implications, which, in turn, allows them to demonstrate their knowledge about both vocabulary and ideas.
So, last night, I had the least involved 8th grade girl, and a totally disengaged 7th grade boy in for one of these academic detentions. We began to TALK. He'd read her book (well, part of it) last time, and ended up saying "I wish I'd finished that book. It was really good. I liked it." GOTCHA! He stayed for another 20 minutes while we finished a discussion on SNAKES.
Whatever it takes to win their hearts and minds...