“Why do we have to read so much in here?” I have fielded this question from students several times over the years. By the time my students reached high school, many were disillusioned with reading. They found it tedious, challenging, or boring. I understand why so many students feel this way, given that reading is often a one-size-fits-all experience. Teachers select a text or pull from an established curriculum and require that all students read the same text at the same pace. Teachers often ask them to process the text and share their learning in the same way as well. Teachers may lead the entire class through a guided reading or ask students to read the text independently in silence or for homework.
This one-size-fits-all approach to reading does not acknowledge or address learner variability. Students may be in very different places in their reading and comprehension skills. A diverse class of learners is also likely to enjoy a wide range of texts on various topics. Some students might enjoy reading informational texts on supercars or video games, while others might enjoy reading about space or sports. It’s next to impossible to interest all students with the same text, be it fiction or nonfiction. So, how do we get more students to read? How do we design reading experiences that entice learners to wrestle with complex texts and make meaning on their own? The answer…give them agency and meaningful choices!
The more autonomy and agency a person enjoys, the more likely they will be motivated to complete a task. Competence also plays a role in motivation. If students feel confident in their ability to complete a particular task or learning activity, that positively impacts their motivation. One way teachers can help students develop a higher level of competence is to allow them to make process decisions. How do they want to engage with a text? How would they like to make meaning and share what they learned?
I’ve written about the choose your learning path adventure format before, and the more I play with this idea, the more applications I can imagine. Let’s explore what a choose your reading path adventure could look like!
Design a Choose Your Reading Path Adventure
Step 1: Identify Target Reading Standards and Skills
When I work with teachers to architect learning experiences, the first step is to identify the target standards or skills we will use to frame and focus our design work. A teacher might select the following standards to focus on for this reading adventure.
- Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and make logical inferences; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.
- Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.
Once we have identified the target standards and skills, we craft clear, student-friendly learning objectives we can share with students. For example, an objective might read, students will be able to identify the main idea in a text and use details from the text to explain how that main idea develops. The goal of the learning objective is to make the desired result or destination clear. What is it that students are working toward? What do we want them to know, understand, or be able to do at the end of this experience?
Step 2: Select a Collection of Texts for Students to Choose From
When we have clarity about the desired results of the choose your reading path adventure, it’s time to select texts. Not all students enjoy reading the same text, so we select a range of texts from which students can choose. The texts can all be the same type of text, informational or literary, depending on the class or the target standards. However, it is crucial to choose informational texts that focus on various topics or literary texts in different genres to appeal to readers with different interests and reading preferences. If you have access to a digital repository of texts, you may also consider giving students the opportunity to explore the collection and choose the text they are most interested in reading.
Step 3: Provide a Range of Strategies They Can Use to Engage with the Text and Make Meaning
For years, I made all of my students annotate the texts they read in my class to ensure they were actively engaging with those texts. When I asked students for feedback on the class, they made it clear that they did not enjoy annotating. Even though annotating worked well for me as a reader, I had to acknowledge that it might not be the best strategy for all readers to engage with a text. So, I started giving students options for how to engage with texts, ranging from creating concept maps to completing thinking routines to drawing sketchnotes. As soon as I allowed students to decide how they wanted to engage with the texts we read, the number of students reading actively increased significantly.
Once students have engaged actively with a text, they need time to make meaning. In a traditional teacher-led learning environment, this may take the form of a whole-class discussion or a worksheet with questions about the text. Both of these strategies are teacher-led, teacher-paced, and present barriers for some learners. Students are more likely to experience higher levels of competence if they select the strategy they want to use to make sense of the text they read. Some students might enjoy engaging in a small group discussion while others may prefer to create a sketchnote, visually displaying the big ideas in the text.
Step 4: Provide Multiple Means to Allow Students to Share Their Learning
We know not all students will effectively communicate what they learned in the same way, so we want to provide them with multiple means for sharing their learning. Some students might enjoy writing, while others prefer to record a video explanation or create a graphic. Allowing students to decide how they want to share what they learned from the reading is more likely to yield stronger products.
Step 5: Build The Choose Your Reading Path Adventure
I recommend using a choice board format or a digital slide deck to build a choose your reading path adventure for students. A choice board, like the one pictured below, may be a familiar and easy-to-navigate option for those just getting started.
A digital slide deck has the advantage of allowing teachers to insert video directions, instruction, or models into each slide to guide students through the process. This may make it easier for younger students or those who need more embedded support to navigate the various steps of their choose your reading path adventure.
Ultimately, a choose your reading path adventure provides students with agency and meaningful choices throughout a reading experience. They decide what they read, how to engage with that text and make meaning, and how to share what they learned. Teachers can also invite students to decide whether they want to work alone or partner with another student who has selected the same text.
As students self-pace through a reading path adventure, teachers can work with an individual or a small group of students. They can spend this time providing differentiated or personalized instruction on specific reading comprehension strategies, engaging students in conversations about their texts, provide feedback on an assignment in progress, or facilitating conferences about individual student progress. The goal is to lean on the choose your reading path adventure to create time and space to work directly with students to differentiate and personalize their experiences.