This is a guest blog by Linda Evans (@missljevans).
I have a confession to make…I am slightly obsessed with Google Docs, thanks in large part to my colleague Charlotte. What feels like years ago we discovered this cloud system and then we discovered the Forms section which is possibly one of the best things I have ever come across. (Yes, I have a tendency to over exaggerate!). This little survey style section has made so many parts of my teaching life easier, especially when it comes to writing tutor reports and so with a new Head of Department, new homework systems and my new responsibilities regarding reading I created a form focused on recording the students’ reading habits in a quick and easy way that requires very little effort from the teacher.
Each week the same link is sent out to all students in KS3 to complete. They follow a series of questions: the first page asks for their English teacher and their year group, the second page asks them to select their name from the year group list (divided by tutor group/classes) and to answer the following questions.
To begin with we wanted the students to complete this every day that they read, but in practise this expectation seemed unrealistic, so students are expected to complete it at least once a week. As soon as they click submit their responses whizz off to a Google Docs spreadsheet which I then download as an Excel spreadsheet to our shared area every week. It’s easy for individual teachers to search for their own classes and to see their students’ responses and latest read.
In theory this system is relatively straightforward, but of course how can we be sure that all students are definitely reading? The honest answer is, we can’t. There is an element of trust involved in this form of homework, we have to trust that students will complete the forms and complete them honestly. But just in case they don’t we have a few methods of checking/reminding them of the importance of reading and completing their homework.
- The teacher has access to the main spreadsheet of their responses and can show this to the students in class, can check to see how often students’ names appear and ask them questions about the books they have mentioned. If a student isn’t completing the log the teacher can discuss this with them, recommend any books they might be interested in and – my favourite – take them on a trip to the school library to choose a selection of books they might enjoy.
- We mention the reading log at Subject Consultation Evening, occasionally it comes as a shock to parents that their daughter says she has been reading every night each week. This can be effective but as some Subject Consultation Evenings aren’t until later in the year it can be a case of too little, too late.
- Each half term I look through the entire reading log and colour code each class: students in grey haven’t completed the sheet all term; red have completed it once; orange twice and green three times of more, as shown below.
I email this out to all teachers during the holidays and it forms the basis of conversations with whole classes or individual students at the start of the new term. This is my favourite part of the process as it clearly shows who has and hasn’t been doing their homework and it allows the teachers to easily see this without having to scan through the spreadsheet each week, something that can be difficult to do during some teaching weeks when things get hectic. This can be a powerful way to have conversations with students and provides us with evidence so they can’t make excuses. This can help us identify students who we might have missed when looking at the main spreadsheet during term time.
I have recently taken on a role focused on PPD students in English and as part of this I have told the department that I will speak to any PPD students who are grey or red, which means more trips to the library with students. This has been successful in the past, especially if I agree to the read the same book and it makes me so happy when students who have barely read in the past few years appear at my classroom at the end of the day to tell me they have finished the book.
This is our first year trialling this means of homework and it has certainly made KS3 homework easier with less marking and it has provided a consistency across all teachers in the department. This is by no means a flawless system – I have to remember to add new students to the right classes, what do we do about students who struggle with access to the internet, sometimes Google Docs doesn’t work on some phones, there are probably some students who slip through the net – but these are issues that we can work on. The best part of this homework is how much it encourages students to read and how it has opened so many positive conversations about books and recommended reads with students who perhaps weren’t reading much before and that’s one of my favourite parts of this job.