The Power of Reading Ahead Arrangements
If you’re an ELA teacher, you have probably been in this situation before. You’ve carefully crafted lessons and activities to support the reading of a beautiful piece of literature. Your unit is all set to guide students carefully through the book’s delicious twists and turns while strengthening important reading skills along the way. Nothing could destroy this meticulously designed unit — this ship can’t sink! Unless . . .
Unless one or a few of your students read ahead. You can picture it in your mind: students bored in class because they’re chapters ahead, students giving away answers in a prediction activity or laughing at a peer who gives a “wrong” response in discussion because their classmate clearly doesn’t know about the events coming soon in the novel.
But what if we told you that it doesn’t have to play out that way? That the majority of your class can follow your prescribed timeline, a few students can read ahead, and the ship that is your unit can still sail along smoothly?
Because let’s face it: telling students “Don’t read ahead” doesn’t work. In fact, sometimes it even backfires. Sure, some students will follow your order, but those were the students who weren’t going to read ahead, anyway. I wasn’t much of a rebel in school, but boy did I rebel against being told to read at a turtle’s pace (as it felt to me). I read ahead anyway, rules be damned, then sat around bored, waiting for the class to catch up. I have a sneaking suspicion that this happened to many of you in school, too. And there are some students who just like to challenge adults, defying their instructions for the simple thrill of doing so. Kids, am I right?
But, you may be asking, what do I do with kids who read ahead? How do I keep them learning along with their peers without giving parts of the story away to kids who haven’t gotten to that part of the book yet? Follow these steps below!
1. Have the Right Mindset
First, put yourself in the right mindset to be successful. Instead of thinking of read-ahead students as trying to sabotage your unit, understand that these are just kids looking for the same thing as everyone else in the classroom: mental stimulation. Believe that, with the right framework in place, students who read ahead will not disrupt your other students’ learning or miss out on important learning themselves. Be optimistic and trust in your students’ abilities to read at their own speed without throwing a wrench in your unit.
2. Make A Reading Ahead Arrangement
Okay, so now you’re in the right mindset, knowing that with the right plan in place, your unit will run smoothly with a few students reading ahead. Great! But . . . what plan? This is where the Reading Ahead Arrangement (RAA) comes in. This is not just an oral agreement; we highly recommend that you type out an agreement that both you and your student sign. Make a copy for the student to keep, and consider sending one home as well. A little reinforcement from parents can go a long way! There are many items you can include in your RAA, but here are a few things you may want your read-ahead students to agree to:
- A read-ahead student will be responsible for understanding where the rest of the class is in their reading, making sure not to give away parts of the story for the class
- A read-ahead student will still participate in the class’s activities and discussions with the rest of the class (again, without giving away parts of the story). The only activities the read-ahead student will not participate in will be prediction activities (for obvious reasons).
- The read-ahead student will still read the class’s story when instructed to. (For example, perhaps you are doing a read aloud before an activity on figurative language, and you want all students to listen purposefully for the language devices.)
- Once the read-ahead student has finished the class’s current book, they will choose an alternative activity from a list of options. If they finish this activity before the class finishes their current book, the read-ahead student will choose another activity. (If you do not want to provide a list of options, you can also have the student agree to a project that you have chosen for them.)
- If the student does not follow the agreed-upon conditions, they must go back to the same pace as the rest of the class.
3. Create a List of Options for Read-Ahead Students
Of course, you still want your students who read ahead to have some structured learning. We recommend including a list of options on your RAA. You may want your student to number three of them, so they know what they will be working on if they finish their first choice. Here are just some ideas, but you can also include your own:
- Choose a book to read from a reputable list, like one of these:
- A YALSA Best Fiction List (https://www.ala.org/yalsa/best-fiction-young-adults)
- A YALSA Best NonFiction List (https://www.ala.org/yalsa/nonfiction)
- A list of Newbery award winners, or winners of other literary awards
- A teacher-created list of higher-level books that address the same topics and/or themes as the class’s book
- Choose a current or historical event related to the class’s book. Find 3-5 articles on the topic and write an informational essay or create a slide presentation that explains the event from multiple perspectives. Be prepared to present your findings to the class.
- Research the author of the class’s book. Write a 1-2 page biography on the author, including any details that may have helped to influence the author’s story. Be prepared to present your findings to the class.
- Create a One Pager for the class’s novel. (To learn more about using One Pagers, take a listen here!)
- Write an additional chapter to the class’s book, trying to mimic the author’s writing style. This can be a chapter that would go before the first chapter, or a chapter that would follow the last chapter.
- Create a set of character journals for a character in the class’s book
- Write three different types of poems that connect to an idea from the class’s book.
- Listen to a set of episodes from a teacher-approved podcast. Write a review of the episodes (what did you learn? What did you like or not like about the podcast?)
- Create a classroom display that relates to the class’s book and your current unit
- Perform the tasks on Critical Thinking Task Cards, using the class’s novel
- Think of your own idea and present it to your teacher for approval
The possibilities for your list are endless, so choose options that make the most sense for your unit and your classroom.
4. Choose the Right Read-Ahead Students
Most students are quite capable of handling an RAA. However, you want to make sure that students who are reading ahead have solid reading comprehension. Some students can read quickly, but they need support in understanding. If a student requests a Reading Ahead Arrangement but you question their ability to understand the text independently, have a private and tactful discussion about it. Explain to the student that you feel they will understand and appreciate the book much more if they follow along at the class’s speed. If needed, speak to the student’s parents or guardians for additional input and support.
And that’s it! When implementing this plan, you may even find that you have fewer students reading ahead, as they learn that they need to commit to additional reading and learning if they do so. So stop the power struggles over reading schedules with this simple arrangement. It may take a little more prep on your part, but in the long run, everyone in your classroom will be happier — including you.