Last year, after reading Kelly Gallagher’s Readicide: How Schools Are Killing Reading and What You Can Do About It, I was inspired to start using an Article of the Week with my 6th graders. Like Gallagher, I see a distinctive lack of background knowledge with my students which makes it hard for them to read at times. Gallagher uses his Article of the Week with high schoolers but I figured I could do the same with my 6th graders if I tweaked the assignment just a bit.
Each Friday I hand out a new article. Most of the time they are related to current events, but they can also be editorials, opinions, information nonfiction, and even reviews. I try to focus on topics they might not otherwise learn about, though for the past two weeks we have been reading in depth about the earthquake in Haiti. Each week they are responsible for a close reading that shows evidence of reading the text- highlighting, writing in the margins, underlining, or otherwise marking up the article. Then, they respond to a critical thinking/opinion question with at least one paragraph. Next week, as we move into the 3rd marking period, I plan to up the ante a bit and require at least half a page for their answers.
Every Friday at the beginning of class a volunteer summarizes the article and a few volunteers share their answers. Sometimes we get into debates, sometimes we learn from each other, and we always learn something new from the article. These past two weeks the articles have focused on Haiti and my students really *got* it. It was much better than a quick chat about the earthquake and now they are raising money through donations of their change and leftover lunch money. I’m so proud of them!
The AOW has been the best decision I made this year. I love that my students are broadening their horizons and expanding their schema. I also love that it doesn’t require me to grade anything or add to my never-ending pile of papers. I walk around and check for completion, glancing to make sure that the question was answered. I don’t assess grammar or spelling- as I explain to the parents, this is an exercise in critical thinking. We cover the grammar and spelling at other points during the workshop.
As far as assessment, each AOW is worth ten points. I grade using a point system, so each marking period my students start with a perfect score on the AOW. This marking period we had 8 weeks where I planned to use an AOW so each student received an 80/80. If a student didn’t complete an AOW they lost 10 points. An incomplete AOW loses 5 points. As I tell my students, they have a perfect score and it’s their responsibility to keep it that way! :)