I just realized I forgot to share what has been my glimmer of hope for this school year: my magnet class. Now, while this is a term that is used very loosely in this population, they are still my most motivated class. They are the group that closest resembles the students I used to teach, meaning they want to learn.
I've had several conversations with all my classes about college choices. As I mentioned before, the vast majority of my students have goals of attending college. We've talked at length (and will continue to do so) about how the choices they make every day will impact their future. I use reminders about "college choices" as a way to correct off-task behavior so they will believe in the value of their learning time in my classroom.
One of the college choices we talk about in my ELA classroom is independent reading. I've shown them statistics about how reading for just 20 minutes a day will dramatically improve their test scores (directly determining which high schools these students can attend). I tell them that my goal is to get students to enjoy reading, something about which many (okay, most) of them are very skeptical.
When I mentioned to my magnet class, though, that one of the ways I will get them to love reading is by letting them read whatever they want, their eyes widened with interest. Clearly, these students have never been given much choice... something that will be a welcome change for them in my classroom.
Through our discussion, students learned that while I pretty much give them free choice for their book club selections, I do require parent permission for certain books, if they will be reading them without my guidance. Instantly, my magnet class wanted a list of such books.
Haha! I hooked them!
In a matter of 20 minutes, I had the entire class literally begging me to change the novel selection for our biography/autobiography unit. I was planning to read The Diary of Anne Frank with all of my classes, honestly, because it's in the textbook and less work for me (Remember how I was feeling overwhelmed? I wanted to keep it simple for the first unit.), but with their prodding, I have agreed, instead, to allow their class to read A Child Called It by Dave Pelzer.
The fact that this is a "banned book" with mature content (even though it is required reading in some middle schools) has these students intrigued. They are so excited to start reading tomorrow... I can't wait!