CALENDAR / ASSIGNED READING REPORT I thought I would report on how using the calendar with assigned student reading worked out for us this year. I've added this in as a blog entry since it's a report with my opinions in it. This is how I do Seminary -- you don't have to do it this way. I'm just sharing it because it has been so successful for our class, and I hope it could be helpful for you, too.
Making a year-long calendar based on student reading assignments took me about 30 hours during the summer. It was really difficult since there was no way to read all the material ahead of time, I had to guess on some of the readings.
I estimated the amount of time each reading assignment would take this way: Reading an entire page of scripture aloud (one with very few footnotes) takes me about 4 minutes. If I estimate 5 minutes for my very slowest readers, I can assign up to 6 pages of reading per evening and stay under 30 minutes of assigned reading. 15-20 minutes of reading was the goal.
Most of the Old Testament daily readings took in the 5-10 minute range (1 or 2 chapters). One reading was 10 chapters (Ruth), but I gave students an alternate reading assignment that wasn't as long and they could choose which they did. I only assigned reading 4-5 days per week. Weekends, my students are on their own and may read what they want.
In the end, I ended up adding a couple of things in to the Old Testament reading chart, including some places in 2nd Kings, all of the chapters with scripture mastery passages that weren't on the reading chart (yes, some scripture mastery passages weren't assigned reading, oddly), a selection out of all the minor prophets the reading chart skipped, and extra reading in Psalms and Proverbs. If students missed a reading, they skipped that one and picked up where the class was.
Throughout the year, our reading percentages steadily increased from about 80% reading to over 90% completion by the end of the year. The average student in my class read well over 80% of the reading assignments from the Old Testament during the year. Our reading percentage actually INCREASED during Isaiah!
I've asked my students several times what they thought about working the reading this way -- where everyone in class is always on the same material and the teacher teaches the material the students read the night before -- and they universally preferred it to their other reading. This method allows students to ask questions and get answers from the teacher or their peers about the material they've read. It encourages reading by holding students accountable in a low-pressure way. It has allowed us to actually cover more material than the text assigned, including several full days where we covered material in depth that the students had questions about from their reading. Many days I'd be setting up for class and students would come in and begin their own conversations on the material before class began. If you check out my blog, you can find out in more detail how this method worked in practice.
There are some things you should know if you decide to keep everyone together in the reading. First, there are sections assigned to the students to read FOR WHICH THERE ARE NO LESSONS. Yes, really. Students are assigned reading on the reading chart and that material is not covered in the lesson manual, and sometimes not even covered in the Student Study Guide. Be prepared to come up with your own lessons out of the vapors, sometimes for difficult material.
Second, the manual will not be very helpful to you, but the student study guide can be helpful. Since most students will already be familiar with the text you're teaching, you will spend less time setting up the lesson and more time in your scriptures answering questions and ensuring that students were able to read and understand the material. You'll be following footnotes, and spending lots of time in the Bible Dictionary. The lesson manual is geared to the lowest common denominator of student, and you will rarely find that you can use a portion of a lesson, or even a full lesson. The manual often begins a lesson with several scriptures in the Book of Mormon or D&C. This will not fly with students who have struggled with a difficult passage in the Old Testament and are ready for you to help them understand what they read. The student study guide, which is geared more toward a student who has actually read the text, will have more activities you can use.
Third, leave some flexible time during your lesson plan, where you haven't assigned reading yet. My favorite thing that happens in class is when a student has a question about material or read something that wasn't assigned and has questions about it. Encourage that kind of gospel study by focusing in on student questions during your free days. It happened during our class about 6-7 times during the year.
Fourth, it's important to actually teach what you assign. If you've assigned Exodus 20, don't teach Exodus 21. You can teach Exodus 20 AND 21, but don't neglect the material you've asked the students to read. Staying on the material you've assigned reinforces your expectation that they read. Sometimes you will not be able to fill up a class period with the material in just one chapter. Make a note of it for next time, and find another activity to fill time. Scripture mastery is a great way to fill up 10-15 minutes of a class period.
Fifth, remind but don't pressure. I found that reminding students of the next day's reading at the end of our lesson made an immediate improvement on their likelihood to complete the reading. Usually I'd say something like, "Don't miss the footnotes in chapter 19 tonight!" or "Tomorrow we cover one of the most exciting/spiritual/fantastic chapters -- you won't want to miss it!" Each student had his or her own copy of the reading chart. I also posted it on Facebook.
Don't be intimidated by keeping the students together with the reading. I know that what I'm describing above may make it sound very difficult to do. It really hasn't been for me. You'll find that planning out which material you'll cover each day well ahead will make your lesson planning so much faster. Since the "What Do I Teach?" portion of lesson planning is eliminated, you'll be able to devote your lesson preparation time to coming up with engaging activities to help students understand what they read.
Keeping everyone together helped students avoid feeling discouraged if they fall behind, encouraged class participation, and made lesson planning easier for me. Our class reading average increased each quarter from 80% up to 94% using this method. I hope that means kids were developing a habit of scripture study and love of gospel study. The work I did before class more than made up the time I saved during the year in lesson planning. Try it! If it doesn't work for your group, you can always go back to the old way -- even in mid year.