She's a freshman at Pierz high school, a small school district tucked away in rural eastern Morrison County in the rich farmland that nature has bestowed upon that region of Minnesota. "They read 100,000 per quarter -- four quarters per year in seventh grade, 200,000 per quarter in 8th grade, and then a million per year in high school" says Mom proudly. And so, it develops that they have to take a short online test to prove that they read the book that they selected, and if no test is available, they can write a book report. Mom says that when she gets to an interesting or difficult word, they talk about it. "I learn a lot too," she says.
Just a day before, I ran into an immigrant parent with his adult son at the coffee shop. The son attended an Asian College in a former British colony, and we chatted about the difference between American expectations and Asian expectations. The competition is intense, he said. Everybody who wants to make something of himself or herself works, because this is our avenue to success. In America, he said, many students expect to make it into college, and then to do well there, whether they work hard or not. Overseas, you cannot make it in school, unless you work hard every day, and every week of the year. Lot's of Americans, even their teachers, think that homework is a waste of time. But I think that reading a million words a year is not a waste of time, and probably one of the central events in many young people's development up there in Pierz.
So, a million words I thought. I navigated over to the Pierz school district website, and I found a newsletter to parents about the million words campaign, and I've copied the entire message and pasted it here, because I think it speaks for itself better than I could.
Choice Reading/Stealing Minutes
"Many of you have had students coming home visiting with you about the need to read a million words this year at the high school. If they haven’t mentioned this, you should ask them. Why a million words? Isn’t that a lot? We know reading is important and at the high school we have always asked our students to read, but until a few years ago we didn’t focus on this as a whole staff.We have since made some changes to what we “require” our students to read to hopefully engage even those that don’t enjoy reading. We have opened up the “choice” to include millions of books and not just the books that have a “reading counts” test or the books on our library bookshelves. We have also allowed students to read outside of his or her Lexile. We found that in order to have students enjoy reading they must have “choice” in what they read.
A million words was chosen because research shows that by reading a minimum of 20 minutes per night students improve their academic success and also improve their ability to show proficiency on standardized tests. In an age where students are surrounded by technology we don’t want them to lose sight of the importance of reading. So, instead of picking up the device, pick up a book (one of their choosing) and read with the goal of using the device after the 20 minute read. (20 minutes/day X 173 school days = 3,460 minutes – estimated to be 1,800,000 words). One can see this is completely achievable and will allow proven improvement on standardized test scores and student achievement overall.
Stealing Minutes is when instructors allow time during his or her class period for students to read. Students are asked to bring a novel to each class every day in case they complete the assigned task or lesson early. We also have grade-level teams agreeing to certain days where their lesson for the day is reading. We have put great things in place to encourage and offer time for our students to read."
So everybody reads books of their choice. But everybody reads, with degree of difficulty hinging on the students' readiness. "One can see this is completely achievable and will allow proven improvement on standardized test scores and student achievement overall." But more than that, students are growing, day by day, learning that they can make a daily contribution to their future. What a great idea Pierz. Congratulations.