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“Transforming an Assignment: Fostering a Love for Reading and Learning”

Initially, Amanda Lacy was far from enthusiastic when her principal handed her the task of teaching a group of high school students grappling with reading difficulties. Her new students, consisting of juniors and seniors, had previously failed their state exams as tenth graders.

Amanda candidly admitted, “I was hoping there had been a mistake. I even walked into the principal’s office and jokingly said, ‘You must have written the wrong thing down on this piece of paper.'”

Teaching this particular course was undeniably challenging. The students felt self-conscious about being placed in a remedial reading class, and their lack of enthusiasm was palpable. When Amanda assumed responsibility for the course in Gainesville, Florida, it was still called “Read 180,” which carried a negative stigma among the students.

Amanda recounted, “They would make self-deprecating comments and tease each other relentlessly. I remember a student from my first period who would walk into the sixth period, shouting ‘Read 180′ as if it were some sort of joke.”

In response, Amanda adopted a strategy familiar to marketing professionals: she rebranded the course. “Read 180” was reborn as “Critical Thinking and Reading for College Readiness.”

But Amanda’s efforts didn’t stop at just changing the name. She wanted her students to feel genuinely engaged with their reading material. To achieve this, she surveyed them with questions like:

1. What topics interest you?
2. What are your passions?
3. List five areas where you excel.
4. Complete this sentence: After graduation, I aspire to…

Through these surveys, Amanda discovered that some students were passionate about sports, while others were intrigued by military stories or food-related content. With this valuable insight, Amanda began tailoring her teaching materials to align with her students’ interests.

On Mondays, the students could use the computer lab to search for articles in publications like The Washington Post or The New York Times. Their assignments were directly related to the articles they selected, often focusing on current events that captivated the students’ attention. Amanda also introduced “A Few Minutes of Me,” a platform resembling an open mic night, where students could share slam poetry, read Bible passages, or even offer beauty tutorials.

Amanda readily acknowledges that these transformations didn’t happen overnight. However, as the students began to find joy in reading and learning, their academic performance also improved. Notably, a few years ago, every student in her class passed the reading exam.

Reflecting on these changes, Amanda remarked, “It altered the entire atmosphere of the class. Success is incredibly motivating. When the students saw their peers achieving it and realized they could do it too, progress became more widespread.”

For a more in-depth conversation with Amanda Lacy, listen to Episode 252 of the Class Dismissed Podcast, available on iTunes and your preferred podcasting platform.

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