My son Al, 11, is a reader, and I remember the exact moment he became one. Years ago, he saw a trailer for one of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid movies and wanted to see it. When I told him he could only see it if he read the books by Jeff Kinney, he agreed. He read the first book. Then the next. Then the next. This led to other series and more challenging texts. He eventually moved on to the Percy Jackson Series by Rick Riordan and by the end of the third grade he read the entire Harry Potter series. He couldn’t get enough. He’s become “that kid” with a book. At restaurants, grocery stores, the dinner table, in the car, in doctors’ waiting rooms, and even on the toilet. He even has a book open while watching a movie at home (just in case we have to pause it). I watch him in awe of how much he loves to read and have tried diligently to get my students to be like this. I have failed every year.
Flash forward to this summer. In preparation for going 1:1 in the fall and changing grade levels (my third assignment in three years), I have spent much of the month of June participating in Twitter chats, reading blog posts, learning about Maker Space, Genius Hour, HyperDocs, coding, QR Codes, Augmented Reality, and Mystery Hangouts, only to be left feeling overwhelmed by it all. So much to learn in such a small amount of summer. As a former elementary school teacher, I sometimes long to be with the same students all day, teaching every subject, having language arts for large chunks of time where I used a reading workshop/Daily 5 model, and using all the best practices for math, science, reading, writing, and even physical education. Alas, I am not an elementary school teacher anymore and realized after several weeks of sponging up as much information as I could that I had to stop. Why wasn’t I focusing? All fluff aside, what was going to be the one thing I tried to do better in my middle school classroom in the fall? I had to remember content comes first. Then technology. I had to stop and think about what I actually taught. As much as I love all of these new ways to learn I am now a middle school language arts teacher, and, because of my new assignment, will also teach social studies for the first time. Ultimately, I am a teacher of literacy. So the choice was simple, and oddly enough, this really requires no technology. How to improve independent reading practices and making sure I make this the most important thing we do in my class every day.
I have spent much time this summer reading all about best practices for implementing independent reading in my middle school classroom. Frustrated yearly, with how unmotivated many of my students are to read, I decided to put myself in reading recovery- to recover from bad practices. I turned to the experts for some inspiration and to bring validation to my gut instinct that students are simply not given the time or enough of my energy to fall in love with books. I devoured the books (some for a second or third time) I cherish by Penny Kittle, Donalyn Miller, Kylene Beers, and Kelly Gallagher with renewed understanding of my true purpose. I do not teach stories, I teach literacy skills. Frankly, it is by far the most important thing I could do. I teach students how to navigate through the written word, how to make meaning from what they read, and how to apply the skills they discover in their own writing.
Due to changes in my workplace and having to start over a few time in the past few years, I’ve somehow lost sight of that. That is my purpose. Not to do what Donalyn Miller calls “literature arts and crafts,” not to do assignments that are only about about reading and don’t require any actual reading, but to teach my students to love reading and to allow them to read. Every year, however, this seems like an impossible task. That’s because I haven’t been doing it right. That’s because I have mostly been doing what I was told. “This is the way we have always done it” is something I’ve heard a lot. And when you’ve had a to change schools a few times you tend to not want to ruffle feathers. Work comrade and trust building is very important to me. I’ve used reading logs in the past (I did learn to ditch those, however), Accelerated Reading (graded for meeting or not meeting points goals), and probably have scarred students for life. Of course there are students who love to read every year, but they love to read in spite of me, not because of me. This is the year it all changes. I can no longer avoid what is truly best for kids, backed by research, and endorsed by the greatest minds in literacy instruction.
In the process of my independent study, I started to pay a lot of attention to my son, the reader, and his reading habits, and realized he lives and breathes what life long readers do. He is exactly how the readers in my beloved books about literacy are described.
The other morning he and I went to breakfast, and I told him I was going to write a blog post about his reading. He liked that I was going to make him the star of my next post. To jot some notes down, I pulled an old receipt out of my wallet so I could write. I told him I wanted to make a list of his reading habits. Without much help from me, he told me what to write. I was amazed by how well he knew himself and how well this corresponded with my professional reading.
- He never leaves the house without a book: He reads every day and sneaks in reading time any chance he gets. His theory is that it prevents him from being bored. He has found entertainment in books. He makes the time for it.
- He reads multiple books at one time: Depending on his mood, he will select books for different purposes. He often refers to his choices as his day books and his night books. He brings a book to bed with him every night, but it can only be something funny and something he’s already read. This puts him in a happy mood to fall asleep.
- He rereads books he loves more than once: If he likes the book he wants to read it again. He often will get excited if he discovers something he hasn’t noticed before.
- He shares and talks about what he reads: He will often read sentences to me that he likes or thinks are funny. Because he has read so much, he is very aware of what well crafted sentences look and sound like. Who IS this kid?
- He always has a book ready for the next read: He talks to his friends, listens to recommendations from his teacher, and loves books by the authors of his favorite series. If a new book comes out by that author, he wants to read it. He often has a few lined up. If a friend is laughing about a book he’s reading in class he’ll often ask me to buy it. Clearly he has identified with a reading community
- He watches me read: He is fortunate to have a mother who likes to read. I belong to a personal book club and participate in book chats online. I vividly remember years ago, when he was very small, reading the Twilight Series. He must’ve been 4 or 5. When I got to the last book in the series he was able to name the titles in order. I had never even talked to him about them, but clearly he was listening to me and watching.
- He gets frustrated when I tell him to take an AR quiz at school: He thinks it’s “stupid that something (he) consider to be fun is being turned into a test.” These are literally his words. He also doesn’t like that he can only read a book once.
I added the last two. So how does this all translate into helping me with my classroom instruction? I must give my students the same opportunities my son has.
I must give my students time to read every day. I will do away with any bell work that is not reading.
I must give my students opportunities to share their reading. Students need time to talk about what they are reading. With me and with each other. I need to create a reading community for them.
I need not worry if they are reading the same book for the second time. We encourage rereads in our instructional practice all the time. Why does it matter if they read the same book twice? There is much to be found in a reread.
I must encourage them to plan for the next book. Following the advice in Kittle and Miller students will keep a list of books they plan on reading next. Students should never be without a book in mind for their next read.
I must give my students an opportunity to watch me read. Often times, their independent reading is an opportunity for me to take attendance or do other tasks. It is vital, however, that I model the behavior I wish to see in them. I must read alongside with them, and share the books I’m reading. I also did away with daily read alouds once I moved to middle school. There just wasn’t enough time, but really, this is a practice that has so many benefits from improving vocabulary, helping English language learners, modeling fluency, and exposing students to authors and genres they may not be willing to read otherwise.
I must not require AR tests for reading grades. This will be the most challenging change for me as I’m in a school that uses Accelerated Reading for grading purposes. I emailed a member of my admin team and wrote to her about my desire to change my strategies and got her full support with the idea that I can share my successes and failures with colleagues and hopefully start planting some seeds of change.
I’m still fine tuning how this will look in my classroom daily, and I know it’ll be a continual work in progress, but I’m excited to get started.
In the meantime, enjoy THIS. Shared with me by @Teachr4.