A Small Glimpse Into Our Summer Reading Conferences

I cannot believe that I only have 11 days left with my 5th grade kiddos!  The utter insanity of the end of the school year is in full force… report card writing, final assessments, parent conferences, meetings during every single planning period and after school, ordering supplies, planning promotion ceremonies, assemblies, parties, writing speeches, the list goes on! However, this doesn’t mean the critical work of teaching stops. In fact, it is ramping up!  My main goal right now is to make sure all my kiddos are  set up for summer reading success.  Of the (what seems like) 10,000 things I have to do in the next 11 days, making sure my kiddos each have a specific plan for summer reading is my most important job.

Over the past three days, I conferred with each of my students around their summer reading plans. We’ve been thinking, talking, sharing, revising, and planning out our summer reading for a couple weeks now, and I have to say my 5th graders have some thoughtful, intentional plans in store for their summer! All of their plans are completely unique and really show each of their specific personalities.

Here’s a glimpse into a few…

 

Harrison’s Plan for Summer

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During our conference today, I asked Harrison to tell me about his thinking around his plan. He’s really looking forward to his downtime this summer- he’s going to explore his big interest even further, World War II, and continue with the Harry Potter series, which he started here in a fifth grade book club a couple months ago.

 

 

 

Chloe’s Plan for Summer

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Every summer, Chloe and her family travel back to Greece to visit family, and she’s all set up for reading on her big trip. She is really excited to continue reading more books by Shannon Messenger and anything she can get her hands on about Hamilton.  When I asked about where she will get her books this summer, she responded that she already secured them through one of our local bookstores.

 

 

 

Nick’s Plan

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Wow! Nick’s flowchart plan and his explanation of it during our conference really blew me away! Actually, Nick’s creativity and risk taking blew me away this entire school year. Nick is just as excited about writing this summer as he is reading. For reading, he has a different plan in mind depending on how the mood strikes him, and plans to continue pursuing journalism- a genre of writing he just fell in love with during the school year

 

 

 

Meg’s Plan

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During our conference today, Meg talked about how she is so excited to tap into our middle school’s online Overdrive library. As a side note, I have to say  we are so fortunate to have such incredible teacher-librarians in my community. My students, especially Meg, thoroughly became excited about 6th grade when the middle school librarian paid us a visit a few weeks back. I wish all kids had access to such talented professionals.

 

 

 

Dion’s Plan

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When Dion first came through my door in August, he was a self-identified nonreader.  With lots of determination on his part, conversations with his supportive parents, and an ongoing partnership with a dedicated specialist teacher at school, we’ve all devoted this school year to helping Dion view himself as a reader. During our conference yesterday, I reminded Dion of what he told me in the fall about his views of reading, and asked him how he now feels as a reader.  His response:  “I love reading.  I can’t wait to start Magnus Chase III”  And friends, there is nothing more important than that.

 

The Road to Pleasure Reading: 6 Tips to Ensure Your Students Will Read Over Summer

“A child sitting in a quiet room with a good book isn’t a flashy or marketable teaching method. It just happens to be the only way anyone became a reader.”  -Nancie Atwell

In the 22 school days remaining with my fifth graders, I have many goals- get through our final stretch of mandated standardized testing, support them in researching and writing about a topic in American history of their choice, delve deeper into the world of coordinate graphing, freely write in what Ralph Fletcher calls the Greenbelt, and ensure that we read for an uninterrupted time every single one of those 22 days. In my mind, that last Screen Shot 2018-05-01 at 7.36.05 PMgoal is the absolute most important.  This goal is the most important because once my fifth graders leave my doors, they will not return to the world of elementary school, where their independent reading time has been protected for the past six years. My kiddos will be heading off to middle school next school year. I know that many of their future teachers will encourage independent choice reading, and I am so grateful that the work done the past few years will continue.  However, I also know that many of their teachers will not make time for reading in their classes- assignments and other time consuming activities will take the place that independent reading once held.  This truly saddens me- breaks my heart in fact. That’s why the next 22 days are critical in the development of my kiddos as lifelong readers.

In these next 22 days, we will read, talk about reading, and make plans for the summer ahead of reading. We will also talk about the beauty and joy of being a lifelong pleasure reader… well, we’ve talked about it all school year. We’ve lived it all school year! However, these 22 days are critical. In these 22 days ahead, I need to ensure that every single one of my students will read over the summer, and then hopefully on throughout the rest of their lives. This is the foundation on which the rest of their reading lives will be built. These next 22 days are the culmination of their reading-focused elementary years- from when their kindergarten teachers first introduced them to the joys of repeated story book reads to falling in love, and dare I say, becoming addicted to a novel series in fifth grade… this is it. This is both the end and the beginning. These next 22 days are critical.

So, to ensure that my kiddos will read over summer and in the future, I have six simple steps in mind. Before we get to the list, I want to point out that incentive programs are not mentioned in the list below. Incentive programs promote incentives, not reading. They promote the idea that kids should read to earn a prize rather than promote the idea that reading is something we do to laugh, think, grow, question, learn, and love as a means of connection between a reader and the world beyond the reader’s world. Incentives don’t work in the long run. However, many other things do. Here are six tried and true things you can do to support your kiddos in reading over the summer and hopefully beyond…

6. Enlist parents and families as fellow reading advocates. In addition to continually talking with families all year about reading, I also frequently emailed them reminders about the importance about reading at home.  Instead of an at-home reading log, I heavily relied on honest communication with families. For an example of this, take a look at this letter I wrote families last year passing the reading champion baton over to them. I plan to write a similar letter this year.

5. Recently, Kylene Beers offered this thoughtful idea in her blog: Send a few postcards home to students over summer asking about their reading. I’ve actually never considered this idea before, and am just thrilled that Kylene took the time to write about it. What a powerful, yet simple way to engage kids in connection around reading!

4. Book Talk, recommend, and mingle! This morning, two of my students book talked Screen Shot 2018-05-01 at 7.35.43 PMtwo different books. Now, there is a waiting list for those books in class, and a few other kids are seeking out other ways to obtain those books as well! Nothing excites readers more about reading than hearing about a great book from a friend. Book talks are verbal, in person recommendations. Recommendations can also be written and digital. If this work is new to you- just give it a shot! You have absolutely nothing to lose. The last few weeks of school are the perfect time to try out something with this year’s students, which is additionally practice for next year! Also, book mingling is my favorite new way to get kids talking about books… it’s a whole class movement and book talk activity where every student talks and learns about books that are potentially new to them. To learn how to book mingle in your classroom, take a look here: Book Mingle! 

3. Access is everything. If kids do not have access to books, they will not read. The reverse is also true. If kids have access, they will read. This is the time of year (if you haven’t already done so) to start talking up the local library to your class. Find out who has a library card and who visits the library. If possible, take a field trip to the library, or ask the library to come and talk with your class! Teaching kids how to use the local library is teaching them how to empower themselves. The time to set up kids for book access over the summer is now. We can easily give a child a book or two to read over summer, but an even more powerful gift we can give is teaching a child how to access books on their own without us.

2. Confer!  Aside from learning how to find books they can’t put down, nothing is more powerful than a one to one conversation between two readers: you and a student. If you’re new to conferring, there is no time like the present to start! If you’re not new to conferring, now is the time to start conferring around at-home and away-from-school reading habits and summer reading plans. Teaching a whole group mini lesson around summer reading is great, but having individual conferences with kiddos around summer reading is much more effective- conferences are personalized and responsive to what each child needs. To learn more about the sometimes tricky, yet extremely fulfilling work  of conferring, please feel free to visit the blog that Kari Yates and I started to support conferring with readers: To Know and Nurture a Reader. In the blog, we offer many tips and tricks to support busy elementary teachers in the classroom. We also have a book coming out of the same title from Stenhouse Publishers next month! You can check that out here.

1. Give students uninterrupted independent choice reading time every single school day between now and summer break. It’s not fancy, cute, or wrapped in a bow, but it is the only thing that truly develops a lifelong reading habit. Simply put, the only way kids turn into readers is by reading. Yes- it’s as simple as that.

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What’s the Point?

It’s that time of year again!

Now, you may be thinking many things after reading that statement… it’s time for spring break, the start of baseball season, the end of hockey or basketball seasons, the time flowers bloom, the air temperatures start to warm, or even the time to start making plans for summer. Well, I’m not referring to any of those things. As much as I appreciate and love everything I just mentioned, this blog post is not about something most of us in education eagerly anticipate. Quite the contrary, actually. This post is about testing.

More specifically, this post is about annual standardized testing that is mandatory in most, if not all, public schools across the country.

Here in California, we give a series of Smarter Balanced tests depending on the grade. In my own fifth grade classroom, my students will endure nine separate testing sessions. I estimate this will take up roughly ten hours of instructional time: nine hours of testing itself and one hour of setting up computers, logging in, etc.

The point of my post is not to give my opinion of standardized tests. Rather, it’s just to offer a story of something that happened in my classroom today around preparing for the test.

However, before I give the story, I will offer this opinion- I do not believe in spending hours upon hours of precious classroom time specifically preparing children for these tests.  Luckily, neither do my principal or my school district. In addition, I firmly believe the idea of teaching to the test is an utter waste of classroom time and dare I say it- educational malpractice. However, I do firmly believe in preparing kids for what they will face.

So, about two to three times each week for the past couple weeks, my kiddos and I have been spending 10 minutes looking over some Smarter Balanced sample test questions and discussing how to approach them.  We do this almost as a shared read. I project the sample questions on the smart board and we all tackle the reading passages and accompanying questions together as a group. We talk about strategies, things we’ve already learned that we can apply to the questions, and we give justifications for why we are answering something the way we are answering it.

Well, today my class got into a heated debate around a passage and the two questions that went with it. We actually had a wonderful discussion! Kids chatted in partnerships, cited text evidence, and even respectfully rebutted other kids’ claims. After passionately discussing two potential answers to a question, one of my students asked, “So, what’s the real answer?”  

Now, If you’ve shared Smarter Balanced sample questions with your class, you know that the answers aren’t provided.  So, I responded that there was great evidence and argument given to support two of the potential multiple choice answers, and that the website does not provide us with the actual answer. And honestly, I couldn’t even decide the correct answer, myself.  The same student then asked a follow up question.

“So, on the actual test, how do we give our argument for an answer if we can only select one bubble to click without writing anything?” 

I froze. I wasn’t sure what to say. However, in that moment I was so proud of my students. All year, they have worked so hard on learning how to make an argument backed up with evidence through writing. And next week, they are going to be judged based on single clicks without the opportunity to justify and explain their thinking.  Finally, I responded

“Well, it’s not always about the actual answer. Think about the great discussion we just had. We all grew a little through working to justify our reasons for an answer and learned more about how to make an argument.”

“But, Ms. Nosek, we can’t do that on the test. We have to pick one answer.”

“Yes, true.”

“So, what’s the point? If we have to choose one answer on the actual test, and we can’t all agree on the answer, what’s the point of doing this?”

Like many of you, I’m a real teacher in a real classroom with real students. I didn’t have his answer. I don’t know what the point is. But, I am proud. I am so proud that my student felt brave enough to ask that question. I am proud that my kids passionately debated something using evidence and argument. I am proud that they kept their debates extremely respectful. I am proud that they listened to each other and were willing to both change their minds and offer rebuttals.

However, I still wonder. What’s the point? What’s the point of these tests?  I don’t believe that these tests will show all that my students have learned this year. Well, to be fair, the multiple choice portions probably won’t. I will say that there are written portions of the test. But, I have no idea how these portions of the test are scored or evaluated.

Yet, I do believe I have to prepare students for these tests. I am tasked with giving my fifth graders nine testing sessions over the next three weeks- of course I have to prepare them for it. However, when they ask “what’s the point” I don’t have it in me to give the canned answer that many feel they are supposed to give. So, I just smiled and told them that I just don’t know. Earlier in this post, I said I wasn’t going to offer my opinion of standardized testing. Now that I’ve written out my thoughts, I suspect that you can infer what I really think.

So, I now ask you to ponder… what’s the point?

 

By the way, if you’re curious, here’s the reading passage and two questions we debated today.

A New Writing Journey Has Begun!

I’m so excited to share a new venture in writing! In addition to this blog, I am now also coauthoring a blog with Kari Yates. Our blog, To Know and Nurture a Reader, is now up and running with a series on tackling the trickier parts of conferring with readers. Our book of the same name will be out later this spring from Stenhouse Publishers.

Our first blog post in the series focuses on tips for fostering independence in our students so we can focus on uninterrupted conferring to support each of our readers. Kari and I are really excited about the journey ahead. We’d love to hear your thoughts and questions around conferring with readers!

Happy reading and conferring, friends!

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Kari Yates and I are thrilled to share our work around conferring with our fellow educators!  Visit our new blog here: https://toknowandnurtureareader.com/ 

 

Greenbelt Writing- Thank you, Ralph Fletcher!

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Greenbelt writing inspires students to discover who they are and how they can grow into themselves as writers. This is just one of many pieces from the past few weeks.

 

How often in a child’s life do they get to set their own purpose and carve their own path? Perhaps a better question is, how often do the adults around them relinquish control to encourage kids to find their own way?

Well, I venture to guess that in today’s standards-focused schools, much of what kids do is decided by the adults around them.  Even in my own classroom, this is definitely the case. I set the schedule and I choose the lessons for the day. Again, I venture to guess that this is the case in most classrooms across the country.

However, I am a firm believer in choice- choice in where to sit, what to read, with whom to work, and at what pace to work. After all, I may set the tone in the room, but it is my students who are doing the actual work of learning.  In our reading workshop, choice is truly the name of the game, and my kiddos are all readers because of it.

However, I have to say that our classroom writing workshop just had a different feel to it. In writing workshop, I selected the genre, the lessons, the small groups, and the time of day. My students always selected their topics, but it just wasn’t enough to get them as excited and engaged in writing as they were with reading.

Enter Joy Write.

In Ralph Fletcher’s groundbreaking professional book for teachers, Joy Write, writing isScreen Shot 2018-03-18 at 11.09.38 AM given back to the writer. There are many aspects of Joy Write that I could bring up, but the one that has had the biggest impact on my fifth grade writers this year is the idea of Greenbelt Writing.

Earlier this school year when I introduced Greenbelt writing to my young writers, I first showed an aerial picture of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. We discussed how in the park some people choose to bike, while others decide to go for a run or walk. Some might choose to have a fun and lively picnic with a large group of friends while others find solitude on a quiet bench reading. And, just a few yards away, others are walking their dogs, joining the Sunday outdoor lindy hop, strolling through the rose garden, or suffering through a paddle boat ride on a rickety old boat on the Stowe Lake. The point is- everyone uses the city’s greenbelt in a way that suits them at that moment in time. And, what to do and how to do it is completely up to each individual park-goer. We then connected this idea to writing.

In Greenbelt writing, young writers have complete choice over absolutely everything- genre, writing partners (or no writing partners), topic, place to work, publication for all to read or not, etc. Essentially, it is a space and time for students to discover who they are and what they need as writers. Needless to say, after this idea was first introduced, there were squeals of joy and wide eyed anticipation for the possibilities to come!

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Students can choose to share their pieces on our classroom Greenbelt wall.

Roughly once a week now for the past few months, one of our writing workshop sessions has been dedicated to greenbelt writing. In addition, when students feel they need a break from assignments, they are encouraged to do what is best for their growth as an individual writer, which may be to take a break from the assignment and head into the greenbelt- I compare this idea to the time I was writing my thesis in graduate school. I could have sat and written that thesis straight for eight hours a day without a break, but it probably would not have been my best writing. Rather, I wrote it in shorter bursts, taking a break to explore other creative ventures. And, those other creative ventures actually made me a better writer and my thesis a stronger piece of writing. Those creative ventures added to who I was as a writer.

This is the beautiful side effect of Greenbelt writing- by exploring who they truly are as writers, my students’ assigned writing volume and quality has also increased. It’s amazing what kids can do when we put all of the decision making power in their hands.

Thank you, Ralph. Thank you for helping me to inspire my young writers. You’ve given so many teachers and students such a gift with Joy Write.

 

 

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Another small sample from the Greenbelt…  You never know what young students will come up with when given the opportunity to explore who they are as writers!

 

Kids These Days

“I want to write about what happened at the school in Florida,” is the phrase that started the conversation today with my fifth graders.

I’ll let this email to my classroom families explain the rest.

Dear Classroom Families,
          I’m writing to let you know that we had a whole class discussion today about what happened in Florida. It was not planned- it came up naturally. 
          During our morning meeting, I asked the kids to think about an issue they care about for our argument writing pre-assessment later today, which is a regular part of our fifth grade curriculum (we call these on-demand writing assessments). The kids started to share out their ideas: Pollution, global warming, and then one student said she wanted to write about “what happened at the school in Florida.” Suddenly, hands flew in the air, and the kids really wanted to express their thinking around the topic, which turned into a talk about what they think and feel about school safety and even the issue with guns. Please know that I completely kept my opinion out of the conversation and just made sure they had a safe space to express their thinking.  We actually have a lot of differing opinions and beliefs in class, and the kids did a beautiful job listening to each other and talking out how they feel. I’m very proud of all of them. 
          I told them I was going to write to you to let you know that this issue came up in class, and that it is a conversation they should also share with you when they get home today if they still wanted to talk about it.  Please, do not hesitate to let me know if you have any questions. Again, this wasn’t planned, but I am glad we had the conversation because many kids in class desperately wanted to share their thinking.
-Christina 
Did I say and do the right things? I think so. I hope so. I’m not sure.  However, one thing I know for sure is that kids these days are just incredible. We, adults, could learn a great deal from them. They listened to each other, they actually heard each other, and when one had a differing opinion from another, they tried to understand where that person was coming from as opposed to trying to convince them otherwise. It was refreshing to listen in as they lead the honest, mature conversation.
If dialogue like this continues to happen in our schools and in our homes with the younger generation, our future as a country is in good hands. We need to start listening more to our kids rather than telling them what we think. They have a lot to teach us. I hope our present leaders take note.
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Book Thoughts: LOVE by Matt de la Peña

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Yesterday, we read Love as a class for the first time. This important book, written by Matt de la Peña and illustrated by Loren Long, brought about thoughtful discussion and challenged some thinking. For our first read yesterday, I slowly read the book aloud once straight through pausing to allow students to spend some time with each image. Students thought and turned and talked a few times during this first read.

Today, I read it aloud again. As I did, students freely jotted and sketched their thinking in their notebooks.  Then, we had a great discussion. After our discussion, students jotted and sketched again.

Here are a few of those thoughts from their jots and sketches…

 

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Book Thoughts are the unedited jots and sketches from my readers during and after a shared read aloud and discussion. Reading, thinking, and jotting together is perhaps one of our most impactful classroom activities.

 

 

 

Book Mingle!

I’ve been thinking lately that my fifth graders need more opportunities to talk about books that they are reading  and learn about books that may be new to them. We often do book talks as a whole class and partner talks, but I wanted to incorporate a more fun and casual way to chat about books. So, last week in class we started a new activity to get us moving and quickly talking about books. We call this activity The Fifth Grade Book Mingle! Book Mingling happens in a few simple steps.

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Step 1: Students come in at the start of the school day and get right to our morning soft start (thank you, Sara Ahmed!). During soft starts, students enter the room, put their things away, and settle into reading a book of their choice for 15-30 minutes. It is a great way to start the day! All of my students read and I get to confer with them as they do. We do this every single day.

Step 2: I ask students to come to a good stopping point in their books and then announce,”Get ready to mingle!”

Step 3: Music starts and students move about the room while holding up their books in view of their fellow minglers.

Screen Shot 2018-02-12 at 9.58.36 AMStep 4: Music stops, students talk about their books and ask each other questions! To get students going with this, I modeled talking about my current read, Love by Matt de la Peña, with a couple different students. I talked about what I really liked about the book and how it made me think and feel. I also asked questions about the books my temporary book mingle partners were reading.

 

Step 5: Repeat steps 3 and 4 a few times!

Book mingling is such a fun way to get kids up and moving, talking about their books, and then learning about new books their friends are reading- which will grow their to-read lists. My goal is to do this with my fifth graders two to three times each week. With book mingling, engagement is high and the talk around books is natural and authentic.

 

What if…

What if… Reflections from 35,000 feet between St. Louis and San Francisco

Screen Shot 2017-11-21 at 8.16.10 AMWhat if we open the lines of dialogue and ask more about where each other is coming from instead of waiting for our turn to talk or becoming defensive in moments of disagreement?

What if we considered the Patterns of Power in literature and our students’ own writing when teaching grammar instead of the harsh rules, exceptions, and limitations found on worksheets?

What if we arm our students with strategies and a platform for writing rather than assigning a topic that will only live on the teacher’s desk and in a folder?

What if we asked our students what they feel is important instead of forcing importance on them?

What if we taught students how to choose books instead of limiting them to a humiliating level label?

What if we viewed the books in our classroom library through our students’ eyes? What will happen if we ask who is represented, who is misrepresented, and who is missing?

What if we stopped to ask students “what can you try?” when they come to difficulty instead of Doing the Work for them?

What if we look at our students’ writing with an admiring lens instead of a deficit lens?

What if we speak up and call out a colleague when they put down a child? Who will stand up for that child if we don’t? Every child deserves a hero.

What if we show our children that they can be their own heroes? What if we empower them to advocate for themselves and others?

What if we ask our students who they are and accept all of their stories instead of forcing the single story upon them?

What if we speak up when we hear or see prejudice in action? Our silence is acceptance.

What if ALL teachers had access to professional development that inspired them to ask these questions instead of PD that simply shows them how to regurgitate a prescribed curriculum?

What if?

I will never stop asking what if. It may not win me any popularity contests, but it will cause some to think a little differently or to challenge their own views. I may not change everyone’s mind, but I may plant some seeds that have the potential to grow into change at some point. Friends, I hope you’ll join me in asking what if

As teachers, and as teacher leaders, we will never truly know the reach of our influence, but as long as we keep publicly asking what if? and challenge the oppressive and unjust Screen Shot 2017-11-21 at 8.04.49 AMstatus quo, we are making change. Thank you to everyone who inspired me to ask what if? this weekend at NCTE 2017 in St. Louis: Joanne Duncan, Jan Miller Burkins, Kim Yaris, Gravity Goldberg, Renee Houser, Kari Yates, Penny Kittle, Kelly Gallagher, Nancie Atwell, Jeff Anderson, Whitney LaRocca, the entire crew at Stenhouse, Justin Dolcimascolo, Sam Fremin, Susie Rolander, Kathryn Hoffman-Thompson, Kara Pranikoff, Colleen Cruz, Pernille Ripp, Chris Lehman, Heather Rocco, my table of open-minded elementary educators who willingly asked questions and challenged books, Chad Everett, Dana Stachowiak, my dear G2Great cousins, and all of the incredible educators who led and participated in roundtables around conferring first thing on Friday morning. My teacher and change-agent heart is full. There is work to be done, friends.

What if… This, I will never stop asking.

Thanksgiving Reading Plans

Thanksgiving reading Blog ImageThanksgiving break is upon us! So, of course this was a great time to do a healthy reading habits check in with my fifth graders. During the past few days, I spent time conferring with each of my fifth graders around their at home reading habits. As a class, we discussed how Thanksgiving break is the perfect time to truly dig into a good novel… the weather is cooler, lots of in-between moments for reading abound: travel time, waiting time, after dinner time, etc, and no other school work, extra classes, or lessons will be scheduled that may get in the way of the important work of reading.

There’s no need for a cutesy worksheet, dreaded reading log, or homework assignment to get kids reading outside of school. In fact, using those methods to assign reading make reading about complying with the teacher’s expectations rather than reading to grow, learn, and enjoy as an individual. Instead, provide kiddos time to find and take home a great book (or a few in the younger grades), support each reader in creating a reading plan through conferring, and talk about it! Not only did we discuss our reading plans during reading workshop, but also we discussed them in our opening and closing circles at the start and end of the school day.

Each of my fifth graders now have a great, self-selected read or two to delve into over Thanksgiving break. In addition, they also have a plan for reading and friends to come back to after break to chat about the book.

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This reader spent some time choosing a book to dive into over break! He and I then conferred around strategies he’ll use when reading the text and putting his plan for reading into place.

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This is his plan- on a stickie note stuck inside the front cover of the book. No need for a purchased worksheet- plans should be authentic and come from each individual reader.

 

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During our closing circle, these are the readers who said they already read The Lost Hero.  So, here is who my reader will check in with after break to chat about the book. This stickie note is also inside the front cover of the book. The best motivation to read is a self-selected book and other readers chat with about the book. No need for stickers or points when the motivation is authentic and intrinsic!

 

Happy Reading & Happy Thanksgiving!