“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 goal 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 two 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.