5 Decisions I Made to Support Kids Reading Over the Break

Spring break is here! Well, it’s here for those of us in my corner of the San Francisco Bay Area. All of my fifth graders have made plans for reading over the break, and I trust that hundreds upon hundreds of pages will be read over the next nine days. Why? Well, as a teacher, I made a few intentional decisions to set them up for reading success.

Decision #1

My fifth graders have started every single day this school year by reading self-selected books for 15-40 minutes. That’s kicking off 141 consecutive school days with reading! Reading has become a habit for all of us. The more you read books you love, the more likely you are to continue reading- even when school is not in session.

Decision #2

We talk about books everyday, multiple times a day. Our constant talk about books across the school day has made reading a part of our all-day everyday in the classroom. This talk has even transcended beyond our school day. How do I know?

  • I confer with my students each day. Sometimes, they talk about their reading and discussions about reading beyond the school day during our conferences.
  • On our online class discussion (ours is in Schoology, but there are many other platforms available), kids chat about their books and reading- they do this by choice on their own time.
  • Parents have casually told me how much their kids read and want to talk about their reading at home.

Decision #3

I’m a reader myself. Perhaps this isn’t a decision. Well, at some point in my life (it’s tough to pinpoint when), I decided I was a reader. But, the most important decision was intentionally deciding to share my own reading life with my students. They all know how my favorite time of the week is my first cup of coffee with The New York Times on Sunday and that one of my main reading goals right now is to read more realistic fiction to grow as a reader. They also know I made this goal for myself because I’ve fallen into a habit of mostly reading narrative nonfiction. My point is, they know who I am as a reader. By sharing my own reading life with them, they are more apt to honestly share their individual reading lives with me. Because of this, I am better positioned to support them as readers- I am better positioned to affirm what’s working well in their reading lives and offer next steps when roadblocks arise. When we affirm what’s going well in a reading life and offer support when trouble might happen (which it often does), our readers are more likely to succeed in reading more and sharing more with us.

Decision #4

I give my students free rein of the library with no restrictions at all. We have been in school for 141 days. Free rein did not start on day one. It took time. At first, we used browsing boxes. Then, the library was introduced. After that, tons of book talks and book basket talks were given. Oodles of mini lessons, small groups, and conferences were conducted around how readers choose books. And, eventually, we got to where we are today. When students have choice over their reading, we know they read much more than when they don’t have choice.

Decision #5

I invite kids to take books home. I know this scares many teachers, and I completely understand. I was quite worried, too, before I made this decision a few years back. The fear of losing books terrified me. Books cost money- my own teacher salary money! That’s kind of scary. However, when I realized that many of my students would not continue reading if I didn’t allow them to bring the books home, I knew I had to make a change. So, my students bring home books to enjoy. They bring home the books knowing the importance of returning them. They know that other readers need to also have access to the books, and they know that books cost money (there is no reason to pretend they don’t!). Do I lose a few books each year along the way? Yes- a few. However, the vast majority of books lent out always come back. Simply put, kids can’t read books if they don’t have access to them.

All of these decisions were made long ago. If we want kids to read when they are not with us, we have to first figure out ways to cultivate a vibrant and engaging culture of reading in our classrooms everyday. We can’t expect kids to do what we don’t model or show them. It’s not too late to start now. It’s never too late to grow a love of reading.

To get kids reading over break- spring break, summer break, winter break, any break, make the decision get them reading every single day in the classroom first.

Our low tech and public spring break book check out system. Not only does everyone know what everyone else is reading, but also I know which books have been taken home at a glance. I’m looking forward to all of our conversations around reading when we return!

Rethinking “I’m proud of you.”

Andi, a student of mine, was so excited during writing workshop today. After trying a few different things out, she finally wrote an introduction to her persuasive essay that she felt would really grab her readers’ attention. She excitedly requested a conference with me to ask what I thought about her introduction.

I didn’t plan to meet with Andi today, but she was so excited to share her writing that I certainly couldn’t say no. When we settled in for our conference together, I started off how I typically do with my fifth grade writers, “Hi Andi- what would you like to talk about?”

“I think I really wrote a great introduction! I want to know what you think!”

“Ok, can you read it to me?” I responded with a smile.

Andi then read her introduction aloud (which I have to say was very clever, and definitely made me want to read more!). As soon as she finished reading it aloud, she looked at me with a huge smile seeking out my approval by asking, “Do you like it?”

Some of you might be thinking- that’s great, she wants to share her writing! She’s seeking out the teacher to share her great work.

Well, I honestly had a different reaction. The last thing I want as a writing teacher is my students seeking out my approval. I don’t want them to look for the standard response of “I’m proud of you” or “Great job!” Their job as writers (readers, mathematicians, scientists, etc) is not to gain my approval. So, I responded with something else. I tried to respond in a way to get Andi to seek out her own approval and to notice exactly what she did as a writer to make her feel this way.

“Well, what do you think about your introduction? Do you feel you’ve accomplished what you set out to do?”

Andi quickly responded, “Yes! Definitely. I think my reader will want to keep reading. I think the statistic I shared will surprise them and make them want to know more about the topic.”

I looked at her, smiled, and said, “Andi, recognize how you’re feeling right now as a writer. Think about the decision you made to provoke this feeling in your future readers. This is potentially a strategy you can use again in your writing. I bet you can even share it with some classmates to support their efforts. Would you be up for that?”

“Yes! I’ll share why I decided to use the statistic to start! I really like how it sounds.”

“Take note of the pride you feel in yourself right now, Andi. Consider jotting down the decision you made as a writer in your notebook. Revisit it the next time you’re starting a piece of writing or perhaps when you’re conferring with a friend to support their work.”

“Ok. I will. Thanks, Ms. Nosek.” Andi then jotted down the strategy she made the choice to use in her notebook, and walked off feeling proud of herself as a writer. With that, our conference ended.

Now, imagine if I just told Andi that I was proud of her. If I used those words, it would have made her writing about pleasing me instead of empowering her. There is nothing inherently wrong with telling kids we’re proud of them. However, I’m making the effort with my teacher language to help them recognize when they are proud of themselves. The goal is helping my students empower themselves, not making me proud. Simple language choices make a big difference.