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!

Hang in there, teachers! You got this.

Three days of school left…

I’m not going to lie. It has been rather challenging. In fact, it has been a downright struggle to stay upright the past couple weeks.  I’m still knee deep in finishing mandated summative assessments, entrenched in 5th grade practice for their formal promotion ceremony on Friday, and am just overwhelmed with the thought of having to complete my report cards by Friday at 1:30PM.

My fellow teachers- yes, this time of year is hard. It is challenging. It is downright exhausting. You are not alone if you are struggling. I’m struggling, and I’ve been doing this for close to two decades! It’s normal to be overwhelmed. It’s normal to feel like you have no time to do the things that actually matter with all of the end of year hoopla going on.

However, I’m asking you, pleading with you, to do one thing both for yourself and your students. Before you say goodbye to your kiddos, pack up your shelves and cabinets, and close the door for the end of the year, take some time to make one last connection with your kiddos.  It’s truly a gift not only for your kids, but also for you.

During this insanely busy day today, I made sure there was time for 30 minutes of independent reading. Yes- I sacrificed other things, and I was happy to do so. For years now (more than I can actually remember), independent reading has been my one nonnegotiable in the classroom. I clear the schedule to make sure my kiddos have independent reading time every single day no matter what. In fact, I fiercely protect it.  Remember, when we value something we make room for it. If there’s no time, then perhaps it’s not something we really value.

Back to the gift to my kiddos and myself… during those 30 minutes of independent reading time today, I conferred. Rather than conferring with individual readers like I typically do, I held what I like to call cluster conferences. Cluster conferences are where I settle in near a group of readers (at a table, in the library, on the floor among a group of beanbags, etc…) to have a conversation around reading with the kids nearby. To start each cluster conference, I first asked my readers in the area if I could join them- after all, this is their personal reading space. Then, I asked them to come to a good stopping point in their books.  Once each reader was at a good stopping point, I simply stated, “Let’s chat about our plans for summer reading. What are you thinking?”

Screen Shot 2018-05-29 at 8.30.43 PMAnd, think and chat they did! Each of my cluster conferences turned into lovely and lively group conversations about what we all plan to read this summer. My kiddos gave each other recommendations for books, places and times to read, and even made plans to check in with each other over the summer about their similar book choices.

These conversations filled my tired teacher heart and made me smile. I realized that one of the reasons I was worn out is because I worked all year preparing my kiddos to do what they did today- to independently lead themselves and each other in goal setting and planning conferences. This was no easy task. It took work- a lot of hard, well-worth-the-effort work! Once I realized this, my exhausted feeling turned into a sort of satisfaction. I sat back, looked around my classroom at my readers, and smiled.

No matter what happens in the next few days, I know I still have precious time to cluster confer with my readers. I know I still have time to make a difference. I know I’m making a difference…

and so are you.

Hang in there, my fellow teachers. Hang in there, and take some time to genuinely connect with your kiddos before you say goodbye. Connect over summer reading- it’s a perfect way to embrace both the heart and the mind of each student before you say goodbye. You’ll be so glad you did.

You got this!

 

For more on summer reading… 

A Small Glimpse Into Our Summer Reading Conferences

The Road to Pleasure Reading: Six Steps to Ensure Your Students Will Read This Summer

Keep the Reading Going… Letter to Classroom Families

For more on conferring… 

Why Confer with Readers? Ten Compelling Reasons

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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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!