Sneak Peek at Chapter #1: How Do I Build and Maintain a Reading Community?

The first chapter in Answers to Your Biggest Questions About Teaching Elementary Reading focuses on building and maintaining a classroom reading community.

Before students can deeply engage in the challenging yet exhilarating work of solving words, making meaning, and authentically interacting with text, they need to feel safe, welcome, and ready to take risks in the classroom. A surefire way to supporting students in doing this is through intentionally working toward building a thriving and continually growing classroom community of readers. Many factors and conditions intentionally set in place play a role in creating and maintaining a reading community.

Chapter one is comprised of answers to the following questions about building and maintaining a reading community.

Answers to Your Biggest Questions About Teaching Elementary Reading, Chapter 1 Contents, pg. ix

Community Building Resource Right Now

One way to to start to build or continue to maintain your classroom reading community is to set students up for success in discussions and partnership/group talk. Directly teaching students how conversation works or offering reminders can improve the level of conversation students engage in around reading and books. Take a look at the student-led partnership/group discussion tips in the box below. Click on the image for a larger/printable view.

More community building methods, routines, and tips can be found throughout chapter one! The next post in this series will offer a sneak peek at chapter two, How Do I Structure, Organize, and Plan my Reading Instruction?

All posts in this sneak peek blog series can be found linked here. Learn even more about Answers to Your Biggest Questions About Teaching Elementary Reading by clicking here.

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Looking for literacy PD? I’m available for on-site, in-school, and virtual summer 2022 professional development sessions around all topics and needs in K-6 literacy education. Booking is also available for select dates during the 2022-23 school year and beyond. Learn more here or contact cnosekliteracy@gmail.com to get started. I’d love to work with you and your teachers! -Christina

Got Questions About Teaching Reading? Answers are on the Way! Book & Blog Series

I’m thrilled my new book, Answers to Your Biggest Questions About Teaching Elementary Reading, will be in teachers’ hands in a matter of days! This book was written with practicing and soon-to-be practicing elementary classroom teachers in mind. I’m hoping it clears up some confusing and conflicting messages, offers reassurance, and provides practical methods and ideas for teachers to put into practice right away. Most importantly, students were placed at the heart of every page– following the lead of the readers in your classroom is front and center in every chapter in the book.

As a classroom teacher myself, I considered questions I had as a newer teacher and ones I still have as a veteran. I also consulted student teachers, first year teachers, other veteran teachers, literacy-ed authors & scholars, and mounds of literature and research in the field to come up with helpful answers to the most common questions that frequently pop up in actual classroom practice. Sometimes, the answers are straight forward and explained in a step by step manner. Other times, further reading is suggested, especially for the more nuanced and complex portions of reading instruction (and there are many!).

Starting on Monday, March 21st, I will introduce each chapter in the book with a sneak peek of the questions answered and a few practical teaching tips and suggestions thrown in. A new chapter and questions will be introduced every few days. All posts will be linked here once they’re available.

I’m so excited to share this book and thinking with my fellow classroom teachers! Corwin is offering 20% off– use the code SAVE20. Learn more here.

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Looking for literacy PD? I’m available for on-site, in-school, and virtual summer 2022 professional development sessions around all topics and needs in K-6 literacy education. Booking is also available for select dates during the 2022-23 school year and beyond. Learn more here or contact cnosekliteracy@gmail.com to get started. I’d love to work with you and your teachers! -Christina

Bring Back the Joy! Free Webinar on Monday, March 7th

On Monday, March 7th, 3:30pacific/6:30 eastern, Melanie Meehan, Georgina Rivera, and I will be discussing practical ways to increase the joy in your elementary reading, writing, and math instruction. There will be giveaways, goodies, and lots of fun. I hope you’ll join us! Register here.

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Looking for literacy PD? I’m available for on-site, in-school, and virtual summer 2022 professional development sessions around all topics and needs in K-6 literacy education. Booking is also available for select dates during the 2022-23 school year and beyond. Learn more here or contact cnosekliteracy@gmail.com to get started. I’d love to work with you and your teachers! -Christina

New Book Announcement & Early Reviews!

I’m thrilled to announce that my new book for teachers, Answers to Your Biggest Questions About Teaching Elementary Reading in Corwin’s Five to Thrive series was just sent to the printer! It will be in teachers’ hands in March 2022! Even though I wrote this book with new teachers in mind, anyone who is looking to make their K-5 reading instruction more student-centered will find it helpful.

Corwin is currently offering 20% off when purchased directly from their website. Use code SAVE20

Take a look at what a few of our literacy colleagues from across the country think…

“Imagine getting to be a fly on the wall of an exemplary teacher’s classroom watching reading instruction.  Now imagine that you have a guidebook in front of you explaining why and how everything is happening, like the key on a map.  This author is that teacher and this book is that guide. Elementary Reading: 5 to Thrive shares the whys and hows of great reading instruction in a classroom with clear examples and ample resources for those ready to dig deeper. It is an excellent resource for both new and veteran teachers wanting to make the best use of instructional time to help grow readers who will read for life, not just 20 minutes.”
-Jacqui Cebrian, Elementary Reading Specialist and Community Advocate for Book Access.

“Wow! Literacy Educators are so fortunate to have this newest book by Christina Nosek out in the world! It is an incredible addition to the resources we have, and one that is unique in what it offers readers. I love that it can be read cover to cover or used when thinking about a specific piece of your literacy teaching.  Christina responds to each question with depth and intentionality.  Embedded throughout are messages about the language we use as teachers and how we can be more thoughtful with our language in order to support student agency.  I can see using this book with my preservice teachers and I can also see using it myself, as a source of grounding and reflection.  It will be used by teachers, literacy coaches, administrators and teacher educators.  There is something for every literacy teacher to grow his/her practice, no matter experience level.”
-Franki Sibberson, Past President of NCTE and Author of Beyond Leveled Books

“Answers to Your Biggest Questions About Teaching Elementary Reading, is just the necessary book that teachers, novice and veteran, need to remind them of the most salient and important reasons of what really matters in the teaching of reading. From those percolating questions that keep you up at night, to the curriculum presentations that require a justification of why the teaching of reading matters, this book is the compass that will steer you North. Validating, and centered on the foundational understanding, in particular to the most vulnerable of children, this book holds social justice, agency and lifelong learning at its core. A must read for all teachers, time and time again! Chris makes the information digestible, relevant and accessible to teachers and everyone who understands that the teaching and learning of reading goes way beyond the words on a page. Chris’ approachable and insensible love for things that are this important, makes this book a necessity for everyone.”
-Lucía Rocha-Nestler, M. Ed, Senior Staff Developer and Literacy Consultant, The Language and Literacy Collaborative

I’m excited to share more information about the book soon! Also, be on the lookout for an accompanying blog series coming in March! In the meantime, join Melanie Meehan, Georgina Rivera, and me for a free webinar coming up on March 7th. At the webinar, we’ll discuss practical, engaging ways to help teachers bring joy through authentic reading, writing, and math instruction to their final months of the school year. Learn more and register here.

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Looking for literacy PD? I’m available for on-site, in-school, and virtual summer 2022 professional development sessions around all topics and needs in K-6 literacy education. Booking is also available for select dates during the 2022-23 school year and beyond. Learn more here or contact cnosekliteracy@gmail.com to get started. I’d love to work with you and your teachers! -Christina

The Extra Words Are Worth It: It’s Time to Stop the Assumptive Labeling of Children

Struggling reader, at-risk, disadvantaged, a level M, low reader, below grade level, striving reader, nonreader, these kids, those kids, initiative kids, program kids, label, after harmful label… the list could go on.

Did you have a reaction as you read this list of commonly used labels in school? I definitely had a reaction as I wrote them. In fact, I have a reaction each time I hear one of them used- whether in writing or in conversation. I actually have a reaction every time I hear any label that lumps children together.

Often times when children are lumped together with a label, the assumption is made that they all need the same type of instruction in order to grow. Not all children who need extra support in reading need the same thing. Some children will need more targeted instruction in phonemic awareness while others might need support with monitoring for understanding or active self-regulation. Unless the adults involved take the time to get to know children as individual readers, nothing will change. Assumptions are just as harmful as labels, perhaps even more harmful.

I propose a different way to refer to our students. Rather than sticking an unhelpful label on our students, let’s adopt language that is individualized, actionable, and that puts the onus on the adults at all levels, from the classroom to the district office, to provide our individual students with what they individually need to grow.

So, how do we do this?

The first step is to watch and listen to our students with a sense of wonder. Identify strengths first. Notice and name what kids are already doing well. After naming strengths, move on to identifying next steps for growth. Our language should then mirror this. Our adult language should start with a strength, then name the actionable teaching to provide the needed next step.

Instead of saying an unhelpful statement like, “Tony is a struggling reader”
Reframe it to, “Tony is a skilled decoder of words. He needs direct support in listening comprehension in order to continue to grow his vocabulary. He also will highly benefit from more time to engage in casual conversation with friends in class.”

Rather than using a hurtful phrase like, “Lina is a low reader”
Try, “Lina loves listening to and talking about stories. She is always highly engaged during class read alouds. She will benefit from extra support with decoding multisyllabic words so she can independently access even more stories.”

In place of a deficit-based label like, “Rui is below grade level”
Try, “Rui is a fluent speaker and skilled reader of Portuguese. I need to provide him with more time listening and talking in small groups in class with his friends to support his new language acquisition. Additionally, I need to find more stories in Portuguese to help him also continue to grow in his home language.”

This more specific language not only supports educators who directly work with children by starting with an asset-based lens, but it also names actionable steps that will actually help.

In order to do this continual work of reframing language to view students with an asset-based lens, teachers need to be given room to do so. Sadly, one size fits all heavily marketed solutions seem to be gaining traction across schools, districts, and learning communities. Placing an emphasis on one size fits all solutions detracts from the time and energy needed to individualize our lens and language in education.

I’ll end with this simple thought: In my own teaching practice, I will not use language to describe a student that I wouldn’t use in front of them or their families. I invite you to join me. Join me in using the extra words. The extra words will lead to action. The extra words are worth it.

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Looking for literacy PD? I’m available for on-site, in-school, and virtual summer professional development sessions around all topics and needs in K-6 literacy education. Booking is also available for select dates during the 2022-23 school year and beyond. Learn more here or contact cnosekliteracy@gmail.com to get started. I’d love to work with you and your teachers! -Christina

Learning Gain #3: Listen to the Children

Last week, on the one year anniversary of teaching pandemic school, my fifth grade teaching colleagues and I invited our students to reflect on the past year. We asked our students to consider what they’ve learned, how they’ve grown, what they’ve missed, and even what they now understand that they didn’t understand 12 months ago. Our fifth graders were given space and time to share their thinking through writing.

Not one of our 64 fifth graders, 1/3 of whom are learning from home full-time while the other 2/3 are learning in a hybrid school environment, mentioned that they worried about “learning loss,” academic standards, or about keeping/catching up. Oddly, many adults removed from classrooms or direct work with children are loudly sharing concerns with anyone who will listen about our children falling behind an arbitrary benchmark or standard. These same adults have likely not asked any children to reflect and share their thinking.

Let’s listen to the children. I have gained quite a bit by listening to our fifth graders over the past few months. Here is what some of them had to say last week, on our one year anniversary of doing school during the pandemic…

On Themselves

  • “Through this pandemic, I have realized more about myself, from my personal preferences to how I think. I have learned a lot of life lessons, and now I know how to better cope with bad things that come my way. I think I have also become a better person, I’m more self-aware and persevering.”
  • “I think that I have learned to be patient, and I still am learning because the virus hasn’t stopped yet. One thing that I have realized about myself when I was stuck in quarantine was that music and singing could help with my anxiety. Music has really helped. I can always depend on my music.”
  • “I really miss what life was like before COVID-19, but I’ve grown during this time. I’ve learned how to have fun with myself and that I need to appreciate time with others. But it’s really good that I know how to enjoy my time alone. It’s ok to be alone sometimes.”
  • “I’ve learned that sometimes just making it through is an accomplishment. We should all feel accomplished.”

On Relationships

  • “I have learned to be grateful for what I have and to not take things for granted. I’m so grateful for my family. Other people have lost so much and I realize I am so fortunate to have my family. I will never take them for granted.”
  • “I’ve learned the importance of family, even if we drive each other crazy. They are the ones I love and care about. I need them just like they need me. We all need each other. Especially now. We are united, together, and a team.”
  • “I miss playing with my friends everyday. Even though I don’t get to see them in person I’m glad we have found other ways to do things together. I appreciate my friends more than ever.”
  • “This year has been filled with tears, laughter, and new friends. I met new people! I actually met new friends in school but in weird ways. It wasn’t like how I used to meet friends. I feel more confident to talk to new people now. Everybody needs friends and I see that now.”

On The World, Advocacy, and Change

  • “I’ve learned that the world is a really big place and a really small place. I’ve learned that it’s important to care about other people and other places in the world. That if I can help I should help. I want to help all people in the world.”
  • “I also think that I have learned how bad racism is, which makes me so mad and upset. I know I need to do something about it. I need to speak up. I will speak up.”
  • “I have realized that we need to adapt to our environment, it won’t adapt to us. But, I have also realized that if we want anything to change we have to do it together. We have to actually do something. Not just wait around for others because if everyone does that then nothing will actually change.”
  • “This pandemic has turned the world upside down, and once the vaccines are done, hopefully it will be turned back again. No matter what happens, it will always stay a little tilted from all the changes it has made to the way we live. It showed the human race how no matter what challenges we face, there is always a way to persevere. It showed us that even in the darkest tunnels, no matter how overwhelmed you feel, there will be light at the end.”

On Overcoming Obstacles

  • “I have also come to understand that we will face big problems in our life that we can’t always fix alone. We have to take them slow like a math problem that we don’t understand yet. And slowly, but surely our problem will start to get fixed. Not just like that, but it will fade away slowly with work. We can’t always solve the problems in our lives, but we have to try different ways to solve them and never give up. I know that these days are really hard for everybody, so we all have to try to make a difference.”
  • “Everything has been so hard. But I now realize that I can overcome hard things. It’s not easy, but it can be done. Sometimes I need to ask for help and sometimes I don’t. No matter how hard something feels I now know that it’s probably temporary. It’s ok if things are hard sometimes.”
  • “The pandemic has brought us problems, but also solutions, solutions that can carry on even after these days of troubles. Solutions that will make a difference even in the far, cloudy future where kids will be learning about how this year was one of the strangest humanity has seen. This year has taught everyone how easy our society can shatter, but also that we can put the pieces back together.”

On More Traditional Academics

  • “I learned things! I learned how to draw better and I learned more math! Which has surprised me and everyone around me! It’s inspired me to work harder. I know I don’t really need normal school to learn new things.”
  • “The pandemic has also shown me that I love to draw and I’m good at it. For example, in fourth grade I didn’t know how to draw, I didn’t even really try. When the pandemic started, I began to draw to fill the time. Now I enjoy drawing and have found it as one of my hobbies. It even helps me with my writing!”
  • “I learned a very important lesson. I learned that I can choose my own books. I don’t have to just read books others want me to read. That helped me so much. I actually like reading now.”
  • “I learned that school can be done anywhere. I miss going to my actual school, but I know I can learn from home. I actually kind of like it. I like doing math and writing at home. I never thought I’d say that.”

So, the next time someone makes claims about our children, ask them if they’ve given children the opportunity to reflect upon and share what they’ve learned and realized over these past 12 months. When we take the time to give our kids an opportunity to truly reflect on their feelings and learnings and express themselves, we can learn so much more than we could ever anticipate.

It’s time to listen to the kids. It’s long past time.

-Christina

All posts in this series can be found at this link.