Archive from The Teacher Triathlete, March 2017
A few weeks ago, as I was talking with my students about their homework for the evening, one of my fifth graders casually mentioned, “You know Ms. Nosek, reading doesn’t feel like homework. Reading is just what we do.“
As those words left her mouth and entered my heart and mind, I knew my initial goal from the start of the school year had been met. My students are readers. They have truly become happy, healthy, engaged readers. Collectively, we are a community of readers.
Two weeks into our school year, I reflected on the steps we’d taken so far to help transform of classroom of 24 students and one teacher into a community of readers. In addition to daily morning circles with book talks, understanding how the classroom library works, and rethinking the dreaded traditional reading log, we spent time every single day reading. Daily independent reading was, and still is, our one nonnegotiable.
Now, seven months into the school year, I can honestly say that consistently putting the big four ideas of access, choice, volume, and support into practice have worked wonders in my classroom. The ideas are not new, and I certainly did not invent them myself. They do not involve gimmicks, big projects, or any paperwork. They are simple, but extremely effective. To implement these big four ideas, all it takes is a little determination and commitment.
The Big 4 Ideas That Built Our Community of Readers
This may seem like a no brainer, but kids can’t read great books unless they have access to those books. Maintaining a classroom library full of books of multiple genres, topics, authors, lengths, writing styles, formats, and time periods is perhaps the most important thing one can do as a reading teacher. Part of classroom library maintenance includes continually updating the library with what kids are reading now. The easiest way to find out what kids are reading now is not through doing extensive online research or consulting your teacher librarian (though those are great options). Rather, the absolute best way to find out what kids are reading and want to read is to ask and observe! In addition, invite kids to take books home. By doing this, I know my kiddos have had access to books both at school and at home. Plus, as far as I know, less than three books have gone missing since the start of the school year!
There is nothing more important than empowering readers to take control of their own reading decisions than choice: what to read, where to read, how long to read, with whom to read, how often to read, when to read, how to keep track of books read, etc. Once students are reading for their own purposes rather for compliance with a teacher’s orders, a transformation takes place. They move from the realm of student to that of reader. According to 2014’s Scholastic Reading Report, 91% of kiddos surveyed reported that their favorite books are the ones they chose themselves. If we think about it, as adults we only read the books we choose for ourselves. We’d be less likely to read and become engaged in a book that was randomly selected for us. Since we’re preparing our kiddos for life outside of our classroom walls, we must prepare them to empower themselves to make their own choices as much as possible- especially when choosing their own reading material. Choice has truly turned some of my students into readers this school year.
Access and choice are great, but they are not really meaningful until volume comes into play. We can think of this in the way we think of eating healthfully and exercising. If we eat healthfully and exercise one day, we may feel great for that one day. However, if the healthful habits stop after one day so do the benefits. If we eat healthfully and exercise everyday for one month, the benefits will not only be 30 days strong, but also a habit may start forming. The more we do something and see or feel positive results, the more likely it is we will stick with it. Hence, reading is just what we do now in the classroom- and at home! Really, it’s something we do whenever we have time. It’s a way of life. Every single day, we do a soft start in the classroom (thank you to Sara Ahmed for this genius but simple idea!). This is where students come in, put their stuff away, and settle in to read for a good 20 to 30 minutes every morning, every day. Not only do we read first thing in the morning, but also we read for an additional 25-45 minutes four days a week during reading workshop. Needless to say, we read a lot! It is a priority. It is our one daily nonnegotiable. When I had the good fortune of seeing Donalyn Miller speak at The California Reading Association Conference this past fall, she spoke of always having a book on hand for those in between times- waiting in line, sitting in the car, those five spare minutes, etc. Think about all the reading that will add up for our students if we encourage them to just always have a book on hand!
In their book, No More Independent Reading Without Support, Debbie Miller and Barbara Moss do a beautiful job of not only stressing the importance of independent daily reading, but independent daily reading with support (it’s a short, quick read packed with relevant research and analysis- I highly recommend ordering it now if it’s new to you!). In my fifth grade classroom, the support that has brought about the biggest impact has been from individual reading conferences every single day. Reading is great, but knowing how to choose books, thinking deeply while reading, setting personal goals, and truly engaging with others around books is even better! Conferring with my readers on a daily basis has helped them attain and practice the skills and strategies they’ve needed to grow and stretch themselves as readers. It’s also given them the needed mirroring (as Gravity Goldberg so wisely calls it) to show them what they are already doing well as readers. When we act as mirrors for our students, we are naming the great things they already do as readers. This is a critical component because when we name it and point it out, they are likely to intentionally replicate those great skills and strategies. Providing students the support they need everyday (yes- every single day without exception) has been the not-so-secret ingredient to creating our fifth grade community of readers.
Now, every Monday through Thursday when we talk about homework, rather than regarding reading as homework, we have a little chant that has naturally evolved over the past few weeks. When I pose the question, “Fifth graders, reading is not your homework tonight, right? Rather…”
“Reading is a way of life!” they chant back. It’s just what we do.
Happy Reading, Friends!