Sunday, October 9, 2011

Building a Reading Life Success Tip # 5

This tip might work really well for you if you can't attend library time with your students (Tip # 4)--
Create a list of books from your library catalog for your growing readers. I did this by having conversations with my struggling students about their interests. "What books have you liked in the past?" "I noticed you are choosing books with ships on the cover, what draws you to those books?" Listen (don't stress too much about thinking about books RIGHT NOW), let the child talk, and you will get a wealth of knowledge about their interests.

With my knowledge of the child's interests AND their independent reading levels in mind, I perused our school's online catalog to see what we had available. I chose books that were at and somewhat below their independent reading level, added them to "my list" on the catalog, and printed it in color so that the child could see the titles of the books and the covers. My main goal is to get my growing readers books they are interested in that they can finish in 1-2 days AND for the child to start to feel what it's like to be able to read a book successfully. Success breeds success, confidence, and a desire to read more. Since implementing this strategy, a child who spent the first week starting and abandoning books now has so many books to read, his book box is overflowing. We go to the library, and he chooses more every time. We now have a running list of books he wants to read next (that he has found on his own based on the books from the list that he has been successful with) because we constantly see more "just right books" that he wants to read (again, the Stone Arch series is AMAZING for our growing readers).

Why is creating a suggested list of books for growing readers important? Why has it worked so well? I realized for a 4th or 5th grade reader who is reading below grade level, my classroom library (and the school library) is not really a friendly place. There are hundreds of books with awesome, exciting covers that draw them in. They feel like they are interested and it might be just right, they start to read and are quickly uncomfortable. But, having never really read a load of "just right" books, they might feel like "I never know all the words in my books, so what's it matter any way. I will just keep trying with this one." and they continue to have unsuccessful, unenjoyable reading experiences.

Now, I have other students asking me to create book lists for them. I tell them "Write me a quick note about what you would be interested in and I'll see what I can find." Why would I do this for my non-strugglers? One, they value my opinion and it shows I care about them, but two-by being willing to create a list for any student in the class, it diminishes any stigma that could possibly develop for the readers that needed me to create an initial list to get them reading on fire.

This is my MOST FAVORITE intervention strategy! I wish I had started doing it years ago!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Building a Reading Life Success Tip # 4

Building a Reading Life Tip # 4:  GO TO LIBRARY/MEDIA TIME WITH YOUR STUDENTS and capitalize on this time. Hopefully you have another adult in the library with you. Most of your students are busy looking for books and you can really take this time to help as many readers as you can choose amazing books that they will be successful with and that will keep them begging to read more. 

Remember when I said  I was not willing to level my classroom library until the strategies  I have in place for helping students choose books no longer work? I think this is one of the greatest strategies you can use to help bridge the gap between the conversations that happen in the classroom and what books students choose in the library. Choosing just right books is often one of my first intervention topics with struggling readers--while it also helps keep growing readers from developing apathy towards reading.

Be ready...know where to head in the library (this is where the series list I posted yesterday comes in handy), but I make sure I try to leave the decision making up to the child. Our conversation usually goes something like this "Hey, supersweetchild, want to look for books together? What about this one? Wow, let's look at the back (I usually read it aloud because the backs of books tend to be harder to read/understand than the actually book itself). Whoa, what do you think might happen in this book? Let's flip through it. Oh, it looks like it's arranged in chapters and the chapters have titles--that will be helpful (or Ohhhh the chapters don't have titles, so I know it will be important to think what this chapter was about before I move on to the next one). Why don't you read a page and see how this book feels?...Well, this book seems really cool, but I'm going to let you decide if you want to read it." etc. etc. etc. In the 5-10 minutes I work with a child in the library, I show them I care about their reading life (again, not just expecting it to happen) AND I set a struggling reader up to be successful with an impromptu book introduction. And the kid thinks I'm just trying to spend some time with them :)

The smallest change (if this is possible for you) has made the biggest difference for my kiddos. And, this is one of those routines every week that brings me sheer joy!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Building a Reading Life Success Tip # 3

Tip #3: Know who your struggling readers are AS SOON AS POSSIBLE--preferably before the school year starts--use end of year data and the prior grade level's teachers as resources if your school does not already have a way of sharing who the VIP students are. Then, start asking questions. Ask the classroom teacher why they think the child has been a struggling reader (decoding? comprehension? inferences? attention? stamina? motivation? BTW, I call an unmotivated reader a student who just hasn't been led to the right book yet, but you might hear it as a motivation issue). What was this child's favorite book he/she read this year? (This probably means the book was on the child's just right level and they felt very successful when reading it. Their favorite book gives you insight into what level of books to choose and what topics to look for. But, I guess you should also be cautious of using this as too much of a ruler because the child could have enjoyed the book, like "Diary of a Wimpy Kid," but not necessarily have understood all of it or been able to read all of the words.)

Build a relationship with the student: I was lucky enough to already know who one of my struggling readers was before the school year started and able to build a conversational relationship with this student "Hey! How are you? You're about to be a big 4th grader--I hope you're reading up a storm." etc. before the school year started.

Have a round about idea of the child's reading level and know what books you are going to lead the child to BEFORE he/she walks into the classroom. Do you have a set of HIGH interest/LOW level books? The Stone Arch (capstone publishers) are my "go to" series/publisher for students with word-reading issues and boys especially like many of the titles. They have silly titles like "My Mom the Pirate," "My Dad the Dragon" but then they also have series topics like "Kids Against Hunger." You can find fantasy, mystery, comedy, romance, realistic fiction, and more within the Stone Arch books. Like many teachers, you might keep that child in mind while you are at the bookstore or library over your summer or weekends. (I know, we do a lot for our kids, but oh, how rewarding it is for me to say "I was thinking about you this weekend and thought you might LOVE this book I found." and how does it affect a child's reading life to know you care enough to be thinking about them outside of school?)

To help myself help my struggling readers head-on this year, I created a leveled list of popular series/ books so that I would have a quick reference of the books I might suggest for students. The great thing about a lot of the lower-leveled series is that they touch on so many topics that might get your struggling reader's attention. For example, I directed one student to all of the books about pirates in one series, while I directed another student to Pee Wee scouts that focused on holidays like Halloween and Valentines. Here's the list I came up with:

I could write about struggling readers forever (and perhaps it should be a focus for a week of quick posts :). But, let me say a few things about knowing your struggling readers:
1) There are ways to help struggling readers WITHOUT telling them a book is too hard for them. (You may eventually find, after trying many strategies, that you do have to tell some students that a book is not just right, but I try my best to teach a child what that means. This year, I have CELEBRATED when a child started a book that I knew was not just right and mid-day let me know that they wanted to stop reading the book because it was not just right. PERFECT! Some students will need more help than others to understand how to choose just right. I will give a tip for that later this week.

2) I never tell a child their level. If they are a struggling reader, they probably already know this. If they are an above grade level reader, I would hate for them to start tooting their horns because they were assessed at a level R, S, T, or higher because even my high-assessing readers have LOTS of work to do in comprehension with thinking at high levels and at being able to verbalize their thoughts. While Lucy Calkins and I disagree on this area and I think many teachers have successfully leveled their classroom libraries, I'm just not ready to tell a child their level until the day my strategies for steering a child to just right books doesn't work any more. I say this because I am talking about levels today, but I don't want to send the message that I tell a child they need to read Magic Treehouse because they are a level M, N, O. etc.

PS-The ideas I am posting this week (Why I think Building a Reading Life has been such a success) were NEW-ISH for me this year. So, I am posting from reflecting on what made this year different from the others. Why are my students reading on fire, keeping the passion for reading going?

The bottom line on today's tip--why knowing who my struggling readers were was different this year--This year, I went into it with a plan, not just a list of names. My goal, no matter how hard I had to strive was to get my struggling readers reading on fire. I had my toolbox ready before they walked in the door. (And I convinced them that they wanted to have THE BEST reading life EVER!) Welcome to a new year, today is your day!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Building a Reading Life Success Tip # 2

How can you help students have the best reading life ever? I used to believe simply providing students with independent reading every day, reading aloud wonderful literature everyday, having a love of reading myself, and expecting them to read at school and home would create this "ya gotta do it, so you might as well love it" least that's the way it sounds in most of the books about teaching reading that I have read. While I believed this, I'm not sure I ever said it out loud to my students until this year.

One of the first lessons in Building a Reading Life had me address this attitude head on. Lucy Calkins talks about being a "curmudgeon" towards books, and tells students that we all have a choice in the attitude we take towards things that we do in our lives. We can read like books are gold or we can read like curmudgeons (basically a curmudgeon would read cantankerously, with a grouchy attitude, scowling face and all). Over exaggerating this attitude for my students helped them get the point that we have a choice and if reading is something we are going to do EVERY DAY at home and school AND if we are going to have the BEST reading life ever, we should choose to read like books are gold. In everything we enjoy doing, we have all had the best of times and the worst of times. Students can relate to this and see why they shouldn't give up on having a good reading life just because they have had bad reading experiences in the past. If a book is turning a child into a curmudgeon, then it's the wrong book. This year, I didn't just hold that belief, I feel like I shouted it to the school's rooftop. "IF A BOOK IS TURNING YOU INTO A CURMUDGEON, PUT IT DOWN NOW!!!!"

This has become our inside joke for many things in the classroom--grumpy about a math problem? done with being challenged? annoyed it's Monday? "Are you being a curmudgeon?" I ask my students, and their grumpiness melts away with a little smile.

So, TIP #2: Call out the curmudgeon-ness that could exist towards reading. Put it out there, then convince students that it's the wrong relationship to have with books. (Then, make sure you hold independent reading time sacred every day, demonstrate a love of reading yourself, and expect students to read at school and home.)

A Week of Building a Reading Life Success Stories Post 1

So, I have really got to get better at blogging. I'm going to try to commit to smaller posts 5 or so times a week. Let's see how this goes.

In an earlier post, I talked about Lucy Calkins' new Reading Units of Study. The first unit is called "Building a Reading Life" and boy have we built a reading life in my classroom this year. Students are reading like crazy. Teaching at a year round school, I always request/require that each student reads one book over break. When I told students this on our last day, they just about choked on their disgust at my suggestion. "I've got way more books to read than one!" "Well excuse me," I replied. "Read as much as you can! :)" I can't wait to see how many of them read more than one book and if they were able to maintain their reading life without the influence of classroom independent reading time, partner talks, and getting to tell me about their reading.

So, this week, I will share reasons I think "Building a Reading Life" has been successful.

Reason # 1: I have to give this first spot to my students. My 4th graders are so sweet, easily influenced, glued to books. Although I feel like they walked in this way, many parents are telling me that they have noticed a tremendous change in their child's attitude towards books. I will take some credit because I didn't just talk about reading life for a day or two and move on (but dedicated a whole nine weeks to it), but I am not comfortable taking all the credit. What if my students weren't so moldable, you might ask? Stay tuned for some ways I have helped struggling readers "build a reading life" this year.


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