We are two weeks into the year and slowly the routines are starting to shape up. We know each other just a little. Our community is growing. The incredible inquisitive and funny nature of our 7th graders is coming out more and more. And every day we start the same way; twenty minutes at least of independent reading. Twenty minutes to “Settle in, settle down, and get reading.” Twenty minutes where I get to book shop with kids, check in on their day, and also do initial reading conferences with the kids as we start to get to know each other more. After all, how am I supposed to help them grow as readers if I don’t know them as readers, as people?
Our first reading conferences are simple yet effective as we start this journey together. All it takes is a few things: our reader survey, their goal setting as it ties in with their 7th-grade reading challenge, my note taking sheet, my home information sheet and time. Hmm, maybe that sounds complicated, but it is not. What these different things do is allow me to slowly gather information on the students and open up conversation.
The reading survey helps me get insight into their reading habits and emotions tied in with reading. They do this within the first few days of school.
The home sheet was used during our ready-set-go conferences prior to school starting but I also use it throughout the year to fill in more information. (The pronoun question/answer is an optional question from a different survey).
And my note-taking sheet, a constant work in progress, gives me a place to keep all of my information, in order to have a place to remember our conversations by.
Every class has its own binder where the information is placed alphabetically, and that’s how I start; alphabetically and call up two or three students every day during their reading time.
A few easy questions start us off: When we meet would you prefer to come to me or me come to you? (Many prefer the relative privacy of coming to me). Which book are you reading, how did you choose that one, how would you rank it on a scale from 1 to 10?
Then we move into their reading goal. Questions I ask are: What is your goal, how come you set that, and tell me more about your reading life last year? I take relevant notes throughout our conversations and I make sure the kids can see what I am writing down, I don’t want them to have to worry about what I may be recording. There are often follow up questions but I also want to be cognizant of wait time and the delicate nature at times of reading and how kids feel about themselves as readers.
Then we discuss their progress, how is it going? How is the book working for them? How is reading outside of English going? We also discuss what is hard about reading, no surprise, even my most adapt readers have challenges. Finally, I ask them if there are things I can do to support them right now better as we get to know each other. Many don’t have ideas right now but I like the openended question in case they do.
As we wind down, I ask them a few more questions. What is their favorite color? What is their favorite treat? And what do they do well? This information is used throughout the year as I celebrate them. It also gives me a peak into where they see themselves right now, many kids tell me they don’t do many things well, and so I always try to help them see great things about themselves.
I thank them for their time at the end. Thank them for investing in our class and allowing me this time with them and that I look forward to helping them grow this year.
The next time I meet with them, there are less questions so the conference goes quicker. Then it starts with, ‘What are you working on as a reader?” as you can see from the note-taking sheet and then evolves from there.
A simple way to start but one that sets us up together to work on reading, to maybe better their experiences in reading, to make it matter beyond the work, the pages, the labor that it is for some. I am so grateful for these kids and the conversations we get to have.
One of the questions I am posed a lot is where others can find amazing short stories to use with their students and while I have a file folder that I keep myself, I am also thrilled that there are so many amazing newer collections that we can use to start conversations, as mentor texts, and just for overall inspiration.
We continue to want to emphasize the work of those whose voices have historically been minimized and so many of the short stories I use with kids are pulled from these collections. There are funny, sad, thought-provoking stories so my best advice is to dig in and start to read some of these great pieces, and then, of course, share them high and wide.
While some of these are great for many ages, some of these only have certain stories suited for younger ages or are solely for older ages. So read the stories first before placing it in your library , which I would encourage you to do either way because many are amazing and not to be missed.
Which books are your go-to for great short stories? To see other favorite books, go here.
Inevitably, every few years, one of our four children brings home some variant of a reading log. Typically it involves logging the minutes that that they have read every night, a signature, perhaps the titles as well and sometimes even the need to write a few lines about the book they read. Often times it is tied in with a reward; pizza, parties, extra recess.
And while it used to anger me that kids (and their adults) were being asked to do this work, I have realized that the request for a reading log is typically not anchored in any kind of malice. Rather, it is sent home with a genuine interest in the reading lives outside of school. With a hope that a child will make the time to read. With the hope that a family will make the time to read because it is now expected as homework. What is the harm in that? So every time we are presented with one, I find myself in a dilemma; do I say anything, ask for my child to be opted out, or do I let the practice ride? After all, there are bigger things to worry about when it comes to the reading experience of children.
And yet, I have seen the damage that the simple requirements of a reading log has done to my own children. When our oldest came home with our first one, she asked for a timer, set it for 20 minutes and when the alarm went off, she resolutely shut her book and told us she was done. No matter that she was in the the middle of a page, no matter that the previous nights she had read for a much longer time. The 20 minutes was all she needed to read. Or our son, who when he did a book logging program that offered up prizes didn’t care so much as to what he was reading or having read aloud, but instead would pick the shortest books in order to log as many titles as possible, so that he could get whatever prize was attached to the amount of books. Or how they make me a liar. I don’t know what my children are reading often, they are surrounded by books and while we talk about them we don’t always. So when I am supposed to sign off on their minutes or write down their titles, I do it gladly, without really knowing if it is true or not. Should I know every minute read and every book read, sure, if I had unlimited time in the day. Instead, we discuss many things in our household, books included, and focus on our time together not just the homework they have to do.
When I ask my students to discuss their negative experiences, reading logs rise to the top. It doesn’t matter if it was only for one year or even for a shorter amount of time, having to account for the minutes read did little to inspire further reading, but instead added yet another to-do to their to-read. So last night I sent out the following tweet, and with that comes this post, because it turns out there were many that also have wondered how to advocate for their own child when faced with a reading log or other potentially harmful measures.
So I have an email that I send when the reading log comes home, and I do hesitate to share it here because I am sure to some it is not enough, and yet, in my years of teaching, I have found that engaging in dialogue with other teachers about their practices from a lens of genuine interest is going to take me so much further than citing research, telling them about the wrongness of their choices, or in any other way trying to prove that I am right and that they made a mistake. No teacher wants to be shamed, and why should they be for this?
So the email I send in its edited form is simple:
Hi, I saw the reading log sent home today and wanted to ask a few questions, if you don’t mind.
A big focus for our family is that reading is its own reward so we don’t tie anything to her reading; no minutes, no prizes. She needs to understand that reading is something you do for personal enjoyment and not outside gifts. In the past, when (insert child’s name here) has seen the time requirement, she right away told me that was all she had to read for. We don’t want her to think that there should be a maximum time for reading, but instead follow her natural rhythm for reading when she has a great book.
Are you ok with us not filling it out and instead me giving you my word that (insert child’s name here) reads every night for at least 30 minutes? Is there another way we can show our accountability to reading? We read every day so it won’t be a problem.
I hope this doesn’t come off as rude, I don’t really know how to put it in other words. We love you as a teacher and so does our child and want you to feel supported. If you would like to discuss this in any way please let us know. Best,
I could cite the research, I could go on for a long time about the damage of reading logs and offer up other ways to measure reading. Or I can simply ask questions and see what happens. We have never needed to do any of those other steps because often it is not the teacher that mandates the reading log but rather a team, a school, or a district. And that teacher deserves my respect and gratitude for the care they give our children.
Would I though if I had to? Of course. The reading lives of my own children and others is too important to let linger in harmful practices. So here are my other posts on reading logs if you need them, including one that discusses how you can make it an option or other ways to see if kids are reading. For now, I will wait to hear back.
I’ve been thinking about the hurry. The rush to get into habits. To get kids reading. To get kids writing. To not waste a moment of instructional time so that we can get to the real work. I see it surround us, this pressure to get moving, to get going as quickly as we can so we don’t lose time. So we don’t miss our chance for cramming as much as we can into a year. After all, we only get them for so long and the tests will tell us whether we did enough.
It plays out a lot when we meet kids who don’t like reading. Who either proclaim it loudly, or whose behaviors clue us in. The aimless browsing, the grab-and-go when it comes to book selection. The kids who go with the motions at times but you can tell that the book they are currently reading is not one that is going to make it home. Who look at us wide-eyed or with a grin when we tell they we hope they will read over the weekend.
We rush them with book recommendations. Have you tried this one or this one? We tell them they just haven’t found the right book yet and then we hand them a stack hoping that in that stack will be that right book. You won’t know until you start reading, so read.
And I get it, I do it too, after all, the year looms and we have so much work to do. Yet, to quote Taylor Swift, I feel we need to calm down. To take these moments, these aimless wanderings, these negative reading relationships, and ask more questions. Sit in silence and let kids think. If a child can’t answer why they hate reading beyond that they just do, then they haven’t been given an opportunity to fully think about their relationship with reading. They haven’t been given a moment to recognize that their path with reading has been filled with choices, both their own and others, that have now brought them to this point in time where they feel that they are not readers. That reading has no value. That reading is not something they need. Nor something they feel they can do.
So when we hand them another book without conversation beyond “What types of books do you like?” Without seeing the child and giving them a chance to reflect, we are not changing habits long-term. We are not changing lives long-term. Sure, they may love that book – hooray – but what happens when the book is done? Have they really changed their relationship with reading or was it just a fluke?
So before we rush to our piles of recommended books, we slow down. Yes, we surround them with incredible books, people who love to read, we give them time to read, we give them the space to read, the air to read, and then we talk. (This should be a right not a privilege of all kids). We reflect. We give kids the opportunity, the expectations, to know themselves as readers so that we, the adults that surround them, can invest in long-term change.
I am not teaching kids to just like reading this year. I am trying to teach kids to find value, inherent value, in the act of reading itself. While books and texts are the tools, the real work starts with the recongition of one’s own journey and subsequent relationship to reading and how it impacts the child that stands before us.
It takes time. It takes patience. It takes careful planning. And it takes us realizing that being a reader is not just something we want kids to experience in the brief time they are with us, but instead be a part of their being that exists without us after the year is over. That doesn’t just start with a book. That book needs to be wrapped up in reflection, in time, and in conversation. Then changes may happen.
Today, we managed to pull off the unimaginable; every child walking out of room 203 with a book in their hands that they are willing to try tomorrow, which will be our first day of independent reading.
How did we do it? Well, a few things had to happen.
We gave it some time. While our students have certainly been surrounded by books these past few days, we have worked our way slowly toward book shopping. Some kids have checked out books because they asked but many looked more warily at the books surrounding them. Taking it slow, for us, has worked because we can offer up an opportunity to establish some trust and community before we dive into book shopping.
We read aloud. Read alouds tie us together as a community which is why I love to use picture books often with our students. It also allows us to dive into conversations about consent (Don’t Touch My Hair), how we feel about reading (I hate Picture Books!) and the expectations we want to function under in our room (We Don’t Eat Our Classmates). Read alouds ease us into the important work we are doing while exposing us to others’ stories.
We had some powerful conversations. Starting with our beginning of the year reading survey which gave me a sneak peak into how the kids see themselves as readers. While many are okay or even great with books and reading, some are decidedly not and the survey starts to let us see that. We then move to discussing the feelings and experiences tied in with reading as detailed in this post. This year the students decided to share when reading is dope and when it is trash. This then laid the groundwork for revealing the 7th grade reading challenge, as well as setting a meaningful reading goal to begin the year.
They determined their reading rights. After we have discussed their past experiences with reading, both the good and the not so good, we brainstorm which rights we would like to have for our independent reading time together. While there is not an option to not read, the students have great ideas for the type of reading experience they would like to be a part. After all three blocks of kids brainstorm, I created our chart which the students then approved today.
We have reading loving staff members. And not just this year. I am fortunate to work in a district that emphasizes the joy of reading in many place and I am part of a chain of people who spend a lot of time trying to match kids with books and also protect how their readers feel. While kids come in with many different experiences when it comes to reading, many also speak of the great moments they have had with reading throughout the years. And this only furthers the work we get to do in 7th grade.
We have lots and lots of books. While my district funds books, which seems to be a rarity these days, I have also spent a lot of money on books throughout the years, I wish this wasn’t the case, but it is what it is. However, our district also funds our school library and has staffed it with an amazing librarian and library aide. This provides our kids with the opportunity to not only look for books in our classroom, but also in the library and other places that have book collections. It is a powerful partnership between many of us that only continues to expand.
We took the time today to discuss how to find a book. While book shopping and book selection is not something new, centering our book shopping in what they already know and discussing the habits they have provide us with a place to start. It introduces our classroom library as well as our check out policy. It also helps us remind kids that they have a lot of strategies to try a book on, as well as to remind them that to cease reading a book is always an option at any point. We would much rather have them spend a lot of time selecting a potential great book than just rushing through the process.
So we gave them time. As much as they needed to touch the books, to browse the books, and to discuss the books with each other. I had pulled several stacks of books, one per table, to get their interest but they knew that they could browse the entire classroom. They could check out whichever book(s) they wanted and all of the other potential titles they put on their to-be-read lists. And it worked. Every child was up and moving, every child left with a book or more. To see so much book excitement was frankly a major highlight of this whole week.
Now don’t be fooled, the work is far from over. But this is a start, a seed that will continue the work we do as we try to help some of our students go from kids who see little to no value in reading to kids who do. As we help kids continue the already positive relationship with reading that they have. But it also work that is shrouded in privilege. Our kids have access to books. Our kids have access to teachers who love reading. Our kids have time to read. Every child deserves that as an educational right.
For me the best part is; I am not alone in this. Our school and district is filled with people pursuing the same goal that I am; helping kids find books that matter, helping kids see themselves as readers. Today was a start and I cannot wait to see how it continues to evolve.