being a teacher, books, Literacy, Passion, Reading

How to Support Our Strongest Readers

Poster created by my facilitator to use as conversation prompts

It is hard to believe it has been 2 years since I was a participant at Teachers College, this post describing how we teach our strongest readers is something that still rings so very true in our classroom.

On Friday, my mind was blown.  For an hour, Mary Ehrenworth at Teacher’s College, provided me with so many ideas for how to support my strongest readers, you know the ones we hardly ever confer with because they seem to know what they are doing.   It turns out that because we don’t confer with these kids, they don’t usually stay on their trajectory of greatness but rather settled on to just “good” by the time they hit 8th grade.  Well, I knew that I had to share some of the ideas presented to me.

Mary’s main point was that if you teach strong readers you have to be a reader yourself, and not just a reader of adult books, but of the books they are reading.  That way you can discuss and compare thoughts with the students and help push them in their thinking.  And then she gave us 5 different directions we could take our discussions in:

  1. Series work – thinking across pages of books.  In series work, you think across the whole series and analyze how things change: characters, settings, emotions of books (this is why it is vital that we read the whole series and not just the first book).  You can also reread beginnings and other vital points and see how connections are already being formed or find significance in former insignificant areas.    You can also discuss problems/solutions – which ones get solved within a book and which continue to grow and change?
  2. Literary traditions or studying a genre. This is for the child that continues to love fantasy or science fiction or whichever genre they are reading book after book in.  I have always been taught that we should encourage this child to read something from a different genre but Mary instead said that we should celebrate and cultivate this love of a genre.  Woohoo!  Some ideas to do this were to find themes within all of the books, such as how do your books start, what are the archetypal types, where do conflicts tend to start?  You can also study the structure of this genre, common themes, and the use of allusions.  Finally, she  presented us with this little gem – Courses of Study for Teen Readers – which I can also use with my more mature 5th graders
  3. Author inquiries studying an author more in-depth. You can start this out with 4 picture books by an author to get students used to thinking about the author versus the characters, but then move on to chapter books as students get more comfortable with the process.  Things they can study are what kinds of characters tend to be in the books, social issues that seem to interest the author, themes of stories, lessons this author tends to teach, the kinds if trouble the author seems to create and even the social and historical context the author uses and how that may change for the author based on publication date.   When students get really good at this you can even do author comparisons based on theme or social issues for example.
  4. Creating text sets  – fiction and nonfiction. If students love a particular series or book, have them discover what else could go with the book and create their very own text sets.  Text sets can include anything really: picture books, articles, TV shows, music videos, or whatever the student can think of that will develop the theme of the story even more.  Students can even make text sets for other book clubs to enjoy.
  5. Critical literacies – helping students think deeply about their reading. There are many questions we can use to push student thinking deeper as they devour their books.  Some of these lead to further discussion and some of them lead to further inquiries:
    1. What is happening in the book that is affecting you as a reader?
    2. What are the hidden meanings?
    3. Representation – who is included, who is invisible, who is marginalized, who is destroyed/honored?
    4. Hegemonic masculinity/femininity – the form of masculinity that is honored (the jock, the cheerleader etc)  What are you supposed to be to be a real boy in this story?
    5. Gender norms – the rules of being a girl or a boy, reinforced, interrupted, alternatives?
    6. Sexual identities, racial identities, cultural identities?
    7. Power & resistance – who has power, who doesn’t, how do they get power, how do they keep it?

So there you have it, some help to help us push our strongest readers even deeper into their texts.  I cannot stress enough just how impressed I was with Teachers College and the incredibly knowledgeable presenters they had for us.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  The 2nd edition and actual book-book (not just e-book!) comes out September 22nd from Routledge.

7 thoughts on “How to Support Our Strongest Readers”

  1. You make such a great point about needing to support strong student readers. So much of the time, the focus is on the struggling readers in class. As important it is to help those struggling students, it is important to not forget that students who are doing well also need encouragement to keep reaching for their full potential. Thanks for the ideas and tips!Julia (@Inspire_Futures)

  2. WOW. What powerful stuff! I will be teaching gifted 5th this year & can’t wait to use some of this to support my stronger readers 🙂

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