I have been discussing reading and writing almost every day these past few weeks preparing for my new job as a 7th grade English teacher. I haven’t minded one bit either. It seems if I am not discussing it, I am thinking about it, and that tends to lead to a blog post or five to get my own thoughts straight. I started to realize that there are little tweaks that I have been using the past few years to make our conversations deeper and to make it run a bit smoother, couple that with new ideas thanks to my amazing PLN, and I am feeling pretty good about the start of school September 2nd.
So if you want students to actually read…
- Give them reading time in class, even in middle and high school. We cannot control what students do outside of our rooms but we can give them the gift of time in our rooms. So even if you only have 10 minutes like me to give in a 45 minute block, give it to students for independent reading. Make it sacred and believe in it by not infringing in it.
- Set up reading routines and expectations from day one. The students will be coming up with how to get settled into independent reading right away as they come to class, as well as what that looks like/sounds like/feels like. I am taking the time to build a proper foundation because this is so important for the entire year. Yes, there is curriculum to cover but it will not be covered well if our routines aren’t in place.
- Have incredible books. Don’t just rely on your school library, have an actual library in your classroom. No, it is not cheap, but the investment we put into getting great books pays off when it hooks a reader. I also use sites like Donorschoose and Books4Schools to get more books. And yes, this goes even for middle school and high school.
- Let students choose their books. We do book clubs later in the year, but overall books are self-selected, with help when needed. Students need to develop their own taste in books and need to develop deep reading habits, they have a hard time doing that if we are constantly telling them what to read. I do not have a leveled library because of this, I don’t want students to feel defined by their level, but rather figure out who they are as readers. I do whole class books as a read aloud to have a shred experience and a shared text to discuss lessons within.
- Read yourself. A very simple idea that pays off tenfold. If you read and can hand books to students, you set an expectation for continual reading. It also creates a better reading community because you can really discuss books with your students.
- Do a challenge of some sort. I have done my own version of the 40 book challenge with a lot of success; every student read more books than the year before because they were trying to get to 40 books. This year it will be a 25 book challenge instead, due to the limited independent reading time I can offer students. There is no prize, nor any competition, but rather an awareness of trying to beat one’s own number of books read. And no, it is not a public challenge.
So if you want them to develop deeper ideas…
- Use post-its to mark text and jot down ideas. Teach students to look for things they want to discuss, not just connections, questions, or unfamiliar words. Those tend to not to lead to deeper discussion, but rather dead end ones.
- Discuss what creates a highway conversation vs a dead-end one. This is a simple analogy that works well; think of your reading thoughts as a highway. You are trying to create one where there are many places to go, not on that stops abruptly. Having students act this out on pre-written post-its can get the point across really well.
- Re-visit post-its. This is a great strategy for those students that cannot get past their initial idea. Have them jot something down and then have them continue reading, at the end of their reading time, have them return to an older post-it and add thoughts to it now.
- Give students a warning before reading time is over. I do a 2 minute warning reminding them that they need to take time to think and jot something down for them to discuss with their partner or group. Everyone knows there is no reason to not have anything written down.
- Give them cheat sheets. I am all about scaffolding because asking probing reading questions can be hard eve for teachers. So we brainstorm cheat sheets that students keep on small rings, these rings also have their monthly reading goals on them (one quantity goal and the other two skills goals) that they write.
- Model partner conversations. Have students guide each other on what they can say or how they can push someone’s thinking. It is often much more powerful coming from peers than a teacher.
- Create huge goals for reading. In our classroom, we don’t read to be better readers, we read to be better people that can carry on conversations by being interested and active listeners and speakers. Yup, my 5th graders could discuss more than just a book by the end of the year, I was so incredibly proud of them.
So if you want it to be better because something isn’t working…
- Ask the students their opinion. I survey them at the beginning of the year for their reading habits, but I also ask them throughout the year what is working for them and what it isn’t. Sometimes really small things can be the cause of distractions and can be easily fixed but we won’t know that unless we ask.
- Videotape yourself. I found out I talk too much and don’t see kids lose interest through video tape. Film yourself teaching and then watch it with an open mind. No one is perfect and there is always room for improvement.
- Ask a colleague to watch you teach. This can be one of the hardest things for us to do and yet it can be one of the most powerful. I have an open door policy in my classroom at all times and if people happen to wander in during a reading lesson, I always ask for their opinion. They always have something valuable to teach me but you won’t know it if you don’t invite people in.
I am a passionate teacher in Wisconsin, USA, who has taught 4, 5th, and 7th grade. Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day. First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” can be purchased now from Powerful Learning Press. Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” can be pre-ordered from Corwin Press now. Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.