The silence envelops us a few minutes into class. I look around and see one of my favorite sights in the world; kids reading. Quietly I walk up to the first kid, grab a chair, sit next to them and ask; what is your goal for the year? And for the next few minutes, I get to know this child a little more, not just as a reader, but also as a human being.
Last week, I wrote about our the changes to our 7th- grade reading challenge and how this year we had decided to move away from just quantity to make it more authentic for students. I was excited to roll it out but not sure how the students would react. Were they even up for a challenge or would it just be another thing to get done just so the teacher would stop bugging them? Only one way to find out; ask them.
This week, as I started my quick reading check-ins, asking about their goal, has been the main topic of conversation. With a simple question, we are off and I am starting to get a feel for these kids and who they are as readers.
So what have I noticed?
That no goal fits all. As an elementary teacher, I often provided my students with a specific goal for them to work on and while instructionally this makes sense, after all, I can see what they need to work on, there often was very little buy-in. When students reflect on their own needs and set a goal, they immediately see the reason for it. Those goals that I also see for them? We will work on them together in a small group.
That when we ask kids to really think about what they need to work on the answers are very varied. This also means that the years I have pushed for more of a quality goal or other single-minded goals, that many kids have not bought into it because the goal has not mattered to them. Some kids immediately had something come to mind, while others needed more support. Most kids though have created a goal that is specific to not just their reading identities, but also their reading lives.
Those individual goals encourage more honesty. I always operate under a policy of total honesty when it comes to reading and ask my students to also do so. By starting our reading conversations early in the year and asking for them to tell me the good and the bad as far as their reading experiences, that judgment-free reading discussion follows us into their goal setting. When I ask students why they chose that goal, many discuss how or when they read or when they don’t and why they need to change that. Some kids also discuss how even with this goal they don’t think they will be successful because of various obstacles. Rather than hiding these thoughts, they are willing to share them which means I can now note it and try to do something about it.
That they do most of the talking. While I start the conversation and also offer up follow-up conversations, I need to make sure that it is their response that guides the path. Too often I have overtaken a conversation out of my own helpfulness, but now I try to listen and then respond to get them to elaborate.
Those relationships are built in small pieces. One of the best benefits of these reading check-ins simply has to do with relationship building. Every time I am able to devote a few minutes to just one child that is one child I know better. While this might be a “Well duh” moment, I often think of how many conversations we don’t make time for especially in middle school and high school. How often do we feel like we don’t have time for that check-in or small group because we have so much to cover? The reading check-in is a foundation of my further instruction and I need to remember that when I feel like I am pulled in a different direction.
That quantity goals often mean that the child does not know themselves well as a reader. While quantity goals used to be our norm, I have found in my conversations that often when a child now sets the minimum quantity goal it is often because they do not know what else to work on. Our reading check-in then centers around what else they could focus on. When they are not sure then that tells me a lot about their reading identity.
That reading check-ins offer me a chance to remind. Those first few days of school are such a blur for all of us and I shudder to think of all of the information that these students have been presented within all of our classes. So while I offer reminders in the beginning of class, I am also reminding them of reading rights as we speak. It is important that kids know that they can book shop anytime they want, that they can abandon any book they need to, and that they need to plan for reading throughout their day. How many times do we say things in those first few days that kids never hear?
That I write very little down. Too often we get caught up in our conferring notes, rather than in the conversation itself. I am intentionally limiting my notes just so I can focus on the child, so I can look them in the eye, react to what they are saying and then jot a few things down that can spark the next conversation. (To see the form I use, go to our Facebook group).
As I think ahead to the coming week, I am excited. Excited to have more conversations. Excited to move further in our instruction. Excited to learn more about these kids that have been entrusted to me every day. All through one little goal and a few minutes of conversation.
PS: If you would like to have more reading conversations or you have questions, come join our Passionate Readers Facebook group,
If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child, out August 2017. This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block. If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students. Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.