I was asked this morning on Twitter how we move students beyond wanting hand-picked recommendations every time they book shop. How do they move beyond needing someone, typically, the adult or trusted reading role model to help them find the next book to read?
The truth is there is no simple answer, however, there are things that we can do starting on our very first day that starts this process of independent book selection that will last beyond our classroom experience. And while it certainly starts on the first day of school, there is no “too late” for this to be implemented. These ideas make a difference no matter when, so it is not too late (nor too early) to start working toward student independence in self-selecting texts. So where do we start?
We build our libraries, both whole school and classroom libraries.
In fact, we need to become advocates for our school library and our certified librarians to make sure that everyone knows just how much they matter to our school and to our reading lives. (If you need to see research on the importance of school librarians, here is a great place to start). And then we build our own classroom libraries as well, filling them with a wide representation of topics, readability and format that fits all of our readers and not just a few.
In fact, we must bring classroom libraries into every classroom so that children can see that reading is something that can happen in any subject area and not just English. While supporting classroom libraries and school libraries may seem costly, they make a difference, in fact, Morrow and Neumann both report that children read 50-60% more in classrooms with libraries in them than those without. And we must think of the books that we surround our students with asking ourselves not just WHO is represented, but HOW are they represented and also who is NOT represented? Students must be able to find themselves but also see others in the very books we place in front of them.
We carefully craft our book displays.
I was at my public library yesterday, a beautiful building that has a dedicated library staff, and yet their teen section is bland and boring. Every time I go there, I wonder why? Why not pull books and put them on display? Why not use the power of visual representation to pull our readers in? Why not show off the hottest new reads and help kids find the books they may not know they want to read? SO in our classroom, the displays are always changing. The books facing out rotate through. Our book tree where students and I showcase our favorite books is always being reworked. Books surround us because they need to be staring at us, calling to us at all times. And I place books knowing where they will catch the eyes of students so that they want to grab them. Not in haste, but carefully so that students feel the urge to read.
We have a to-be-read list.
This simple list in our reader’s notebook is our someday list to quote Nancie Atwell. The books that perhaps we want to try reading. The books we are enticed to read but may not have time to read just yet. The book list is always growing and it is a must for all students to have it in some form, whether on paper or on their device. Whenever a child book shops, I ask them to pull out their to-be-read list so that it becomes a habit. Whenever a book talk happens, I ask them to pull out their to-be-read list so that they remember they have it. We discuss them, we share them, and we remember that they should be filled with maybe books because they know that some of those books they will abandon. This list is also sent home with students on the last day of school physically, and an image of it is emailed home or shared in some other way.
We book talk books almost every day.
I start every single day with 10 minutes of independent reading unless we are in book clubs where the time comes later in the period. After this sacred ten minutes, it is time for a book talk, first by me and then by others. I keep my book talk short and sweet, holding up the book and showcasing an image of the cover behind me so that students can write down the title. If it is a student doing a book talk I quickly find the cover to project behind them as well. I remind students to write the title down if they are enticed by it, otherwise, many will forget to do this simple step.
When students do book talks, we either do it on the fly, asking simply if someone has a book they want to recommend or I have them fill out a notecard with a 30-second book talk and then give them their notecard when it is their time to recommend. I will have the book cover images ready to project as well.
We do lessons on how to book shop.
One of the first lessons I do in the year is how to book shop, while this may seem crazy, I teach 12-year-olds after all, I have found it to be a necessary reminder. Kids will tell you they know how to bookshop but then they simply go through the motions, not actually looking at the books or even finding any they want to read. So we break it down into a whole lesson, described more in detail here so that students know what I am expecting and are also reminded of what they should do while browsing books. Before we head to our school library every other week, they are also reminded of how to book shop down there, transferring their skills to a different environment as practice, because this is what they need to do once they leave us.
We just say no.
Many of my students would rather I book shop with them at all times, and while I will gladly support this in the beginning of the year, as the year progresses I pull back that support. I tell them they have to book shop on their own, show me their pile, and then I can certainly help out after. While it depends on the child, some get the idea pretty quickly and develop that independence, while others need repeated experiences. While I feel bad telling a child “No,” I also see the necessity of it; if we never say no, they will never stop asking, because, let’s face it, it is much easier just to ask an adult than do the work themselves. We have to teach children to not be helpless in our classrooms, and that includes when they select their next book. If we never give them the opportunity to try to figure it out themselves then they will not have grown like they should have.
We dive into their reading identity.
If a child does not know how to self-select a text, independent of Lexile, levels, or other outside systems, then they do not know themselves as a reader. So this becomes our mission throughout the year; having students reflect on who they are as a reader and how they create successful reading experiences for themselves. After all, as an adult reader, this is how I keep reading; I am in tune with what I am in the mood to read. This is what I describe a lot more in detail in chapters 4 and 5 of Passionate Readers. After all, if a child does not know how to create a successful reading experience for themselves while they are with us, then how will they do so once they leave us.
Throughout the year, we set meaningful reading goals, we reflect on how we are growing, and we decide what’s next for our journey. This ownership is vital for students to develop as readers and needs to be carefully cultivated throughout the year, not left to chance or happenstance.
We read every single day in class.
You may wonder what does actually reading have to do with selecting the book they are reading, but the answer is; everything! If we do not have students read in front of us, we will not see their reaction to the book they have chosen to read. We will not be there to notice when they start to skim the pages, pretend to read or shut the book completely. So if we want students to successfully self-select their texts then we need to also give them the time to actually try the text out with our guidance if needed. This also goes for those kids that consistently pick “Ok” books. These are the kids that are having decent reading experiences, but not amazing ones, these are the kids we end up often losing as readers because they never have incredible experiences and thus never get what the magic is all about.
How do I know how students are feeling about their books? I ask them in my quick reading check-ins during their independent reading time and we discuss how book abandonment as a major component of being a reader who knows themselves. Because the ten minutes (and I only do ten because I have 45 minutes altogether, if you have a longer period do more!), allows me time to see my students reading, I can often point out things they have not noticed themselves yet. It allows me a chance to connect with them, reader to reader and to individualize their instruction.
Helping students self-select a text has many different components, and in all honesty, this blog post is only the beginning. For further reading, I highly encourage you to read Donalyn Miller’s Reading in the Wild, Teri Lesene’s Reading Ladders, Penny Kittle’s Book Love, and my own book Passionate Readers.