Winter always hits us hard here in Wisconsin, and yet, this week, we broke records. It got so cold, everything shut down, the stores, the malls, the movies, even the bars shut their doors as the police told people to stay home. I spent three days by the fire playing games, reading books, laughing with my kids, and thinking so often about the other kids I have; the students I get to teach.
Because some of them are still not liking reading. Some of them still outright refuse. Some of them still go through the motions of what it may look like to read, but that spark, that change, that seed, doesn’t seem to have taken root, not yet.
And yet, there are many where the reading blossoms and continues to grow. Whose readerly lives seem to have taken on a life of its own. Who can tell you all about what it means to read, to be a reader. For them, I can breathe a little easier. For them, I can stay the course.
Yet for the ones who are not there yet, I need a new plan. Not one with more requirements or different reading “rules,” not one that veers off from our foundation: time, choice, access, community, and reflection. But instead a more concentrated approach. The check-ins I have with them every three or four weeks is not enough. They need a reading intervention, but not in the traditional sense. Instead, I am making them my action plan for the next few weeks to see if a concentrated boost is what they need.
So what I plan on doing, at least what I think I plan on doing, is simple – more attention, more conversation, more intentionality.
Step 1. Identify the kids who seem to be not there yet. Make a short list of those who need extra attention. Don’t forget about the rest of the class, but for the next few weeks; focus on these kids. I plan on focusing on no more than three a class.
Step 2. Pull a stack of irresistible books, these are the books that seem to have made a difference to kids in the past. Books like Monster, A Long Way Down, Hey Kiddo, and Boost. (I have a list going here).
Step 3. Start a conversation, I can use what I always use, “What are you working on as a reader?” However, I plan on each conversation lasting a little longer and centering around what I have noticed such as random book selections, little interest in what they are reading, and trying to figure out why. In my experience, students don’t always know why so this is where I can help a little with questions about their reading identity and their reading habits. What else can we uncover about their reading journey that can help them know themselves better and grow?
Step 3 1/2. Ask them how they can change their habits of reading. Help them uncover what is holding them back from reading, even if it is a lack of desire and discuss which habits can be altered to change their experience. Is it that they need a book at school and at home? Is it that they have yet to find a book they like but aren’t really looking? Is it that they are overwhelmed? Or that it seems pointless? What is it that is making them choose to not transform their reading experience?
Step 4. Help them set a mini-goal for the next week of reading. While all students have a year-long goal, for some kids year-long goals don’t seem very urgent, so focusing on a small success is more tangible and also more pressing. Discuss how they will hold themselves accountable, and let them know that I plan on checking in with them each day to see how they are doing, not in a judgmental way but as a coach and pep-talker. Have them write the goal down, I also plan on writing the goal down or I will not remember the specifics.
Step 5. Book shop together and enlist the help of a friend if they want. Pull out the stack of irresistible books and see if their friend has any suggestions. Give them time to truly browse the books, not just rush through selecting one. Coach as needed, step away so they have room.
Step 6. Daily check-in. Once the book has been chosen, then the conversations continue. Ask about their goal progress, ask them how I can support, and keep kid watching. Is anything changing? Why or why not?
Step 7. At week’s end, do an official goal check-in. Did they meet their goal? Why or why not? What needs to change for the following week?
Step 8. Keep checking in until end of the second week. Then figure out if they are on a better path or not. If not, back to the drawing board. If they are, then pull back a bit and see how they do. Scale back the check-in and focus back on all kids (not that they were completely forgotten), but it is time to see if this changed any habits at all.
Step 9. Remember that success comes in small steps. Remind myself that it is not a failure if a child only kind of liked a book, rather than loved it. Most kids need more than one book to transform their thinking.
A simple plan that I am sharing, simply to hold myself accountable. I am excited to see what this focus in attention will do for our readers. Hopefully, it will help them, if not, then I will think of something else to try. After all, there are plenty of ideas out there being shared.
Update: I checked in with a few of my kids today and ended up creating this form to help me keep track of what we discussed. The form is a work in progress, just like the rest of my teaching. It was great to have a bit longer with a few kids as we got to discuss their books and their habits, I am excited about this process.
If you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page. If you like what you read here, consider reading my book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child. 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.