This blog has been quiet. Not because life has been by any means but because what we are doing in our time together in the classroom is quiet. It’s not very flashy. It’s not really that new, at least not for us. Every day, the routines we have worked on all year are in place; most students quietly reading during independent reading time, most students finding great books, most students knowing more about themselves as people than they did in the beginning of our journey. Most because not all, not yet any way; some still lament about how they dislike reading, how they do not plan on reading a book over the summer, but many others devour books, seeing their own accomplishments, challenging themselves to grow.
But for those who are not quite there yet, where reading is hard, where reading is not a comfortable activity. For those where reading is something they have spent a lot of time avoiding or simply don’t see the value in yet, at this time of year I add in an extra layer; a reading action plan. A quick invitation into further conversation about their reading life that runs 2 weeks and sometimes more.
I have written about them last year, but the idea is so simple and yet so powerful that I wanted to re-share it. Because all it is is an invitation into conversation every single day for a few minutes about their reading life. No pressure, but instead extra personal support, and an adult meeting them once again where they are at without judgment and helping them along their journey.
The note sheet I use to keep their journeys straight looks like this at the moment, or at least the front does, they change when I don’t see them fitting our purpose. You can see it here. This is not for the students to fill out but for me to take notes, which they can see me take because no one wants another person taking secret notes.
I usually use our reading data (which is just how many pages they are approximately reading within a week by signing in with their page numbers as inspired by Penny Kittle) to see who may be great candidates for some extra care. Who are the kids where reading is still a slog, where they are not really making progress or jumping from book to book? I try to keep it to 3 or 4 kids a class at any given time for a few reasons; I want to make sure I am really focused on them and I also want to be able to still meet with another few kids every day. While we typically start on Monday’s, you can start them any day.
I ask them to meet with me during reading time and explain my idea for some extra attention, I don’t want to force it on them but instead discuss what they could gain from it. This is important because too often when students are vulnerable readers we remove all choice from them which leads to further resentment toward their reading lives. If we are going to meet every day, I like their to be a genuine discussion of why and how it may help them. This is instrumental to everything I believe in; keeping a child’s wellbeing in mind before I implement anything. I can’t do that without conversation. If a child doesn’t like the idea, we come up with something else for them, however, this has not happened in my years of doing this.
The first day takes longer because we discuss their current book. Questions I ask are pretty standard:
- Which book are they reading?
- How far are they in it?
- Why did they choose it?
- How are they liking it so far?
- Where will they be in the book in a week?
Then I move down into the notes section, where I ask them about their outside reading life – this is an ongoing conversation throughout the year- and we discuss what their reading plans are for outside of English. My job here is to listen and to ask questions that explain their thinking when it is not clear, not to judge. They also tell me where they think they will be in their book the following day. This is again an important aspect because we so often set the goals for the students and those goals are unrealistic and also have little concern for the reading journey they are actually on. So instead we discuss what is a realistic goal and what the steps are they will take to reach that goal. Some students don’t have any plans to read so we discuss why not and how we can change that. Some have other obstacles in their path and so we discuss those. Whatever is going on, we discuss, and we brainstorm together. Once we have a goal and a plan in place it is time for them to read, so I thank them for their time.
The next day, we meet again, except this time I only ask about how far they got – no judgement – and what their reading life looked like in the past 24 hours. If they read, awesome! If they didn’t, why not? Again, I am not here to make them feel bad but coach and support instead. As we wrap up our quick 3 or so minute conference, they set a goal for the following day and then they are off to read.
And then we repeat that for a week. At the end of the first week, we discuss successes. These range from reading more than normal, to knowing when to abandon a book and picking a different one. From reading at home one night – wahoo – to actually not hating the book. There is no success that is too small to be celebrated, this is important as the goal here is for the kids to learn more about themselves as readers and people, not for me to punish them into reading.
The following week, we continue with our quick check-ins, celebrating successes along the way, and at the end of the week we decide on what the next step should be. There are different options:
- Another round of daily check-ins for those that are not quite ready to fly on their own.
- A gradual release to a three time a week check-in for two weeks.
- A once a week check-in
- Or released back into the larger pool, which means a check-in every 3 to 4 weeks depending on what we have going on.
Once again the child and I discuss and decide together. So why bother with this? Beyond the obvious of all kids deserving as much as one-to-one time as possible in our limited time with them, you also uncover so much of what is really going on in their reading lives and what they may need to move further in it. From recognizing that some kids simply forget to bring books home – we have plans in place for that – to not knowing how to fit reading into their lives – we have a plan for that – to still not being able to find books they actually like, having a few minutes every day can get them steered back on course in a way that wouldn’t happen unless you had more time.
While I wish I had time to discuss reading with every child, every day, I don’t, but this takes me one step closer to connecting with all the kids, to helping all the kids. It is not anything flashy. It is not anything brand-new, but it works, much like we know it works. Perhaps the idea can work for others as well?
If you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.