I recently had the gift of being observed by teachers outside of our district. Our students are used to it and go about their regular ways, no putting on a show for strangers here. I always get nervous because while I think our community it magical, I am not sure what it looks like to outsiders. Do they see all of the growth? The work? The small routines and decisions that go into creating the learning community we have?
During our conversation, a fellow teacher asked me how I help our students read outside of our classroom, after they leave, either for the day, the week, or even the year. And while I am not sure all of our students do, I have seen the change once again this year. I have seen many students read more. I have seen more students embrace books and reading. I have heard kids who told me they hate reading also have a favorite book to share when asked. Knowing that there is a change afoot, made me realize that once again, this subtle difference of not just wanting to read inside the classroom, but outside of it, is something we accomplish through a lot of small steps and not just one thing. And that as always many of the ideas I have come from others who have graciously shared their ideas such as Penny Kittle, Nancie Atwell, and Donalyn Miller with a few tweaks thrown in just for us.
It starts with a fully stocked classroom library because I need our students surrounded by books at all time. I need them to see the importance of always having a book ready, of always picking their next read.
Then it becomes where else do you get books from? We use our school library but also talk about all of the other books are present. Where can they access books beside our room? Where will they get books from over the summer? If they can’t get to a library, I will gladly lend them some.
It starts with the creation of a to-be-read list and while some readers already have these in place, many don’t. Many also don’t see the need and fight me for a long time about it, usually dismissing it with the idea that they already have a book to read. Yet, we make one and then we use it, day in and day out as I ask them to please open to it when we have a book talk in the room.
Then it becomes a tool they adapt to use on their own. So we start with one way to keep track but then we discuss how else they can have a list. Is it on their phone? Is it their Goodreads account? Is it the never-ending wishlist on Amazon? What will they actually use so that they always have ideas for what to read next? It cannot be my system because they will never maintain it once I am gone. And so when they ask me what they should read next my first reminder is always to check their to-be-read list, to start there so they remember all of those books they thought might be worth their time.
It starts with book talks by me. Every day, every class. Students get used to the routine and write down titles they are interested in.
Then it becomes book talks by students because little beats a recommendation from a fellow student. Whether it is through unofficial moments where I ask students to share a recent favorite read, our more structured thirty -second book talks where they actually write down what they will say and I have the covers ready to project, or to their end of year “Best book of the year” speech, they get used to discussing books, sharing favorites and not so favorite, of speaking about books without me.
It starts with book shopping with them, we set up our routine together the first week of school remembering how to book shop. Discussing how it is totally fine to judge a book by its cover as long as we look at other things as well. Then we book shop as a class or I help a child who needs it with one-on-one guidance.
Then it becomes them book shopping with friends. Rather than book shopping with me, I step further in the background, not highlighting as many books and also looking around for a peer for them to book shop with rather than me.
It starts with me being a reading role model. And being an obvious one. While I always say this is “our classroom,” it is my books read covers that grace our walls, and my book talks that dominate at first. However, that is not good in the long run because we don’t set students up for continued independence but instead further their reliance on us.
Then it becomes students as reading role models. And so, giving the conversational space back to students to make sure they know each other as readers, while they learn about themselves as well is a main focus for us. Students not only reflect on their own reading habits but also share with each other. They not only recommend books but also discuss reading plans. And while I certainly share my own as well, I am only one voice of many.
It starts with a discussion of summer reading and it’s importance. Casual comments made about keeping the reading spark alive, of discovering who they are as a reader.
Then it becomes making plans. Actually discussing how they plan on continuing their reading after they leave our classroom. They share ideas, I share ideas, and we discuss why it matters. We discuss the books they want to read. We take pictures of their to-be-read list and email it home. They borrow books from me and share their favorite reads. This isn’t a one day lesson, it is a lesson that evolves, that crops up when needed, that is repeated more urgently as the year winds down. After all, it took some of our students a long time to become readers, why should staying one take less time?
when I look at the reading community I get to be a part of every day, I cannot help but notice how the power of it always lies within the small details; the books, the displays, the conversations and yes, the patience and persistence that it takes to help build a reader. None of that happens overnight. None of that happens with just one book. Or just one person. It takes a community, it takes deliberate action, and it takes an endless amount of belief that every child can have positive experiences with reading.
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.