Tuesday, September 6, 2016

"I don't even have to remind him to read!" Building a Community of Readers

"Nooooo." came the soft sigh from a student as I asked the entire group to put their books away so we could move on to our next activity.  Three students didn't even budge as the others marked their places and closed their books. Those three were so wrapped up in their books' characters, stories, and worlds that they just continued reading.  Their table mates nudged them.  One of those students gave me the look.  The are you really making me stop right now look. The I'd rather be reading than moving on to whatever activity you have planned for us look.  That look brought me an immense amount of satisfaction as I just smiled back in return. My students are readers. 

We've been in school for 14 days, and I can safely say that our classroom is a community of readers. It started on day one, and it will continue on through day 180.  It certainly didn't get there by accident or chance, nor will it stay there just because it is in place now.  Creating a community of readers takes a good amount of intention, persistence, and even bucking the trends in some areas. Not one assignment, reading log, parent signature, comprehension worksheet, or reading level played a role in creating our community of readers. Rather, over the past 14 school days, it took quite a bit of talk, choice, independence, exploration, and trust to get there.  

How our classroom of 24 students and one teacher became a community of readers in 14 days...  

Morning Circle
Every single morning after a 20 minute soft start, where students come in, get settled, and choose to either read, write, or work on math, we all gather together in our morning circle.  We always start with greetings of some sort and then move on to discuss our reading from the night before or that morning. Before a few students volunteer to share out with the entire class, everyone shares with the two or three people nearest them in the circle.  We do this every single day without exception.  We've only been in school for three weeks, and already we have a vibrant and growing buzz around books taking place! Much of our current classroom buzz and continued conversations seem to be centered around Gregor the Overlander, Joey Pigza, and the classic character, Charlie Bucket! From our morning circles, students have created book waiting lists, a book return system, and book recommendations for their friends. They have done all of this with my support, but without my guidance. They are the ones taking ownership of how our community is run. Devoting time every single day to the morning circle to talk about books and reading issues that arise has been so incredibly valuable. If you're wondering how we make time for our morning circle each day on top of everything else we do, take a look at our daily schedule.  Everything certainly does not all fit in everyday.  However, reading and talking about reading will always fit in each day- no matter what.  

Setting Up the Understandings of the Classroom Library
Part of our fantasy/sci fi bookshelf
During our first morning circle on the first day of school, my students were introduced and invited into the classroom library.  We discussed how the library is currently organized and how ownership of that organization will be turned over to them as the year progresses.  I explained that they are welcome to try out any book in the library.  All of the books are for all of the readers in our classroom.  There are no limits.  Since that first morning circle, we've talked about how to evaluate our book choice, when it's worthwhile to abandon a book, and when it's better to stick with it.  

The biography section of our nonfiction area.  
Right now, the library is setup by genre. The larger categories are realistic fiction, historical fiction, fantasy/sci fi, picture books, old favorites (loved books and read alouds from 2nd, 3rd, & 4th grades), and nonfiction grouped into many different categories. As we continue moving through our year, students will be invited to reorganize the library by grouping and displaying books in ways they feel makes better sense for our reading community. The library is not, nor will it ever be organized by level. I've written and discussed this idea in earlier blog posts: book levels play an important role in teacher instructional decisions, but have no place in a library.

Ditching the Log
Our community of readers was created without many of the tools teachers have traditionally used during reading instruction.  The one tool that I completely ditched a few years back is the traditional reading log. Rather than requiring my students to comply with an activity that does not mimic anything in the world outside of the classroom, I decided to offer activities for them to "track" their progress that promote and encourage reading rather than deter from it.  Let's face it, no child ever said, "I can't wait to stop reading my book so I can go fill out a log, write a summary, list the pages I read, and ask for my dad's signature in order to prove to my teacher that I did, in fact, read."  

One of my student's personal bookshelves 
Rather than the traditional log, we turned to technology, art, and talk. Each time a student starts reading a new book, they are invited to share it on the Classroom Padlet titled What We're Reading Now.  At anytime, students may check out the Padlet to see what their friends in class are currently reading.  It's a great place to go for recommendations. In addition to the Padlet, every student has created their own personal bookshelf on the inside cover of their reading notebooks.  I found this brilliant idea from my friend and fellow fifth grade teacher, Jenna Segall.  Basically, students draw books they are reading and books they want to read on the shelf.  As they read a book they color it in.  A book that is 50% colored in is about half way read.  A book fully colored is finished.  When they discover a book they want to read, they simply write the book on their shelf!  Not only is the shelf a fun visual "log," but also it is a great place to be reminded of possible books to read next!  

As the year continues, we will talk every morning about our reading and share in many more ways.  However, mark my words, we will not fill out traditional reading logs, ask for parent signatures to prove we read, or do projects that readers in life outside of school never do.  

I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the challenges that have popped up along the way over these 14 days. Challenges are not a bad thing.  They help us learn more about ourselves and where we're striving to go.  A few kiddos in class found the sudden freedom to choose their own books a little overwhelming.  After conferring with those students around how to make a book choice, they started to become a little more comfortable in choosing their own books.  They may not be perfectly comfortable yet, but they are certainly on their way.  Another student has found it very challenging to sit with a book, any book, for an extended period of time.  After a few conferences with him, he discovered that it wasn't his book choice getting in his way, rather it was actually his choice of where to sit in the classroom.  He now knows to choose his reading spot with a little more intention each day.  Aside from these two challenges, a few others have also popped up along the way.  When challenges pop up, the best way to address them is to sit down and confer to figure out what's going on.  More challenges are sure to pop up as our reading community grows and changes. We welcome those challenges as they help us learn more about ourselves as readers. 

We have a strong community of readers in place now, but this community will not stay strong and grow even more vibrant unless we continue what we've started for the next 166 school days. Consistency matters. Readers grow by doing one thing only: reading every single day without exception.  A community of readers grows by doing two things: reading every single day and talking about reading every single day- without exception.  That's it.  

On Wednesday of last week, one of my classroom parents popped in after school for a quick chat. After she kindly welcomed me to the school and mentioned that her child was enjoying class, she said the one thing that I am hoping all of my classroom parents will say or notice this school year.  She looked at me with a little confusion on her face, as if she couldn't believe what she was about to tell me.  She took a breath and simply said, "Since the first week of school, Andy is reading on his own at home. I don't even have to remind him to read. He wants to read!"  

Friends, nothing else matters.

For more information on some of these ideas & methods: 
Upstanders by Sara Ahmed & Smokey Daniels 
Poor Readers Don't Get to Read Much by Richard Allington 
One Sure Way to Create Reluctant Readers by Kylene Beers
What the Research Says About Enjoyment of Reading and Reading Achievement by Kylene Beers
Text Levels, Tool or Trouble by Irene Fountas
The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller
I've Got Research, Yes I Do, I've Got Research, How About You? by Donalyn Miller

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for the detailed post! I just keep hearing about Padlet every where I turn. But my favorite take-a-way from your post is the personal bookshelf on the inside cover of the reading notebooks! I love the creativity it inspires. I'm definitely implementing that into our reading world. ~Amy


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