Monday, August 24, 2009

The Second Week of School

This year, I'm writing a newsletter, "COMMENTS FROM YOUR COACH" to my teachers. I'm not sure whether it will be every week, or every other week, but here is the feature article for this week (I'm posting it here because I am having a hard time keeping up with school, and football, and work, and blogging, so this piece is going to do double duty.

In order to get better at reading, kids have to read A LOT. When I say read, I mean actually read- sit in the chair, eyes, minds, and hearts glued to the book. Many kids (and adults) don’t understand what it means to engage deeply with a book. The first thing, then, that I want to do with my students is to teach them this very important habit of engaging with a book.

High school teacher and author Kelly Gallagher asks his students if they have ever been so absorbed in a television show or movie that they are completely unaware of what is going on around them. Most students have had that experience, so Gallagher explains to kids that he wants them to engage with books in that same way. Nancie Atwell talks to her students about entering the “reading zone.” I used the idea of “reading zone” with my fourth and fifth graders last year, and it seemed to make sense to them.

Gallagher suggests that three things have to occur for kids to enter the reading state. First, they have to have EXPOSURE/ACCESS to great books and lots of them. Next they have to have PLACES to read Finally, they have to have TIME to read.

• Are you reading aloud to kids every day (hopefully more than once a day)?

• Are your read alouds carefully selected:
o books you love and can’t wait to share with kids
o books around a certain theme (e.g. back to school books, books around a certain character trait, making friends, solving problems)
o books in a certain genre
o an author study
o a series you think kids will enjoy reading independently

Choosing Books for Independent Reading
• Is your library organized in a way that KIDS can find books they want (e,g, if an eight-year-old wants a book about football, or a book by a certain author, or a book that’s really scary, will he/she be able to locate that)?

• Are books that you think kids will especially enjoy displayed in a way to make them appealing to kids (when you go into a bookstore or library, which books do YOU pick up first?)

• Are you doing book talks on great books, authors, or series every day? Jim Trelease, author of THE READ ALOUD HANDBOOK, says that teachers need to do commercials for books just like McDonald’s does commercials for hamburgers.

• Do your students know that readers choose books for a variety of reasons, e.g. they are interested in the subject, they like the author, another reader recommended the book, the book has an interesting cover, the blurb on the back or on the inside cover sounds interesting?

• Do kids know how to find a book that is just right for them? The five finger rule is one tool. You may also want to teach older kids that if a book is just right, the reader can make pictures in her head while she is reading. He can hear what the characters “sound like” when they are talking. He feels like he is right there in the book.

Establishing a place/time to read
At this point in the year, I don’t give kids a lot of choices about where they will read. Everyone reads in their seats. Later, after they get better at engaging with books, I will give kids more freedom about where they can read.

I use these guidelines for independent reading with my students:
• Select a book (this procedure will vary from grade to grade) BEFORE independent reading time begins (for younger children, early in the year this may mean having a few books in a pile ready to read, or having a bin of books on the table). Later on children will probably read from their book bags or their poetry notebooks
• Read ends are super-glued to chair
• Eyes and mind glued to book
• No talking (the younger students all read aloud any way, so it’s not necessarily a silent time!)
• No one does anything that would distract or disturb another reader (or take them out of their zone). No one gets up. No one goes to the bathroom. No one makes noises with their mouth, fingers, or feet.
• I set a timer. Start with a time where you are sure kids can be successful, e.g. 8-10 minutes. Depending on how it goes, increase a minute every few days. I want my primary kids to build to 20-30 minutes, and third graders to read a MINIMUM of 30 minutes (last year my fourth and fifth graders were doing 45 minutes by the end of the year).
• At the beginning of the year, I read when the kids read, because I want the room to be absolutely quiet. Later on, after kids are good at getting into their reading zone I use the time to confer with individual readers or work with kids in pairs or small groups.
• When the timer goes off, tell kids to get to a good stopping point., then pull them together to evaluate how independent reading time time went. You may want to work with students to create some kind of rubric or tool that the class or individual students can use to evaluate themselves.

Independent reading time is so, so, so critical to kids’ growth as readers, that it’s important that we get it absolutely right.


Susan T. said...

Thanks for these great tips, Carol! We parents can adapt some of them for home, too.

Chicken Spaghetti

Laura Lynn Benson said...

I am reading The Book Whisperer right now - a kindred spirit to your wise and giving messages. Great minds think alike...and make one another stronger! xo

Lauren said...

Can you post all of your letters? (Great advice!)