Saturday, March 16, 2019

SLICE #16: Walking the tightrope between choice and push

After a million years as a literacy coach, I'm back in the classroom this year. Actually, I'm teaching sixth grade half time, and then acting as instructional dean the other half of the time. Being back in the classroom is really hard work. Writing lesson plans. Creating materials for five kids who don't speak any English. Responding to seventy kids writing every week. Yikes! It's a lot of work. And I really love it.

One of the things I have thought a LOT about this year is independent reading. I think it's absolutely critical that kids are immersed in great books. And that they are allowed to choose what they read. I totally get the role of choice in reading. And I think it's important, maybe even critical, to let kids choose what they read. It's definitely one of the hills that I would die on.

At the same time, I think there is a really fine line between letting kids choose what they read, and pushing them out into the big wide world of reading to try new things. I'm still trying to sort out exactly what that means in my head. Here are a few examples I have confronted this year:

  • Z is a very capable reader. When she comes to me in August, she is reading #9 in the WIMPY KID series. She tells me she has spent the summer reading all of the books sequentially. She plans to finish the series. I leave her alone. 
  • X is one of my most unique readers. He has an IEP and is on the spectrum. He loves, loves, loves DOGMAN and has bought one each month, until now, in March, he owns all six. He stores them in a box in my closet. Every day he gets the box out and reads from this series. My teammate thinks we need to push him on. So far, I've left him alone. 
  • O was not a reader at the beginning of the year. None of my tried and true choices worked for him. Not graphic novels. Not WIMPY KID. Not I SURVIVED. Not CROSSOVER. Nothing. Nada. And then he came across the POKEMON series in the Scholastic catalogue. And ordered one of those. This month, he brought the book to me, and showed me two other books that were available from Scholastic. Would I order another one, he wanted to know. He even wrote down the titles on an index card. Then asked me the next day when they would be arriving. I'm not a huge fan of pop culture type books. But if they will engage a kid, I'll buy them. And leave him alone while he reads, at least for a while. 
But then there are other kids that I don't leave alone:
  • J is one of those girls that often gets overlooked. She's really quiet. She does her work, and she does a good job. But she's really, really quiet. And often gets overlooked, I think, because of that. At the beginning of the year, she was reading HARRY POTTER. But it was a little hard, and really slow going, and I didn't think she was enjoying it. I book talked a couple of realistic fiction titles, and she's taken off, reading one or two books a week. She still pulls out HARRY POTTER, and maybe she'll finish the series at some point...
  • L is new to our school this year. He's an English Language Learner, pretty quiet, a  skateboarder. For about half the year, he read pop culture and he read graphic novels. About a month ago, I ordered REFUGEE for him. Yesterday he came into class and told me that it was the best book he had ever read. He's over halfway through it. I am ready to push with other similar titles. 
  • M is one of the brightest kids in my class. Really capable and pretty much really disengaged. A FORTNITE guy.  At the beginning of the year, he was reading almost exclusively WIMPY KID. One day, I pulled him aside and asked him if he would like a suggestion. He said he might and I started him on Allen Gratz, which he totally loved. He read all of Gratz's war stories, and then went on to read BAN THIS BOOK and several of his earlier books. After that, I pushed him into other historical fiction. I make sure I'm always ready with a book talk or two. He's probably ten really challenging historical fiction novels this year, most recently THE LIBRARIAN OF AUSCHWITZ. 
I guess, then, I would still say that I am all about choice. Absolutely. But I also think there is a really fine line between allowing kids to choose and helping them make choices that work for them. Or helping them be aware of new choices. And knowing when to push a little. Or in some cases a lot. And then there's that whole deal of me being ready and knowledgeable so that I can offer good choices.  I guess what I am saying is I think there is a whole lot more to choice than some people would lead me to believe. 


Ramona said...

Oh, Carol, I love this post and reading about your readers. You seem to know exactly how to work with each of them. I love that you're back in the classroom. We need more people like you standing on the hill of choice and knowing when to hold back, when to offer other choices, when to push a bit.

Mschiubooka said...

Great post about lovingly and intentionally nudging readers through independent reading choice. The detailed examples about different readers are so informative and useful for other educators. What do you suggest for an 8th graders who loves baseball and Fortnite, but refuses to read? We’ve tried Babe Ruth graphic novels, sports magazines/compilations, Miles Morales, and funny fiction like Timmy Failure. Finishing a book has been tough. I’m a little stuck.

Glenda Funk said...

I echo every word. It’s so important to know when to push and when to step back. Choice should never be about staying in the same place always. That’s stasis. Loved reading about your students and their reading. Showing kids they do t have to love the books they’re told to love, as in reading Garry Potter, matters, too.

Carol, I’m not sure how I’ve missed your posts this month. I’m glad I found this one. ❤️

Fran Haley said...

First, I love the line "after a million years as a literacy coach" for numerous reasons - maybe you did it for a long time, or maybe working with ADULTS made it seem like a million years! I know it's hard work to be back with the kids but my heart rejoices for you, that you love it.

And, that little girl reading Harry Potter has stolen my heart. Just sayin'.

Elisabeth Ellington said...

I know for me and my classroom, choice includes A LOT of nudging. I think that each student has very different needs, and the observant teacher is constantly assessing those needs and making decisions about how much nudging and how much leaving alone is necessary. I think that years of careful kidwatching, plus all the reading and PD we do, helps us become really attuned to the needs of our readers and quite intuitive about knowing when to push and when to leave a reader alone.