Monday, December 27, 2010

Getting Kids Reading: A Guide

Getting Your Students Reading: A Guide

I heard a disappointing comment from a teacher the other day. “I don’t really like reading that much, so can’t really get my kids excited about.” I had to obviously hold back the things I was thinking. There really is no excuse for a teacher to have anything less than a passion for reading. If not a passion, then you better at least be quite competent on the components of literacy. This comment got me thinking about how there may be teachers who might need a little guide on how to get their kids reading. As always, I am not an expert in any way. I will tell you things I have done, and I will certainly try to credit all the great ideas I have stolen from amazing teachers out there.

This guide will essentially be composed of these elements:

1. - Building a library that isn’t stale and a classroom with reading zones.

2. - Gaining genre and author knowledge

3. - Modeling Reading and Book Talk

4. - Rewards and Dangling Carrots

5. - The Ongoing Results (keeping kids reading after your job is done)

Part 1

Building a Library and Reading Zones

One big challenge for new teachers is taking the time and finding the money to build a classroom library. Not everyone will walk into a job with a donated classroom library. We certainly will not receive a “blank check” from our principals to cover the many volumes we will need to build a solid classroom library. You have to understand that this part of the process is always part of the job of a teacher. To start focus on purchasing a large amount of books at one time to jump start your library. The best two ways I have found are purchasing books in “lots” online (sites like ebay: search term “book lot” and then click on the left column to sort by children books) and the other is being a yard sale hawk. Last year I was able to purchase about 300 books online for less than $100. I have also gotten quite good at spotting children books while driving up to local yard sales. You can really get a lot of books for a few dollars if you search long enough. Once you start building your library you will always be getting better at picking books kids will like and finding great deals.

As the classroom library continues to build, you now have a task of creating an environment where reading is focused, comfortable, and meaningful. Some of this stuff will come again as I talk about modeling for your kids. Your job at this point is to look for unique zones or places in the classroom where you can picture your kids really digging into a good book. This year I have slowly added new spots as the kids show more maturity (I have to pull popsicle stick names for the spots). I started with a simple corner of the room with a bean-bag (two kids can read there). After a week, I added that one person will be able to read under my desk. Then after a few more weeks, I cleared out the bottom of my art closet and made a reading nook with a light on a switch. About 4 weeks ago, I made a big step and brought in a love seat. These are now zones where reading is happening every day. Kids behave in their special spots because they can quickly lose them for talking and fooling around. There are many other cool things teachers are doing to create reading zones. The important part is to understand your kids, go slow in giving responsibility, and be creative.

You can also build your library through Scholastic Book Clubs. Be sure to set up online ordering for your parents, and send home lots of reminders and book recommendations. You will earn free books, bonus points, and other great rewards.

Gaining Genre and Author Knowledge

Getting to know what kind of books kids like will take some work and research on your part. I have found over the past three years that I continually get better at picking books that kids will like. The more you know your kids, the easier it is to match them with a book they will love. With young kids there are a few genres that mesh with the majority of the class. The best to focus on are funny/humorous, mysteries, and realistic fiction.

A great place to start for picture books is to focus on getting the newest Caldecott winning books and work your way backwards. Kids will love the pictures, and many of the books have authors that make it easy to build connections to other books. Newberry books often make great read aloud books, but I have found my second graders can’t tackle many of them.

If you are looking for chapter books there are the obvious selections like Magic Tree House, Ready Freddy, and Junie B. Jones. If you find a series that your kids like, shoot for getting the whole series. This will keep kids reading for a long time, and more often than not, they will get their classmates interested in the same book.

I usually study one author or illustrator at a time in my class. I pull books from my library and from the public library so that kids can get familiar with the person we are studying. I try very hard to pick a person that has a cool website that the kids can access during computer time. Some great ones would be: Roald Dahl, Dav Pilkey, Jan Brett, Shel Silverstein, Chris Van Allsburg, Mo Willems, and the list keeps growing. Studying great writers and artists is a great way to get familiar with books along with your kids.

Modeling Reading

If you want your students to be readers, you most likely will need to show them what good readers do. You will also need to model the behaviors you expect in a reader. I read to my students every single day. We are usually tackling an amazing chapter book. Here are my favorites that the kids beg for: My Father's Dragon, Wayside School (all three), Flat Stanley, Because of Winn-Dixie, and Invention of Hugo Cabret (end of the year). During the reading time you should model ways to ask good questions. You should always be encouraging kids to make connections (read up on this!). Beyond the read aloud, your students need to have a set time for quiet reading every day. “I can’t do it everyday!” is the common response. My response, “Then make time to do it everyday!” We all know by now that reading is essential for all subject areas. It is the building block we cannot afford to neglect (unless you want a leaning tower). If we want our kids to achieve we need to give them lots of time to practice reading.

When I started this school year, I built in a block of time for silent reading. I followed a model set out in the book, The First Six Weeks (with some modifications). I started the first week of school by having the students read for 5 minutes and then they could read or draw for the next 5 minutes. The following two weeks my students were reading for 10 minutes, and could read or draw for the next 5 minutes. After that, I started to phase about the drawing part, so that the students were reading for 15 minutes. The next step was to move the kids to 20 minutes of reading. I spent the next couple of weeks having the kids read for 20 minutes, but I broke the time up in 10 minute chunks. In between the two time periods my kids would “Book Buzz”, which is essentially kids talking with a partner about what they are reading (saw it in a video by The Responsive Classroom). When we got to November this year, the kids were able to move the sharing time to the end and read for the entire 20 minutes.This is quite an accomplishment for 2nd grade students.

Some things to remember and try:

· - The teacher should do their best to read for a portion of the time. Kids should see you reading too. My students love to come ask me about what I am reading.

· - Provide different tools that help kids remember what they are reading. Ms. Winston has a great tool called a ThinkMark . I also got handy bookmarks for each kid from Into the Book. You can also find great tools at: http://www.readinglady.com/mosaic/tools/tools.htm like the Self Select Rubric by Brad.

· - Get involved in the sharing time. Have kids talk to you about their books and be sure to tell them what you are reading.

Part 2 is around the corner…..

Monday, December 6, 2010

Learning How to Die

I have been sitting on this post for awhile. Mostly because this time of year is crazy, but also to let my thoughts take form. To begin, this post is not about how to end your life. If you stumbled here in search of things of such nature, my words are only of hope, peace, and life.

The phrase, "Learning How to Die," is stolen from a song I love by Jon Foreman (of Switchfoot):



That line of the song has been rolling around in my head for the past couple of weeks. What does it mean to ,"Learn how to die?" In this culture, it would seem almost absurd for someone to live their life to become obsolete. The thing is, as teachers our job should be directed at our extinction. One of goals from day one in my class is about phasing myself out. What do you mean? I mean that I try to daily become less vital to the long term outcome of my class. I would like to picture that one day, my students would walk in, begin their learning, questioning, and discovering and never realize that I wasn't there. I am not talking about bogging students down with busy work. I am talking about making students self-sufficient and about them taking ownership in their learning.
If we are honest, it takes a good amount of dying to yourself to give up the roles we take as teachers. We like the stage. We enjoy being the "Deliverers of Knowledge." The problem is that learning that is all teacher directed is often a breeding ground for passive students. We create avenues where kids store everything in their short term memory for quick test regurgitation. Are kids going to naturally pick up the torch and run? I would say no. They will in time, grab the torch firmly and run farther than what you dreamed if you teach them to. When this happens, we just get to be a fan in the crowd. If we are lucky, we are maybe a coach on the track, but our goal should never be about being noticed.
Again, I am guilty of often setting the bar quite high, but I think I have this one right. Teach your kids like you will be dead in a month or two. Teach like their will be no substitute.


To measure you are doing, record how much time your students can spend in quality learning without your directives and prompting. If all learning hinges on your presence, you may have to start learning how to die. I would love to hear about ways your students run the classroom. Please share in the comments.