I sat in bed last night, reading a book and periodically glancing up at the rerun of Top Chef. I paused for a moment while the judges weighed in on each of the final dishes. I’m often amazed at how the most random of ingredients can be whipped together to create a delectable treat for the most sophisticated of palates, and I often wonder, does it really taste any good? How is it you can become such a talented cook that you can be thrown any amount of unimaginable items and create something of pleasure?
And then I got to thinking-this is sort of like where we are in our journey of shifting to reading workshop. For the past three years we have spent countless hours working to hone our skills and understand the ingredients required for a well functioning workshop model. We built out our classroom libraries, heavily focusing on text level and fitting students to “just right books”. We emphasized reading “at your level” and teaching skills according to features within certain bands of texts. Just as the most renowned chefs started as culinary students, we as teachers needed to learn the guidelines of best literacy instruction, and now that our “chefs” have been properly trained in the basics, it’s time to take a step back and really taste the final product.
We are lucky enough to work with literacy consultants and authors, Jen Serravallo and Barb Golub, and with their guidance our school has decided to dedicate the rest of this year to fostering the love of reading in our students. Barb and Jen helped us see now that we are trained in evaluating a text for complexity we can lean less heavily on “assigning a letter” and regain the time talking to the students about their reading lives. What genres do they like? What excites them when they read a book?
We also wanted to demonstrate that we all live reading lives so each teacher has posted outside their classroom door their current reading selections. We also created a bulletin board displaying peer book recommendations.
I’ve also been going class to class and having a book talk with our students about what they want to see more of in their classroom libraries. And this is where the magic of my days has been found over the past few weeks. In every classroom, regardless of age, hands flew up with authors, genres, titles, and topics they wanted more of. Not one child responded with more of a certain level. Truth be told, a few students did say they wanted “harder” books but I pushed them to think more deeply about what that meant to them. Do you want multiple plot lines? harder vocabulary? characters that change? Students who don’t consider themselves readers already shared some of their hobbies and topics of interest so that we could help support them in the journey of becoming a reader. It was a time and place where everyone in that conversation felt included, valued and heard, and that is where you can begin to see the recipe for a reading life taking shape.