Leveling Up The Love of Reading

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.

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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.

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Understanding Text Complexities

We’ve been doing some incredible work with literacy consultant and guru, Barb Golub, (@GolubBarb) this year in all of our elementary schools.  Yesterday, we met with our kindergarten teachers and discussed the delicate dance of moving a student who is working at a level A/B text over the hump of approximation to level C and decoding.  Barb was extremely helpful in explaining how and why texts are leveled across the bands, and how we as teachers need to analyze texts across the levels of complexity.

It became very clear through our discussion that if we hold students in a level too long the texts no longer provide the content and structures that these students need in order to gain exposure and be able to practice new skills.  The key is to give our students extra support when introducing the new level text and explain to them exactly what they will encounter that will be tricky.

Based off of the information Barb provided us we started to realize the importance of tracking what students are doing well within their current independent text levels.  By monitoring this we can make sure we are guiding them towards entrance into a new level at the appropriate time and not inadvertently holding them back.  Here are the checklists I made that explain what the students should be showing independence in within a text band.  With this form you can track which students are currently working within a level text and simply check off or date the box for the skill the student is showing proficiency with.  It also can be used as a guide to anticipate what will come next in this students reading experience.

For me, the biggest take away was that if we don’t provide our students with the challenge and hold them til their achieving 100% success we are doing them a disservice.  We need to provide experiences throughout our students’ educational experiences in which they struggle by doing the work and persevere with our guided support.  This is when the best learning occurs.