On Independent Reading in the Classroom
How to introduce independent reading into the classroom has been something I have consistently thought about throughout this semester, thus the Flipgrid conversation that automatically caught my eye. My students kind of roll their eyes about their independent reading, but I can see their eyes light up when I put a book of interest in their hands. I really enjoyed hearing the insight from current teachers about independent reading. Frances noted that she sets aside $30 from her paycheck every month for growing her library, which I think is super commendable and something I could probably manage as well. Gretchen said that she utilizes she conferences with readers & helps them with accountability, and I loved this idea because whenever I have taken my class to the library and told them about books or discussed the books they read with them, they love it! Pretty consistently the teachers highlighted book talks, which I hope to use as well. I could see my ideas for introducing independent reading come to life through Dani’s response and how she sets up independent reading in her classroom. Dani worked towards Independent Reading because she knew her students needed scaffolding for this. She posts on the board “What I’m Reading” as a way to show students “look, I am reading too and I value it outside of the classroom as well”. Many of the teachers comment on their classroom libraries and Dani goes as far to call her classroom library “invaluable”. I have juggled around the idea of having students book talk what they read & post a Goodreads review in the spring when I take over this project, so it was good to hear how it is being run in all of these classrooms. Dani’s way of introducing the independent reading focused on talking about why reading is important, then asked students to bring a book in that was important to them, trends in their reading (what they like), and when their reading stopped, why, or why they think they still enjoy reading. Thinking through their own views on reading was a cool idea rather than just saying “you have to read a book every 6 weeks” and the idea of reader autobiography piece paired with creating a reader infographic (they also did a writer’s identity infographic) is a great way to engage students in their reading with a much more personal view. Hearing from current teachers in the field helped me to see independent reading in action and ways in which these teachers introduced it to their students allowed me to think deeper about just how to introduce this to my students when we start fresh in the spring.
HOW is it already Week 7? These past several weeks have flown by and I have a mixture of emotions. Originally, when we were assigned tasks to lead our class, I was annoyed because I felt overwhelmed with everything we were being told to do with little to no guidance on how to actually be successful in this role, but at this point, I am not as nervous as I thought I would be about planning for our Lead Teach Unit and for the Spring semester. Being thrown to the wolves (which is an accurate description of how I felt), made me have to get over it – I have realized that I will probably not be fully, 100% confident or prepared to go into Lead Teach because there is simply not enough class time used for this type of instruction in our college courses, so I can only know as much as I can, hope for the best, and maybe even do well.
Over this semester, I have seen my students become my “kiddos,” which is a term I, of course, unknowingly picked up from listening to Dr. Kajder talk about her students all summer. The students that enter my classroom every single day are not just a name on a seating chart or roster, but from the moment they shared their stories through their autobiographies to each piece of work I have seen so far this semester, I have seen them learn so much and I have learned so much about them. Now, as I am planning for the mini-lesson and Lead Teach Unit, I have extra motivation to make each idea something that would work well for my students. I know Justin likes Kahoot, I know if some of my boys do not get up and move around that they will get bored and start throwing things at each other, I know if the activity is not switched up at the most every 30 minutes, then I lose all attention. Knowing all of these things about my kiddos, makes the planning process much more enjoyable for me and will hopefully be more enjoyable for the kids. The only thing making me go into planning this unit with somewhat of a heavy heart is knowing that I will not get to plan for them in the spring. They have shown their skills and grown so much this semester.
So, here’s to my last two months with planning for my first group of “kiddos” and getting excited for those I have yet to meet!
Reading is something that is so intertwined in our daily lives that it can be hard for some of us to imagine it not being a consistent part of our lives. For me, as an English major, one might assume I always loved reading, but the truth is, I had a feeling I wanted to teach and knew I enjoyed my literature classes in high school, so why not go for that? Little did I know just how much reading I would be doing, but that’s beside the point. Many young readers (specifically, middle & high school) experienced the same dread I did when I was first handed my syllabi from my first semester of English classes. A big issue for me in the classroom is understanding that my students are not all going to be like I was as a student, in fact, there may not even be a single one that learns the way I do. What will I do to help that student? Am I prepared to help that student? What can I do to lead them to light and positivity in their lives that can be reading and writing? These are questions that often flow through my mind as I sit at my desk or walk around the room in my high school classroom every single week. I will be the first to admit that I do not feel as if I have been prepared to handle students with learning disabilities and how to adequately support their needs. Having a single, boring, non-immersive, non-interactive SPED class simply is not enough to teach me about so many different kinds of disorders. One of my areas of professional development that I know I need to focus on is learning to support all of my readers as best as I can and that means from the enthusiastic readers who out-reads me and I cannot keep enough books to keep handing them to the readers who drag behind due to lack of enthusiasm or disabilities.
After taking a couple of days to collect my thoughts while this subject of “supporting readers” has been on my heart, the questions and struggles I keep encountering are those concerning validating readers. By “validating” I mean encouraging and affirming students’ choices in terms of reading and not acting as if our reading selections are “above” theirs in any way. I have recently seen my students struggle with The Tale of Two Cities. I know this is a more “classic” or “canon” text than most of them would probably choose on their own and seeing their brains stretch has been rewarding, but they only feel the stretching and not the reward right now. How to balance independent reading with whole class novels is an idea that I am juggling with right now. Carving out time for SSR is vital to awakening some of those dormant readers and is something I will highly value in my classroom, but now my focus is developing the tools they need to reach the level of active reading I believe they can accomplish.
Ahhh… a thick, glossy, paperback cover with crisp, new pages that have yet to be earmarked or crinkled at your fingertips as you are cuddled up in a comfy chair holding a warm cup of coffee; this sounds like heaven to you, right? It definitely does to me, but as I am an English major that has had a revived love for reading outside the classroom it is hard for me to take myself back to the time when I would have dreaded a teacher handing me a book and telling me I had to read it.
The reality is that is exactly where some of our students are – they do not experience the same excitement we might when we pick up a new book awaiting the new world and story we will dive into between the pages. Honestly, this past week I found myself picking up my high school copy of Night by Elie Wiesel and I remembered how I barely read it (skimmed it actually) and I found my high school “annotations” that were clearly written just to meet an expectation of my teacher. I was tickled by my notes in the margins because I was in the very beginning stages of learning how to be an active reading and how to use annotations, and I honestly do not know if I was ever taught. Between this memory and having a conversation with a student this week, I realized how much it matters to prepare students with the tools and skills to be successful in reading. If high school me was given an anticipation guide or tips to take on a text like Night, maybe I would have been a little more eager to explore all of the literary elements present at my fingertips. This week I was taken aback when one of my students told me The House on Mango Street will be the first book he has ever completed… ever. I did not understand how this tenth grader had never finished a book on his own. He told me that without my mentor teacher taking the time to read some chapters aloud to the class, he may have not been engaged enough to keep reading it. Although reading aloud may feel elementary to many of us who consider ourselves more experienced readers, it is essential to take the time to look at the hearts of our readers and see what they need to succeed.
There are so many resources we have as teachers to help our students succeed with their reading, but what it really requires is taking the time to know the hearts of our readers – the hesitations, the fears, the insecurities, the interests, the inspirations each of our students feel and experience. After all, the experience is central to the impact a text can have, and we do not want our students to miss out on all the wonderful things about reading. That being said, what can we do to engage these readers again? Through our readings and our unit planning projects, I have been looking for tools to bring to my students to help them along the way. I loved the idea of passing out bookmarks that have multiple uses. I began thinking through and drafting designs for a bookmark tool that is double-sided with a couple different tools. One side would have annotation tips and reading strategies for students to reference as they read. The other side would have space for students to note vocabulary words they come across that they may want to look up to aid their understanding. I hope to create a tool to use with my students as we take on our November unit together and for the spring semester. Hopefully, equipping students with the tools they can use to confidently take on a book and, eventually, succeed in making it through a work will awaken some of the dormant readers in our classrooms!
For now, we should take the time to not only teach our students, but really get to know them. If I have learned anything from being in the classroom so far, it is that students want their voices to be heard and they genuinely appreciate it when someone (especially a teacher or authority figure) take the time to listen to what they have to say. If I had not taken the time to talk a little bit with the students about how they felt about the book, I would not have known my student had not ever finished a single book and I would not have seen the pride in his eyes when realizing he would soon meet this accomplishment. Moments like this should keep us inspired to keep developing as a professional educator to achieve these moments of success with our students! So, here’s to hopefully many more successes like this one & to developing more resources for our students to succeed!
As a 2nd grader, I distinctly remember being told I really needed to get my reading speed faster in order to improve my reading skills for my tests. For me, little Jamie who, at the time, was loving soaking in every word from The Little House On The Prairie series felt slightly disappointing and frustrated with being told to practice my reading speed. It was not until recently that this memory came to mind again. I had honestly forgotten about ever having to improve my reading because for as long as I remember English/Language Arts has been my favorite subject, but as I am having the experience of working with struggling readers in my ESOL class, I am seeing the impact positivity can have on their motivation to read.
Taking my personal experience and being empathetical towards my student has proven to be helpful to them! This past week, my mentor teacher modeled good reading practices with our students by reading a few short chapters from The House on Mango Street and stopping throughout each chapter to access their comprehension by asking them questions about content and making sure they did not have any questions about the storyline. As Beers notes, “I’d like to suggest that it is more critical for dependent readers to talk about the texts during the reading experience than after it,” and I have seen how these methods help students monitor how they read independently if they are taught reading skills through modeling these methods. Modeling is included in Beers’ steps for teaching the importance of “rereading” for understanding – “model your thinking as you reread a text.”
Ultimately, providing our students with these tools to aid reading for struggling and dependent readers will help build their confidence for independent reading as well.
From the time I was six years old, I was playing “school teacher” in my room. I would set up my American Girl dolls in rows, find little notebooks or crayons for them, and use the supplementary materials my mom would pull out her old elementary school supply box for me to create in my own little imaginary classroom. During the times that I waver in my pursuit of education as my profession, I often think about those memories and my interest in the power learning and teaching from such a young age. Little did I know, over a decade later I would be seeing and experiencing all of the hard work and thought that goes behind what teachers bring into the classroom every day. Isn’t it funny to look back on your time in grade school and realize that you had absolutely no clue how much work went into planning each day? Talk about some irony.
Now that I am getting some first hand experience behind-the-scenes of running a classroom, I am constantly filtering through the things my mentor teacher does, the memories I have from my grade school teachers, and my vision of what teaching will look like for me. From our readings, Beers works through what it means to provide “explicit instruction” in the classroom. We are so quick to explain things simply in a way that makes sense to us rather than put ourselves in the shoes of our students and consider their level of knowledge and experience. In providing explicit instruction, Beers notes that we must activate prior knowledge for students in order to create those connections between previously learned material and the current concept at hand. Ideas like that seem so painfully obvious, yet we are quick to jump over these basic steps in the learning process, and when someone, like Beers, points out this seemingly obvious step it reminds me to slow down and consider why I do what I do when I lead the class. Taking the time to tie ideas to each other can help students feel confident in what they know before taking on something new. It’s only human to want to feel prepared going into a situation of uncertainty; learning takes place during the progression from uncertainty to understanding.
Amongst all of Beers’s helpful ideas for teaching more effectively, there is emphasis on constantly diversifying teaching to keep students attention. I am learning the system of teaching as I witness and read more about the preparation process teachers go through to effectively communicate a given concept. Beers mentions mini-lessons as a resource to implement in the classroom as a quick 5-10 minute section in class when you explain a point or reexamine a concept for students benefit where you see room for growth. For example, this week (Monday… eek) I will be teaching a mini-lesson on semicolons and their usage. Our students are throwing them randomly in their writings or simply not using them in places that they could use them to enhance their sentence structures and overall writing, so I am stepping in to teach a mini-grammar lesson that they can take and apply to their work. Even just this small break from the routine of class will (hopefully) provide a mental stretch break (if that makes sense) that is both useful and a step away from Chaucer, which I’m sure they will appreciate.
It is hard to believe we are only just weeks into the semester. With all of the information that is being thrown at us, it can be difficult to pick up an idea and let it resonate, but, hopefully, through our readings and in-class conversations, I will be able to begin narrowing down ideas I can integrate into my classroom and my future lesson plans. Slowly, but surely, I am beginning to learn the system, and, hopefully, I am embarking on a path to success.
This week, I had the experience of leading class on my own for the very first time. My mentor teacher had to be absent and left her three classes with me. She later noted this experience as being my “baptism by fire” and it is safe to say that is probably an accurate description of my feelings during leading those classes. Throughout reading Choice Words, I found myself wishing the knowledge from this book was put into my mind a week earlier. Peter Johnston reminded me that as we are teaching students about language and its power, we should also remember that our language has power as well. Now that realization may seem obvious or silly to you, but it hit me hard as I was reading Choice Words because I wish I could have handled my speech in front of my students with more care. Each and every word we use to address our classes has repercussions. As I am reminding my students to note means of persuasion used in Julius Caesar, how am I not reminded about the power my own language holds?
At every impatient moment (indicated by the chance of tone in my voice), I could have used those moments as opportunities to engage with a student, revisit the situation or question from a fresh angle, invite them to rethink an idea, or pose a question to help spark agency in these students. Johnston’s book hits on lots of examples on how we can make sure our students know their thoughts and opinions are valuable, which is the hold reason many of us go into the teaching field in the first place. Although Choice Words presented helpful tips in negotiating the social signals in a classroom and ways in which to encourage students, it, most importantly, reminded me to revisit and reevaluate the value I put on my own language – the weight it holds in my classroom and the encouragement it can offer to my students.
Going forward, I hope to take the practices and advice presented by Johnston in Choice Words as a source of wisdom for when I enter the classroom. I humbly understand that I have much to learn in this field and a long time until I even begin to feel like I’m starting to figure it out, and my “baptism by fire” and Johnston’s words helped move me one step forward and maybe even a little bit wiser for the next time (& each and every time after) that I get to meet with my students.