This past week, I was visiting family. Whenever I am around little kids, I always ask them about their classrooms, school, their teachers, what, and if, they are reading, etc. So, it's nothing new that when I spent a few days with one of my little cousins, who just finished third grade, that I was asking him about these same things. I was joking around with my aunt and uncle one night, when my aunt asked me, "Does anyone REALLY read for 30 minutes a day during the summer?".
I am not a parent, but as a teacher, I am aware that it is not realistic for kiddos to do something EVERY single day in the summer. However, most of my former students and their parents tell me that they do read a lot over the summer. Our discussion really made me do some thinking about my classroom procedures and the community of readers that I hope to have each year. It has taken years of practice, but I finally feel like my classroom community is evolving into one that promotes the love of reading.
When I taught first grade, I was one of the first formal experiences that my students had with learning to read. I was one of the first people to shape each child's beliefs about himself/herself as a reader and reading in general. It was easy to build excitement and to have students become motivated to become amazing readers. When I moved to third grade, I quickly discovered that some of my students had not had those same experiences as beginning readers. They were coming to school thinking that reading was something of a chore that they had to do, versus something they want to do.
It was then that I knew that it was my job to do whatever I could to build a classroom culture in which reading would be the COOLEST thing to do. Where every student is confident and comfortable as a reader. Where students LOVE reading. This is no easy feat and I know that I won't always succeed 100%, but it is still my goal, each and every year. I want my students to leave me at the end of the year loving reading, believing that thy are good readers, and being proud of all that they have accomplished.
So in order to make these goals a reality, I have done a few things that have helped me to build this community of readers.
Instill a LOVE for READING and all else will follow! This is absolutely true. I introduce my students to our Reader's Workshop, starting on the very first day of school. From that very first day, I tell my readers that my biggest goal for them is to leave 3rd grade loving reading. They are always surprised! Shouldn't it be that I want them to become better readers? Of course, but we all know that the more you love something, the more you practice, and inevitably the better you get! Think about sports. When you LOVE a sport, you practice more and therefore you become better at that sport. The same thing happens with reading. I not only explain this to my students, but I do my best to show them from day 1, how much I too have a love for reading. I try to make every mini-lesson and every read-aloud engaging in a way that pulls them in to the story and they never want me to stop! I absolutely LOVE when I am reading a story aloud and have to stop until the next day to keep reading. The room becomes full of groans and pleading for me to keep going! There is no better sound in a classroom!
For the past few years, I have had parents emailing me saying that for the first time, their child is loving to read. These are the words that I love to hear, more than anything! For the past two years, I have taught the most struggling readers in our third grade. Not only have they gone from kiddos who felt they couldn't read to kiddos who loved reading, they also made AMAZING growth as readers and writers!
When my aunt asked me about kids reading daily for 30 minutes, I explained to her about how Reader's Workshop actually works in our third grade. We have a lesson that includes an interactive read-aloud, direct instruction, and guided practice. Then, while students are reading independently, the teachers pull 20 minute guided reading groups. In some classrooms like mine, with only a small number of struggling readers, I meet with all of my groups every day. In classrooms with higher readers and more students, they may meet with some groups 4 days a week, others 3, and the highest group my only meet twice a week. That means those kiddos are spending a lot of time reading independently.
She was shocked that some kids are reading independently or writing about their reading, for 1 hour a day at school. Obviously this doesn't happen on day one. It takes a lot of teaching of the routines, the structure of the workshop, and building stamina. We do this slowly. I have used Fountas and Pinnell's The First 20 Days. It has worked well for my third grade readers, with some slight adjustments to meet our needs. I encourage you to find/develop/create routines and structures that work for YOU and YOUR STUDENTS. Teach these starting on day 1 and eventually, students will know what is expected and build up stamina in order to spend an extended amount of time reading independently.
For those first 20 days of school, we do not do guided reading. Instead, I firmly believe in using this time to guide students as they become used to the structure of our Reader's Workshop, conference with students to learn more about them as readers, and assess students 1-1. It is a time where students need to know that you are there for them to help them as readers. I work with students on finding appropriate books for their independent reading, both based on their reading abilities and interests. I show students how they can take stretch breaks, when they just can't sit or lay down any longer. The time spent supporting students in the beginning of the year will have large pay offs once I begin guided reading groups.
Once I begin guided reading groups, my groups move and change like clockwork. Mostly because we have to in order to fit everything in, but also because the students begin to expect those routines. With that initial support in place, I can begin guided reading groups knowing that my students are practicing becoming independent readers. I then can provide true reading guidance and support through guided reading groups for the remainder of the year.
Brainwash your students! Haha! When my aunt first asked me about reading 30 minutes a day, my first response was actually "Of course! I brainwash my kiddos!" I work really hard to make reading fun and to create a classroom full of kiddos that love reading. I encourage my students each day and tell them what better readers they are becoming. I gain their respect. When students respect you, they believe what you say.
Towards the end of the year I sit my students down and talk to them about their growth and accomplishments. For the past two years, I've cried during this discussion. I want to tell them how proud I am because most of them started the year reading third grade reading at Kindergarten through beginning 2nd grade reading levels. But, instead I just tell them that they are nothing short of AMAZING! I tell them how they make me cry because they have struggled but conquered their struggles. They have been frustrated that other kids were reading "HUGE chapter books", but now they are also reading those same books. I tell them that they have worked incredibly hard and I am SO proud of all they have accomplished. It is then that I talk to them again about reading daily. In the beginning of the year they had little to no reading stamina. We talk about how they can sustain reading for an extended time. I tell them that the only way to not lose all they gained this year, would be to read each day. Then many of them do just that, because now they believe in themselves as much as I do.
So, believe in your students- COMPLETELY- TRULY believe in them. Tell them every single day that they are AMAZING readers who are becoming more fabulous day by day! Give them all the encouragement you can. In the end, they will believe it and they will work to keep growing into the best readers they can possibly be.
I know that I need to work each year to build the type of community of readers that will lead to successful readers and these are some things that have worked for me. I hope they can help you in your adventures as a reading teacher!
What has helped you to build a classroom culture of readers?