What a Reader Wants

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girl_reading_mediumYou’ve heard it, I know you have. “I hate reading, it’s boring.” I used to get frustrated when my students said that. Now I take those words to be a challenge; a challenge to find “The Book”. I truly believe all self-defined non-readers have one. There is actually more than one “The Book” for every student, but it only takes one to set a person on the path toward becoming a lifelong reader.

I know I’m not the only one who believes there is a magic to reading and all kids should find it. Donalyn Miller authors an incredible blog called The Book Whisperer. In it, she offers strategies, tips, and resources to assist teachers in helping students develop a passion for text. When at a loss, I often stop by to see what she’s been thinking about and if her reflections can add more tools to my toolbox when working with students. I was a self-defined non-reader until college. I literally faked my way through all levels of school and my grades are proof of that. Looking back, I certainly know I was capable of achieving great things…my problem was the reading. Textbooks confused me, novels intimidated me, and I didn’t follow directions. My pace was (and still is) painfully slow. I skipped over chapters to catch up, and learned to listen closely to class discussions…in preparation of the rare event I would be called on. Teaching 5th grade, I believe it is a make or break time for students as the ability gap widens as students move upward; I feel it is my responsibility to get all students in my class to perceive themselves as capable readers. It is a big challenge, but one well worth the extra effort as both reading success and failure extends across the curriculum and paves future pathways.

A few tools in my toolbox:

  • Get to know each student-Simple surveys help. Laura Candler’s Interest Inventory choices are a favorite. Though tailored toward reading, she really targets in on getting to know the whole child. This year I edited it into a Google form which turned into a great way to see trends for creating interest-based reading groups and partners.
  • Offer choices-This is by far the most effective tool I’ve found. We start our Independent Reading Program on the first day in class (ask the librarian if you can sneak in to check out books even if it isn’t your day…I have yet to be told no). This gives me an idea of who knows how to choose an appropriate book for themselves. I can also get a feel for which students have no idea where to begin (they literally look lost in the library!). I’m fortunate to have built up a significant classroom library, so those kids unable to find a book in the school library skim and scan the shelves in my room with me. I’m there to ask questions, “Do you like fantasy?”, “How about sports stories?”, “Do you like reading about things in history?”, “Did you see the movie Bridge to Terabithia last summer?”.  As the student is answering I’m creating a stack of books for them, about 5-8 titles. I ask the student to return to their desk to read the first page or two of each book until they find one that “fits”. Students LOVE having that stack on their desk. If I’m unsure of their ability, I can quickly have them read a sentence or paragraph from the books we’re collecting. All formative, all quick, all during the first few days of school.
  • Let them revise their choices-I’ve stopped having students do required book reviews or projects during the first trimester. Many kids don’t find their niche with reading until they’ve tried out a few genres, authors, or levels. By removing the fear factor, I’ve had greater success with building students’ positive affect toward reading with those historically reluctant. Those that want to publish reviews, create projects, blog, or present a book talk about their books can do so at any time…it’s just not required until all students have had the time needed for equal success.
  • Read Aloud-Have fun with read aloud. Be crazy when your character is crazy, be angry when your character is crazy, then stop and talk about why the author wrote the elements the way they did. Making the reading/writing connection with the class is essential. Read Aloud time is one time when readers at all ability levels are in alignment. All kids can infer, make text-to-world connections, and synthesize as a community. When done thoughtfully and strategically, read aloud can build confidence in the most reluctant reader because she can offer an equal voice to the conversation.

This is just a snapshot of how it works in my classroom. I’m constantly on the lookout for new tips and tools to better equip students with the skills and strategies necessary for reading success. Those skills and strategies are crucial. I have found though, that all the skills and strategies in the world won’t help much if the desire to read isn’t there. Creating the desire is purely individual, that’s the challenge.  Do you have more tools for my toolbox?

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