A New Reading Community

For blog
He was reading to find new ways to describe how awesome he is at basketball.

This year I’ll be leading four sections of what I’m going to call Reading for students who need additional time and support in that subject. Our school is committed to 30 minutes of independent reading in school every day and an additional 30 minutes outside of school, but the school reading is a challenge in our 45-60 minute class periods, and outside-of-school reading is a work in progress. So this year, for the first time, students with the highest need will have an extra period devoted just to independent reading and expert coaching.

Personally, I would have loved nothing better than to have an entire period devoted to reading when I was a student, but I worry about how some students who already dislike reading will react to an extra period of reading. And no matter how hard I try to sell the class as a way to grow more quickly as a reader, many students will view placement in this class as reinforcement that they are not good at reading, or at school in general. So even as I organize books and track down intervention materials and debate how to set up the classroom furniture, I know that two things will have to happen before they can embrace this class.

One, I will need to build strong relationships with my students. Many students will be new to me this year since I’ll be teaching a wider range of grades than I did last year. Some of them have spent the majority of their time in school struggling with reading (and thus with every class that requires reading), and I’m going to be asking them to read a lot. I’m going to be asking them to get better when they may have spent years thinking, or even being told, that they’re just not good at reading.

Which brings me to two, mindset. It’s going to be tremendously important that my students believe that they can get better at reading, that reading isn’t some magical power that you either have or you don’t. If no one taught you that “-ch” makes a “-k” sound in the word “stomach”, then a lot of the reading that you try to do in middle and high school is a lot like when I try to read extremely basic French. I recognize a few of the words, but the rest is a mystery.

So how will I begin?

Our school is Pre-K to 12, and our reading curriculum emphasizes that at the earliest reading level, Read-to-Me, students need to have a background of 500+ books read to them. So my reading classes will spend as much time as we can reading to our kindergartners in September. Reading is reading, so even time spent reading a simple book of sight words will build confidence and fluency in my older readers (and build relationships with our youngest learners).

We will also build reading relationships between students in our class. Even though the class is primarily independent work (at this point, no one is reading the same book), we will be sharing and talking at the end of our reading sessions. I’ll use academic scripts and sentence frames to help my students to turn and talk about their book. Since our classroom reading environment will depend on cooperation among students, building confidence and trust will be key.

I loved Andrea’s post “What Are You Superpowers?” on Saturday. I immediately wanted school to start so that I could find out all of my student’s superpowers. To apply my reading teacher lens, I wonder who will be my experts on certain books or subjects? Who will know the backstory for every Marvel comic? Who will be the best at getting the quietest kindergartener to read with them?

Most of all, I’ll build our community with a lot of kindness. This is a scary course for students. I’m going to be asking them to get better at something that is currently very hard for many of them. They may not have had a lot of success with reading, or it’s not something they like. This is not a class for tough love or rigid behavior expectations. I’ll feed them. We’ll celebrate birthdays, and reading milestones. We’ll grow together.

I’ll keep my eyes on the prize: Reading community for all.

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