Voluminous practice is the only route to reading proficiency. Voluminous practice builds stamina, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. It sharpens tastes and preferences. It gives children knowledge of genres, authors, and literary features, and it encourages the development of critical and analytical skills. Every national and international assessment shows that the best student readers are the habitual, independent readers. -Nancie Atwell's Elements for a Successful Reading Workshop
If you know me well, you know that a few summers ago I read Reading in the Wild by Donalyn Miller. You also might know how much of an impact this one single text has made on me as a teacher. Donalyn Miller saved my life, and in turn will help me save the lives of countless readers. RITW helped me think outside of the box. It made me start at the beginning. I knew I wanted my kids to LOVE reading. I knew I wanted to help nurture and grow readers, but that I also wanted them to be readers after they left me. Donalyn includes a section about scheduling that I highly recommend. It helped me take a look at what I was doing and sweep away all the "other things" that steal precious time. Our time is precious and we want kids to look forward to all aspects of our class. It brings me great joy when my kids say "What... It's time to go? No!!"
When approaching the work of scheduling a language arts block, as teachers we must take an honest look at the way we currently schedule. Does your school give you enough time to teach all that you are required to teach? Has your administration, in partnership with teachers, decided to take a look at the blocks and make sure that they best serve children? Do children have time to actually read and write during the school day? If these conversations are not happening in your building, but you are looking at a 50 minute block to teach both reading and writing, I first and foremost, encourage you to reach out to your administration and get the conversation started. Also, ask yourself if there are things in your schedule that don't need to be there. Seat work, worksheets, morning work, mini-lessons that aren't so mini... look at each item and if it is not authentic or in the best interest of your kids, then it needs to go.
Before We Get Started: For this post, I am going to assume that you teach both reading and writing. You are probably also responsible for spelling, word study or word work as well, we use more of a word study approach in my classroom. I also use Lucy Calkins Reading Workshop and Writing Workshop Units of Study. The units allot for independent practice time in both reading and writing and that is a component that is very important to me. We already know that grammar should not be taught in isolation (it took me too long to figure that one out), so that is integrated into Writing Workshop, mostly in small group work and conferencing or embedded in the work we do together as part of Guided Practice.
Researchers and practitioners stand in solidarity: the practice of reading aloud throughout the grades is not only viable but also best practice. Read-aloud is an essential practice in teaching literacy in grades K-12. Steven L. Layne, In Defense of Read-Aloud: Sustaining Best Practice
I know you all will say that you spend time engaged with read aloud every single day. It's one of those key elements that doesn't get chopped. Even when there's a pop up fire drill, a two-hour delay or a dreaded state testing date. We know that reading aloud to children has many benefits including exposure to higher level texts, ones we cannot yet read independently, modeling of a fluent reader, exposure to new genres or series and a chance to compare characters to ourselves. Teachers of ALL grade levels should be using read aloud in their classrooms, this is not a practice that should be secluded to only early elementary teachers.
Read the first book in a series to get kids hooked. We did this with Margaret Peterson Haddix's Among the Hidden, book one in her Shadow Children series. The kids were begging for book two. This read-aloud was recommended to me by the fifth grade math teacher in my building.
Choose a book that sets the tone for the school year, like Phil Bildner's A Whole New Ballgame. Mr. Acevedo is an inspiration. Theatrical read aloud? Check. Cool tattoos? Check. No Worksheet Zone? Check. Focusing on the Whole Child? Check. This read aloud will help students understand classroom expectations and show them that they are a part of a family.
Pick a book that has shorter chapters, ones that end on cliffhangers almost every single time. Kids are always super engaged with Zane and the Hurricane by Rodman Philbrick. We read this book aloud during the nonfiction unit Reading the Weather, Reading the World. While we are immersed in research and nonfiction reading and writing, we have a historical fiction read-aloud to help us really feel the emotional impact of extreme weather.
Mix up genres. Fiction chapter books are not your only choice for read aloud, yet so many teachers ONLY READ FICTIONAL CHAPTER BOOKS OUT LOUD. We want kids to have exposure to all kinds of different genres and format. Consider a 50/50 nonfiction, fiction balance. Consider audiobooks, web articles, PICTURE BOOKS, interviews and other firsthand accounts and more. We participate in Classroom Picture Book a Day and we choose books that tie into our workshop mini lessons, or teach us how to be kind, or make us belly laugh, or challenge our thinking. Somedays we read a chapter book or article and others two picture books. Sometimes we do a picture book to start class and a chapter in a chapter book to close out the class. There are no rules, so there's no need to stress yourself out. Read aloud every single day. This work grows hearts and helps nurture a love of reading. It's worth your time.
Alloted Classroom Time: Anywhere from 10-30 minutes
Further Reading: In Defense of Read-Aloud: Sustaining Best Practice by Steven L. Layne
This series builds on decades of teaching and research—in literally tens of thousands of schools. In states across the country, this curriculum has already given young people extraordinary power, not only as readers, but also as thinkers. When young people are explicitly taught the skills and strategies of proficient reading and are invited to live as richly literate people do, carrying books everywhere, bringing reading into every nook and corner of their lives, the results are dramatic. Lucy Calkins on Reading Workshop Units of Study
Not all teachers that use workshop use Lucy Calkins and her Units of Study. Workshop is really a format in which you can teach reading, writing and I'm sure, other areas. A general format would include a mini-lesson, independent reading time and then share. This year I have the new Units of Study so that is what I use in my classroom. Over the past two years I pieced together free workshop mini-lessons I found online and made it work. This is the format I choose to go with because it supports what I know to be important when it comes to teaching kids how to read. You have direct instruction, time to read and access to real books, support from a lead learner during that reading time and then a chance to communicate with classmates about what is being read. This set up supports and helps grow readers.
One thing I have seen many workshop classrooms do is level their libraries. I believe this comes from the focus on readers having time to spend in "just right book." Students might "shop" during the week for more JR books for their book bins, etc. This is one aspect of workshop that does not fall in line with my personal philosophies.
Picture this: a classroom focusing heavily on a child's reading level. The child knows their level, their parents won't really let them read books that aren't on that level, their teacher won't either. They have a limited amount of M bins to choose from in their classroom. There might even be a color coordinating to that letter. What happens to our little friend when they decide to visit a public library? Will our friend be searching to find his M bin, only to find many different titles organized by the author's last name? YES, HE WILL, because this is how the world is set up. Book stores and libraries are not leveled. What are you getting them ready for? No place on the face of the earth is set up like this.
Stop limiting children by assuming that they do not have the ability to evaluate books for themselves. How insulting. Do you know how kids survive in my classroom without any knowledge of their reading level? Do you know how kids choose books in my classroom without any knowledge of their reading level? It's simple. Their library is organized by genre, and there is a section with different formats: graphic novels and audiobooks. They learn how to find books organized alphabetically by an author's last name. They learn that it's okay to abandon a book if it is more of a "not yet" fit. Mini lessons give readers the tools they need to be readers outside of the doors of the school building. When a book is too hard, when we have given a book enough of a chance and we're just not into it, how to prioritize a TBR list, how to talk about books with friends, ones we've loved and all the others. When we give readers the tools, they will use them. So, get rid of the labeled bins and the limitations. I read books that aren't on my reading level all the time. I bet you do the same. Actually, I don't even know what my level is. Do you?
While the kids are reading, you are conferring with readers or pulling small groups. You get to know readers and their interests. Since you are someone who reads you can start recommending books to them and seeing patterns and holes in their reading lives. Still concerned about kids not being able to choose their own books? This is when those conversations and guided moments come into play. If a student is continuously choosing books that are too difficult for them it will be easy to see in a reading conference. I'm asking you to talk to your readers. Build a community where you are constantly talking about books with your kids and they are constantly talking about books with each other.
Alloted Classroom Time: 45-60 minutes
Mini-Lesson: 7-10 minutes
Independent Reading: 15-30 minutes
Share: 7-10 minutes
Further Reading: Revisiting the Reading Workshop by Barbara Orehovec & Marybeth Alley
At the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, we have been working for three decades to develop, pilot, revise, and implement state-of-the art curriculum in writing. We have had a chance to do this work under the influence of Common Core for the past few years, and this series—this treasure chest of experiences, theories, techniques, tried-and-true methods, and questions—will bring the results of that work to you. Lucy Calkins on Writing Workshop Units of Study
Just like teachers of reading need to be readers, teachers of writing need to be writers. Writing is difficult to teach. It's so complex and so open ended. I haven't always felt confident with my abilities to teach writing, but then again, I haven't always identified myself as a writer. I think when you put yourself in the same position as your students it's easier to support them. Perhaps the random writing prompts aren't really what writers need. When we put on the vunerability of being a writer we can work together in a community of writers, supporting each other along the way.
Since beginning to work with workshop curriculum in the area of writing I have been blown away by the results. Most of my students are highly engaged with writing and often want to work on their writing at home. We treat writers as authors because that is what they really are. We use the same format as Reading Workshop and at the close of a unit we throw a celebration. Something I have been working on more is sharing their writing with a larger audience. When my kids knew that their last narrative piece was going to be public on Kid Blog, it took on a whole new meaning. I have been brainstorming with my principal about schoolwide writing displays and ideas for reaching out to local businesses that could display our stories.
Writing Workshop gives kids a voice and it still provides choice for them. They decide what they are writing and they are the one in charge. My mini lessons guide them along the way. They show they how to create a story arc in narrative writing, they teach them how to keep focus in an essay. Writing is quickly becoming my favorite area because of the abilities of my students when their classroom conditions are more conductive to creativity and freedom. Sharing is extremely important in workshop, writing is no exception. Once you have highly engaged writers, sharing is what they look forward to the most!
Alloted Classroom Time: 45-60 minutes
Mini-Lesson: 7-10 minutes
Independent Writing: 15-30 minutes
Share: 7-10 minutes
Further Reading: Launching the Writing Workshop by Denise Leograndis
If you do not have the time each day to do both reading and writing workshop, you could try one of the following options:
This is an area that I do not feel fully confident with, yet. This year our fourth graders overall struggle with phonics. Not all of our students, but we have realized that they are missing some of those foundational skills that should be present by fourth grade. We completely revamped the way we do word study with the help of the third grade team in my building. We loved what they were doing with their kids and they have been supporting us along the way all year. The approach we take is a blended one.
This approach is not perfect, but it has been working very well for us this year. Students love the stations and we have even seen some solid transfer in their independent writing. We have plans to move into more roots and affixes towards the end of the year when we seen phonological improvement. There is always room for improvement and we are constantly working on making word study better!
Alloted Classroom Time: 10-20 minutes
Further Reading: Listed Above
SEARCHING FOR LOST TIME
MY SCHEDULE (2 HOURS)
Read Aloud: 10 minutes
Reading Workshop: 45 minutes
Writing Workshop: 45 minutes
Word Study: 20 minutes
I have two hours for each of my ELA blocks. I realize that many teachers do not have this same generous amount of time. If I was in a self contained classroom I would make sure to have at least two hours for ELA. Ideally, two and a half hours would be best.
If you are looking at blocks that are more like 50, 55, 60 or 80 minutes I would suggest trying some of the above methods. Try shortening your workshop times, or maybe staggering your days. With word study, since we spread it out over two weeks if we need to skip a day to make room for something else, we can, because two weeks is more than enough time for a pattern/rule study. We also can utilize an every other day schedule with word study if needed.
Be creative and don't be afraid to try out a new schedule. Staggering days will probably be the best way to go for most of you with really big time constraints. Again, consider approaching other teachers in your grade level and your administration when it comes to more time. For your convenience I have listed the amount of standards you are required to cover versus other subject areas, it might be beneficial to use that as a focal point in the conversation. While we don't all want to focus solely on Common Core (for many reasons), your Admin still expects you to teach the standards, so this is good information to have.
3rd Grade Language Arts
80 Standards (including sub standards in the areas of foundations, speaking and listening and language)
3rd Grade Math
33 Standards (including sub standards in the areas of measurements & data and numbers & operations-fractions)
3rd Grade Science
4th Grade Language Arts
76 Standards (including sub standards in the areas of foundations, speaking and listening and language)
4th Grade Math
34 Standards (including sub standards in the areas of measurements & data and numbers & operations-fractions)
4th Grade Science
5th Grade Language Arts
74 Standards (including sub standards in the areas of foundations, speaking and listening and language)
5th Grade Math
34 Standards (including sub standards in the areas of measurements & data and numbers & operations-fractions)
5th Grade Science
I list these standards out not to create a division among departmentalized content areas, but to help look at the big picture. Of course we want kids spending time in every subject area, every single day. Maybe looking at the demands of each area could help when deciding where time is best spent. I know that our students need to spend time reading and writing each day. Maybe it's time to look at more than just content. In what ways can our work cross multiple content areas? Aren't we all reading and writing teachers when it comes down to it?
Our classroom library is set up (mostly) by genre. There are other sections mixed throughout like classroom favorites, favorite authors, books in a series and format. Graphic Novels are considered a format. Quite simply, the definition of graphic novel is as follows: a novel in comic strip format. We want readers to understand that graphic novels have many different genres like other novels.
I thought it would be helpful to include some ways that graphic novels are collected and shared in our fourth grade classroom. It is my hope, that you also include a thoughtful collection of graphic novels in your elementary, middle and high school libraries.
Here is my testimonial. I have many graphic novels in my classroom library for readers to choose from. We are constantly adding new titles, this is important: the constant curation. I still wish I could afford to buy a lot more, it's all a work in progress. A lot of my students are highly engaged with this format, and some students are only mildly interested. I do not like the term reluctant when describing readers, so I won't say that GNs are "top notch for reluctant readers." I will say that I have handed Kazu Kibuishi's Amulet series to a lot of kids and it almost always turns kids into active readers. Handing a child a Raina Telgemeier book usually has the same effect. It's like magic, they awaken from this possible reading slumber.
What happens once that magic wears off and they're looking for the next great series or title? If you read graphic novels and seek them out, you will be waiting with another recommendation. This is great, but take the time to teach your kids how to find the next best thing on their own. We must be able to pull the scaffolds away and know that kids can do these things without us. Independence is the ultimate goal, and I tell my kids Mrs. Riedmiller will not always be waiting in the wings with a "try this next" suggestion. I know that you have to work hard to get to know kids to understand what is right to place into their hands. I know that just because a child doesn't want to follow along with a novel study complete with low level comprehension questions doesn't mean that they don't like to read, or that they are a "struggling or reluctant reader." Instead of labeling children, let's listen to them instead. Find out what they like and see if there is a graphic novel that would fall into that category. It took me quite sometime to discover all the sports graphic novels that Sports Illustrated Kids offers, and boy am I glad I did!
This post will not include activites to do with students that have to do with graphic novels. My goal is to create life-long readers and I have to think about what adult readers do when they finish books. We do not often seek out to create a diorama or a book report. Therefore, I do not expect my students to take part in these types of activities either. Instead, we finish books, share what we have read and then make plans for what we will read next. Often times we are inspired to create something, and when that is the case, we make room to create and share.
MAKING THE CASE FOR GRAPHIC NOVELS
BUILDING & CARING FOR A CORE COLLECTION
GRAPHIC NOVEL SERIES THAT 3-5 READERS LOVE
GRAPHIC NOVEL STAND ALONES THAT 3-5 READERS LOVE
These are MOST of the graphic novel titles that are included in my classroom library. I am constantly on the lookout for more to add to our selection and I know I have probably left some excellent titles off of my lists. If you have any suggestions that were not listed, please list them below.
At times I feel that I am "preaching to the choir" when I stand up on my soapbox and advocate for student choice, time to read in class and teachers who work hard to curate classroom libraries and build community within their walls.
Then, there are other times. Times when I share articles or posts and still hear from many teachers that their districts make them post children's reading levels/ AR scores publicly (by the way, this violates FERPA), they are forced to use basal readers, threatened by bad evaluations and children not being promoted to the next grade level, etc.
I will preface the entire rest of this post by saying this: no one came in to save me, no one offered me the following information on a golden platter before I ruined the reading lives of my then third graders that first year of teaching. There was no one waiting for me on day one of my first teaching position saying "hey, come this way and I will show you how NOT to ruin these kids and any ounce of reading love they already posess." I know what you're thinking, isn't this why we go to college? Isn't this why teachers spend years of their time and loads of their money (they haven't even made yet) on a teaching degree? Well, of course we should learn these things in college, but what I do not recall learning is just how much extended professional development I would need after college to keep my brain fresh and devoted to doing what is best for children. I also do not recall having a solid foundation when it comes to best practice in the classroom.
I am terribly sorry to say that I am here to tell you that you MUST seek out information on your own. You are responsible for your growth as an educator. It is no longer good enough to hide behind the cloaks of THIS IS HOW MY SCHOOL DOES IT, THIS IS ALWAYS HOW I'VE TAUGHT, WE AREN'T ALLOWED TO GIVE KIDS FREE CHOICE READING, MY ADMIN MAKES ME LEVEL MY CLASSROOM LIBRARY, and whatever excuse you have to bring to the table. It is time to put your discomfort aside and be more worried about the kids you are not willing to leave behind.
You may feel that you are the one person in your building with that this does not feel right feeling when it comes to how things are done. Maybe you don't want to rock the boat, or step on any toes or be that voice bringing something up at a staff meeting. I would be willing to bet that if you are scared to speak up, there might be some others on your staff that feel the same way. If you want to change the reading culture in your district or building I have laid out some things that I believe will support you in this most important endeavor.
SEEK OUT PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT
SHARING RESEARCH & ARTICLES WITH STAFF & ADMINISTRATION
This next piece is one that I practice quite often. I do feel sorry for my colleagues and my amazing principal. When you read something that really strikes you or seems profound SHARE IT! Some of these resources are blog posts, some are published articles and pieces of actual research and some are posts written for different websites from an array of reliable literacy folks. I find it quite helpful to have this little pocket of ammo when asked about my classroom practice and why I'm doing what I'm doing.
SEEK OUT A SUPPORTIVE PERSONAL LEARNING NETWORK (PLN)
This part is vital. It takes a lot of time, energy and passion to keep fighting this good fight. You will need some support. Support from people that just get it. Call them your tribe, your people, your fellow nerds, your PLN, whatever. Just call them, and often.
Author Phil Bildner wrote a rather extensive post about the reading network that is very close to my heart, my #BookJourney crew.
When you start to put yourself out there in a professional sense you will start to see that you and a few others might be posting the same things, maybe you find yourself nodding in agreement or shouting YES as you read one of their posts or retweets. If this is the case, you have found a friend. One that will help you be a better educator and overall, a better human. When you start forming your own community or when you wiggle your way into the KidLit community, amazing things can happen. You start connecting with authors who want to share their books with kids, you start braching out and finding other classrooms to Skype with, you start being mentored by those that care enough to offer you support. We have to reach out to one another because we have to offer support and great care when it comes to developing the next batch of teachers who will go out and set the world on fire.
This is a pivotal task. So get out there and read, write and connect with others. What have you got to lose? Well, besides those terrible worksheets you keep giving the kids, but we want you to lose those! Be brave and put yourself out there. I believe in you and I know that you NEED to do it. The lives of your children kind of depend on it.
Let me know in the comments if you have any suggestions for additions to this post or if you have more questions. I would love to help!