Thursday, June 27, 2013


Reading didn't go quite the way I hoped for in my room this year.

We all know some particular combinations of students will make for different experiences from year to year; this class did have more students who were not reading 'at grade level' when they arrived but was that the reason things were not as successful?  I am not sure.

With all the current emphasis on putting the "right book in the right hands at the right time", with our "baggie" books going home in primary grades, levelled texts and guided reading sessions continuing up in to elementary classrooms now, are more students really engaged in reading? Choosing to read on their own?

I'm not so sure any more. I certainly didn't see it this year.  Have we, as educators, missed the boat with how we are 'doing' reading? Is it just a school issue?

I do know parents have become (overly) concerned about the level of the books brought home, particularly in primary grades here and may be communicating the anxiety about 'moving up' to their children instead of recognizing the time and practice that is built into any process of learning. That being said maybe the Home Reading program needs an overhaul in its approach to record keeping and reading logs and  ensuring that its only "just right" books that go home.

I do know that there are many (and major) distractions in our students' lives, enough that even if the only homework (more on that topic later) is reading, it does not routinely get done or is frequently completed under stress and in less than ideal conditions.

I do know more and more students have devices on which they spend hours after school instead of reading ...or reading in different spaces than we normally consider. That's a factor that has to examined.

Image from here

I have tried different approaches to foster the love of reading while aiming to ensure our English Language Arts outcome that refers to students' ability to select and read across genres is met.

First and foremost I read too and I read the books that my students read. That is key. Kids expect teachers to read; they should also be able to expect us to know the books that they are being asked to read.

Image from here

In the beginning of my time as a Grade Five teacher, I had Reading Logs organized that asked for parental signatures when Home Reading was done  - weekly - however the temptation to give in and sign even though students hadn't done the required reading was becoming a little too obvious.  So I took parents out of that job and handed it to the kids!  Giving the students' responsibility for maintaining the log fit with my thoughts on independence and responsibility anyway!

With the teacher/librarian at the time, I set a goal of 40 books and established an incentive program "Reading Round the Rock" ( an affectionate name for the island province we live on) and provided bookmarks, and such as they read so many "kilometres" around the coastline. Every page, regardless of the amount of text, counted as a kilometre. This worked for many but eventually presented its own challenges.  In order to reach the goal, reading at home was a necessity and sometimes, through little to no fault of their own, some students weren't spending enough time reading. Add to that the number of students who did not move across genres independently and it became clear further adjustments were necessary.

In the record keeping, I changed from just a list to a grid with the genres inserted into the boxes - 6 Realistic Fiction, 6 Traditional Literature, 2 Mystery, 1 Science Fiction, 2 Biography, 2 Historical Fiction, 4 poetry, 2 Award winners (Newberry/Caldecott or other) 5 Informational Text and 10 Student Choice.  Students now write in the title when the book is done.

This helped.  Along with baskets of books grouped by genre, not by level.  And with silent reading included as part of our morning routine. That's not to say that even with this in place everyone was successful in meeting the expectation but that wasn't a surprise.

And then there was this year.

On the advice of the grade four teachers, I scaled back the requirement to 30 texts.  I continued to provide time each day for reading independently as well as for guided reading. And while I was pleased with the overall level of improvement in their ability to demonstrate comprehension when required (in other words on the evaluation carried out at the end of each term) I was not as impressed with how few students met the expectations in their logs. Only a handful read the minimum and while several came close, it was an effort in the last few weeks to get it done...not because they wanted to read!!

And so I want things to be different; I want all my students to be able to enjoy reading and want to read. Should I have something individualized in place ...where I am expecting some students to not be successful?

So back to the drawing board. Or the reading mat!

Or maybe looking at my reading area would be a good start.

Pernille Ripp's suggestions  include culling books and that is good advice. Being the hoarder that I am I know have held on too long to copies of books, worth reading, however they are definitely past  the well-thumbed-through stage.  Kids do judge the book by the cover and aren't going to select one that is held together by tape!  Nor are they likely to pick up classics that look like classics!

I do have plenty of books and plenty in our school to draw from. There are graphic novels, and picture books ... a wide selection across genres and reading levels to accommodate and interest readers of different abilities and interests. As Pernille points out choice is essential to any reading program and while I have given guidelines as to genre,  I have always aimed to support students in choosing what particular book they would like to read. And you need books to do that with.

I also like her point about making more time for book recommendations. Being able to suggest something to a student because you've actually read it is powerful. But when students point out a particular book it often goes a little further! The Speed Book Dating was a hit!

I thought I may be achieving that kid-to-kid recommendation with many of the book responses students were asked to complete and share but again I am not so sure.  These were quite varied from posters and comics strips to Popplets and Audioboos. I am wondering if the point about how well they liked the book came through in these presentations or if I should put more emphasis on the recommending aspect.

And that leads me to a contentious point.  In having students "respond personally and critically to text", I have provided many different, and I think, engaging ways for them to share their reading pleasure, and their understanding. But for many, doing these is just work. Plain and simple. And when they forget to do them in a timely fashion, i.e. that is soon after they finish the book, then the level of quality of the response often drops.  As these responses form part of the students' comprehension portfolio, it's an issue.

So how do I balance the expectations for sharing their reading - whether it's talking, writing, representing, using technology- with choice which I feel is essential to encouraging students to read?

How do I balance using the new curriculum materials (lots of books!) coming in the fall with an individualized and independent reading program?

Will I have students maintain a reading log at all?  Katherine Sokolowski in her post  suggests they aren't necessary to the dialogue that can be carried out between teacher and student. I agree.  Any record keeping can be carried out by me after we have talked...really talked about being readers, the books and the pleasure in reading!

So what will I do? I don't have it all figured out yet but I do know the love of reading is a priority for me.

What do you do? How do you get all the kids reading?

1 comment:

  1. I've been thinking about reading logs. Some books say DO, some say DON'T. Some of my kids did, some of them didn't. I think next year I'll have a reading log for each student in a binder for all three of my classes. If they fill it in, great. If not, I will, after I talk to them during our 1-to-1 conferences we'll have every other week. This way I can still see who's reading, what they're reading, and give recommendations without making it be work for them. I'm going to try to persuade some of them to get on Goodreads or Biblionasium (I've been hearing a lot about that one), as well - for an authentic log... right? Thanks for sharing your thoughts - I'm sure many of us feel the same and are going through the same decision-making process!