I'm not sure what kind of teacher you are, but I'm the type of teacher who is crazy busy during the school year (really, is there any other kind?). So when summer rolls around, I am done. Fried. Spent. I have no energy left for anything remotely school related for at least a couple of weeks. And then, slowly but surely, I start to get interested in it again. Blog posts and twitter feeds start to grab my attention again. I might pick up a teaching book that I wanted to read during the school year and browse through the pages. Then I decide to actually read a few pages. And then I'm hooked. My batteries are charged up and I'm ready to start thinking about next year.
1. Create leveled reading groups
If you haven't already done it, create leveled reading groups. You will never go back. This is not to say that you ditch whole class reading instruction entirely but rather that you dedicate time to whole class and small group instruction. Ideally you would be doing both. Every. Single. Day. Dedicate two 45 minute time slots a day (minimum - see tip 4 for ways to fit more literacy instruction in to your day) to reading instruction - one for whole group instruction and one for small group instruction. Use an informal reading assessment tool (we use PM Benchmarks) to level your class in to groups of 4-6 students. While one group is reading with you, the other groups can be working on reading and writing related activities (see tips 2 & 5 below for ways to make these stations really meaningful). This allows you to work closely with students to help guide their reading, targeting skills they need to work on to move ahead. You will be amazed at how quickly your students will make progress when they receive this kind of attention.
Biggest piece of advice? Make sure that every moment counts. Pinterest and Teachers Pay Teachers are full of great ways to run guided reading groups to ensure that the time that students spend with you is targeted and meaningful. Take the time to really think about what each group needs in terms of reading instruction and meet them where they're at. You do not need to be constantly assessing students to know what they need - talk to the teacher, re-do running records at regular intervals and keep your eyes and ears open while you read with the kids. They will guide you in the right direction (we will have a post up shortly with a sample guided reading sequence too if you're not sure where to start). This is your opportunity to provide them with exactly what they need in terms of reading instruction. Be purposeful in your instruction and you (and they!) will reap the rewards.
2. Collaborate, collaborate, collaborate
This blog started because we made some drastic changes to the way we provide literacy support and learning assistance in our school. The biggest change was shifting our support from a pull-out model to an in-class model. We no longer work only with specific students, we work with whole classes, doubling the support time for all students. So, as you set up your leveled reading groups, invite your learning assistance teacher, librarian, Special Ed teacher, literacy specialist, principal, whomever you can rope in to it, to join you. Provide them time and space in your classroom to work with a small group as well; not only will you double your students' access to targeted reading time, you will also provide that person with an opportunity to work with students they might not otherwise work with. Win-win, if you ask me.
Key points here: meet regularly with your support people to be sure that you are maximizing your time and efforts. This doesn't have to be a formal meeting (although it can be; consider building collaboration time in to your schedule...hint, hint) and you will likely find that it becomes second-nature to have a quick two-minute conversation as you leave the classroom or see each other in the hallway. If everyone is on the same page, your students will reap the rewards.
On a related note, educational assistants can also be fabulous support people when running reading groups. While not expressly allowed to teach students (at least not in our district), they are certainly allowed to circulate amongst your other groups as they work on the independent activities, providing assistance and guidance as necessary. Takes a load off you knowing that someone else is monitoring behaviour and answering questions. If you can't get this kind of support, do make sure that you have a well established system for asking questions and soliciting help, otherwise you will be interrupted far too often! I suggest having students approach at least 2 other peers with their question before coming to you but you may already have a system that works for you.
3. Provide easy access to books that grab your students' attention
Near the end of this year, we came to the realization that the kids had exhausted all of the options at our Listen to Reading station. We also had kids starting to request specific books or types of books (cooking books, anyone?). So we did what we do best and we went shopping! We brainstormed with the kids all of the fabulous things they wanted to read, scoured the Scholastic catalogues and ordered a ton of books (in both French and English, I may add). We even decided to change the name of the station to Love to Read and shift the focus from fluency practice to simply reading for pleasure.
Why did we go to all this trouble (besides the fact that we love to buy books)?
Because kids have to have easy access to books that they want to read. They need to look at books as interesting, fascinating things that they want to lose themselves in. If they don't see books all around them that they want to pick up and not put down, then they are never going to love reading.
I realize that collecting heaps of books that your students will find interesting can be a daunting task. But it is a must do. Ask your students what they want to read about. Have them watch book trailers (find some here). Make use of your Scholastic bonus bucks. Scour the discount tables at bookstores and online. Better yet, convince your admin that this is a necessity and have her/him spend the money. Slowly but surely build your collection.
You will be rewarded with students who are passionate about reading. Students who come to you asking you to buy them another book. And then another. They will want to talk with you about what they've read. And you will smile and happily talk with them for hours because that's exactly what you want them to do.
As a side note: please don't discount audio books, especially for older grades. Struggling readers or kids who just don't love reading are often engaged by audio versions of books, which leads them to the paper versions eventually. I have had great success getting kids more interested in books by using the audio version first or in conjunction with the paper version. And they will still be able to participate in the deep, meaningful conversations you want them to be having about books.
4. Use mentor texts
Kristi and I are both extraordinarily passionate about great kid lit. So passionate, in fact, that people often walk in to our office only to find us reading to one another from some great new book we found.
Yep, geeks. Book geeks. Big time.
What we love most about great books (beyond just the simple enjoyment of reading them) is that we can almost instantly see ways that these books would work as mentor texts, a.k.a texts that model some aspect of literacy in a wonderful way. And we get passionate about them. And if we're passionate about them, dollars to donuts the kids are going to be too. And if kids are passionate about books, well, you, my friend, have done your job and done it well.
Once you begin to see books in this way, you open up a whole new world of teaching possibilities for yourself. You see, not only can mentor texts help you with your reading instruction, they are ah-mazing for writing as well! Now you can use one book to teach visualization and word choice. Connections and voice. Inference and sentence fluency. You can begin to dig deeper in to what makes a great book great, taking kids on a journey in to the love of literature, using books that interest them, intrigue them, inspire them (how's that for word choice?). All of that and you can double your literacy time because the kids are really in to it; they don't know that it's reading time or writing time, all they know is that reading these books is fun and getting to write in a similar style? Well, that's just awesome. Seriously. Try it. Find a great mentor text (start here or here), pick a reading focus and a writing focus that work with that book and go for it. You will not be disappointed.
5. Be purposeful in your planning
As mentioned above, it is really important to be purposeful in your planning and teaching when using a station-based approach. It is especially important at the independent work stations because those can make or break the tone of the classroom as you are trying to work with your guided reading groups. Well-planned, engaging activities are the key to a literacy time that runs smoothly and effectively.
Looking back, we realize now that although we thought we had some very engaging activities for working with words, they lacked depth and meaning. We even went so far as to entirely change the focus of one of our word work stations to ensure that students were meaningfully engaged in learning (more about that here).
Now, I am not trying to take away from all the fabulous teacher-authors out there who have published all sorts of word work activities but for us, for us, they just weren't right. While rainbow writing, pyramid writing and all sorts of other pretty ways of writing words out multiple times may seem fun at first they don't actually teach the students much beyond rote memorization of individual words and that just didn't fit with our philosophy.
So, when planning your station activities, plan them to reinforce the building blocks of reading and writing. There are many research-based programs out there (we often use Words Their Way) but a little bit of reading (check out some of the resources on the ACSI website here) can lead you to develop your own spelling program that fits with your style and philosophy. Tip #6 below shares some of the things we've found to be successful when it comes to working with text.
No matter what you choose to do, make sure that the work your students are doing forces them to think about the links between reading and spelling, the phonological, phonemic and comprehension connections that really matter.
6. Try out close reading strategies & interactive notebooks
Close reading has been much more prominent in the US than up here in Canada. It has also experienced it's fair share of controversy, as many people feel that it detracts from the love of reading that kids should be developing in the primary years (not to mention that many feel that elementary school students are not proficient enough readers to actually dig deeply in to the meat of the text). As mentioned above (see Tip #3), one of the fundamental building blocks of the Lit Pit is developing that love of literacy and we keep that uppermost at all times. However, we've also found that the basic tenets of close reading, including re-reading and carefully looking at certain aspects of the text can actually enhance student enjoyment by helping them understand the text better. This is the idea behind the Working With Text station.
Do we stick religiously to the close reading format? Heck, no.
We bend it and stretch it to suit our purposes. We combine it with interactive notebooks to make it engaging for students. We ensure that they use text they have already read (or, in the case of stronger readers, are going to read) with us to explore a key concept that we want them to learn.
Interactive notebooks provide the students with a clear outline for their independent work and a scaffold for their learning. Close reading strategies provide them with ways to look more carefully at a given reading concept. For the little guys, this might be word families or parts of speech; for the older kids, it might involve a closer look at author's purpose or main idea. No matter what reading skill they are working on, interactive notebooks and close reading strategies help them to better understand what they're reading, which leads to greater enjoyment of all reading (because, really, how much fun is reading if you don't understand it?).
Close reading strategies + interactive notebooks = meaningful, doable independent work. Done and done.
Whether you make one of these changes or all six, whether it happens all at once or over time, you will be rewarded with kids who cheer when you mention reading, smile widely when it's time to write and overall just thoroughly enjoy anything to do with books. And those reluctant readers? Well, they might not cheer but they probably won't groan either.
I'm Bryn, teacher, mom, book lover, athlete. I am passionate about living life with my family, teaching and learning something new all the time. I hope you find something that speaks to you here on my blog and would love to hear from you too!