Lifelong Readers make Lifelong Learners

I want to share a couple routines I’ve been developing in hopes of fostering a culture of readers in my classroom again this year. More than merely teaching standards, I believe every child can develop into a lifelong reader; a lifelong learner.

There’s an idea in one, well maybe most if not all, of Richard Allington’s articles about teaching reading to our most struggling readers. He talks about ensuring that ALL students independently read books they choose, understand, and enjoy. He repeatedly talks about the impact reading with almost 100% accuracy has on learning. Nothing less than 98% does the trick.

When I stop and think about that for a minute I also think about my most struggling readers and how accurately they typically read books from my classroom library, if they choose to read at all. Then I think about the task of matching those students to texts they both enjoy and can understand (read with at least 98% accuracy). How do I take them from pretending to read books their peers are reading to actually reading and understanding books they want to read?

This, for me, is one of the greatest challenges of teaching reading, especially to struggling or non-readers. The last option I should choose as a teacher, according to Allington, is to skip this critical piece of a balanced reading program. Without it, my whole group AND small group skills lessons are a waste of time. Thus, I must make it the foundation of my program. Let me repeat, given the time to only choose one reading activity, I will choose independent reading of self-selected books over every other reading activity EVERY time.

Besides that, I wouldn’t be opposed to fostering a program where students write all day long. Hmm, I’m going to have to think about that. Anyway …

Additionally, Allington repeats that even our most struggling readers make the greatest gains when they read books they choose, understand, and enjoy for at least 15 minutes (an hour would be ideal) EVERY DAY. Again I say, how am I to ensure ALL students in my class are choosing enough books they can read with 98% accuracy so they can read for 60 minutes each day at school? Oh, and they should also be reading at home every day for 60 minutes. Hmm.

For the sake of keeping this post at a manageable length, I’m going to dance around this issue by making an assumption. I’m going to assume that if my students are genuinely enjoying books they’ve chosen to read and can tell me about them with significant detail, making those metacognitive connections I listen for, that they are reading with high enough accuracy to make accelerated growth as a reader.

I say this because the routines I’m about to share do not include traditional fluency testing procedures where I calculate accuracy and rate. I sparingly use them any longer anyhow. But what the routines do, at least for the children in my class this year, is eventually get all students reading books they both enjoy and understand.

The first routine starts with a simple question, which very well could have been the first question I asked my students this year. Smiling and happy, it goes like this, “Raise your hand if you’ve read a good book lately.”

Raise your hand if you’ve read a good book lately.

The first couple of times I asked I needed to extend my normal wait time. It obviously was a question my students weren’t used to hearing, yet. I get many eager hands every time I ask these days. Honestly, I still extend my normal wait time; the more raised hands the better! I ask the whole class at least a couple times a week. I ask individual students about the books they are reading EVERY DAY.

The second step of this routine is just as simple. Call on a student to tell the class about the book. This includes details like 1) the title, 2) a little bit about the book, 3) maybe a favorite part of the book or a connection they’ve made with the book, and 4) how they ended up choosing the book. For example, did a friend recommend it, or is it a book from a series they’ve been reading, etc.? I like to choose a total of three students to share.

The third step is to tell the students they all now have a minute or two to talk to each other about the books they enjoy. Even if all students don’t raise their hand in the beginning, most if not all students will talk about books they enjoy. Notice I didn’t say “books you’ve read.” I am building a reading culture and want to include EVERYONE. I had to be patient. When the timing was right it changed to something like, “Tell each other about a book you’ve been reading lately.” Many of my students have two to seven books in their desks at all times these days. Hopefully that comes across as a small celebration rather than a brag?

That’s it. That’s the first routine. Talking about and sharing books is what we do. Many times while conferencing with students I find out a small group of them are reading a series together. Many tell me it was a friend who recommended the book they are currently reading. All this, and much more, from one simple question. No elaborate planning. Just talking about books because that is what readers do.

The second routine I’d like to share is called Sometimes Readers Read Out Loud. The purpose of this activity is to improve or build confidence with reading self-selected books out loud. The fancy name for the skill is Oral Reading Prosody. It’s the most simple way I know how to tell if a student has figured out how to self-select books they can read and understand. This, in conjunction with conferencing.

As you probably already know, prosody is the ability to smoothly read out loud with proper pace, inflection, phrasing, and volume. The reader should sound as if they were the author themselves, paying attention to conventions and the flow of the story.

Prior to introducing this routine we watched several YouTube videos of famous actors reading books on Storyline Online. Along the way we talked about the way they read the stories with so much expression and enthusiasm. I guided them through the elements of prosody so that they were able to start properly labeling what they noticed.

One day, when I felt the timing was right, I simply said, “Sometimes Readers Out loud.” followed by, “Let’s see if we can read our books out loud like the actors.” I told them to pull a book they were enjoying out of their desk and start reading out loud. I told them we would try for five minutes and see how it goes. While students read, I circulate and listen. Each student reads just a bit louder when I get to them. They did great!

The second step is Buddy Reading. Each student gets a chance to listen to their Study Buddy read out loud for two minutes (the time was arbitrarily chosen 🤷‍♂️). I circulate again.

The third step is nomination time. I ask, “Raise your hand if you’d like to nominate your buddy to read to the class for a minute.” So many hands! I make sure to ask the nominated student if they are willing to read to us. So far, all nominees have agreed.

Once the student finishes, we give a polite round of applause and talk about what we noticed. We talk about pace, smoothness, phrasing, expression and volume.

Readers don’t always read out loud, but sometimes they do.

Well, what do you think? Do you think these routines help foster lifelong readers? I feel like they’ve helped get us started on this journey. I also feel like I’ve gone long with this post. If you are still reading, you are a brave soul and deserve a prize of some sort!

One final thought. It’s important to give the benefit of the doubt whenever possible. I know, random.

Thank you for reading! Cheers! Leave a comment if you like.

One thought on “Lifelong Readers make Lifelong Learners

  1. Hey Tony, I didn’t know you blogged. I enjoyed this post and especially your good intention to foster and promote reading for pleasure. My older sister was always a reader, but it took a really special 7th grade teacher to spark my interest. I remember all of us working diligently to finish our assignments so she’d have the last 20 minutes of the day to read aloud. She introduced us to Jack London’s To Build a Fire, O. Henry’s The Gift of the Magi and The Ransom of Red Chief, Old Yeller and many more. Priceless memories of watching the leaves fall from the trees along the schoolyard fence as in her steady alto voice she carried us all away to far places and other times.
    A few years ago I wrote about my granddaughter Emma’s reading list.. Here it is if you’re interested.

    View at Medium.com

    Keep up the Good Fight. You & your class are in my prayers.

    Liked by 1 person

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