Wednesday, March 4, 2015

A "Novel" Idea for Teaching Reading

After our soon-to-be-famous Snow Day Debacle, we have another, real, district-wide snow day tomorrow!  So, as promised, I'll delve into my revolutionary approach to teaching reading!

Here it is...are you ready?  I let my students read books of their choice.  I let my students read by themselves.  I let my students read with a group.  I let my students read along with our read aloud.  I encourage my students to read at home.  I challenge my students to read.  I read books they recommend to me.  They read books I recommend to them.  We read interesting news articles.  We read picture books.  We read novels.  We read poems.  WE READ.  A LOT.

So, how does this work?  Well, here is my daily 90 minute reading class schedule.  I think it's pretty awesome. 

15 minutes: Reading Quiz Group 1/ Everyone else free reads
15 minutes: Reading Quiz Group 2/ Everyone else free reads
15-20 minutes: Reading Instruction
25-30 minutes: Work Time
10-20 minutes: Read Aloud

Reading Quiz:
I found this idea when I was stalking a teacher's website at a high performing school in our state.  I thought it looked like a great way to spiral back on some previously taught skills, plus it would give students some practice reading and responding on the computer. 

Basically, I just found some short articles and created some open-ended responses to go along with them.  I created these on Google Forms, and it's been a great way to quickly track who has finished and who hasn't.  I get all the results on a Google spreadsheet, then I can sort by name, time stamp, etc.  This is great for quickly checking to see if my "repeat offenders" have completed their daily task. 

Free Read: 
Free reading is just as it sounds.  It's when students get the freedom to choose any book in my library, my co-teacher's library, the school library, the public library, a book from home, etc, and they get to read it.  I don't have formal reading conferences (because, as a student, I WOULD HAVE ABSOLUTELY HATED THOSE), but I check in with students sporadically to see what they're reading.  I also give lots of book recommendations.  One of my students has been stuck on graphic novels all year, and I'm trying to move her into reading books with more words.  So, recently, I recommended the Geronimo Stilton books, which still have pictures, but have bits of fun fonts, and lots more text than a graphic novel.

I really dislike most fantasy books, but I have one student who keeps recommending dragon books to me, so I've read some of them...mainly to hush him up for a couple of days...but he loves when I read books he recommends, and he loves to talk to me about the book.  I love this.  I think this is a hugely important part of reading instruction.  If I want kids to read books I recommend, I should read the books they recommend.  It builds a great reading community within our classroom, and it begins to creep throughout the class...students are recommending books to their classmates all the time!

Along with giving choice to the free read...I also take orders for new books.  I had a student who LOVED the book Savvy by Ingrid Law, so when she asked about the sequel, I told her I'd order it if it was in the next book order.  Well, there it was!  So I ordered it with bonus points, and put her first on the list to read it.  It's since been passed around to more readers. 

Reading Instruction:
We've been working on creating unit plans this year, which I really enjoy.  It's allowed me to really dig deep into concepts and push my students to really understand what they're learning.  I like being able to spend 3-4 weeks on ONE topic.  So far, we've focused on genres, main idea, theme, text structures, point of view, historical fiction.  Obviously, we've covered other standards within these topics, but the main focus is our unit.

I first spend some time working with my students to develop our success criteria for our learning intention.  This was a huge pain and time waster at the beginning of the year, but we can pound them out pretty quickly now.  These HAVE to be posted in our district...I don't know if they make students "smarter" or more focused, but we do it.  It still takes about 5 minutes to get through these.  Basically, we're taking an "I Can Statement," (which is now called a "Learning Intention"), and list what students need to do in order to be successful.

After that, we move on to modeling the skill, introducing an article, reviewing from the day before, etc.

Work Time:
I typically give my students an article or story to read on paper.  I make them annotate the text as they read.  They  can work with a partner or by themselves.  Some students love working together, and some love working alone, so I give them the freedom to choose how they learn best.  During this time, I monitor groups, check in with them, clear up misconceptions, have students explain what they're doing, and sometimes pull a small group of people who are struggling. 

Read Aloud: 
This is my favorite time of the day, and luckily, I get it twice, since I teach two reading classes!  During this time, I play an audiobook for the class, while everyone, even me, follows along in a copy of the book.  I've built up my read loud library through DonorsChoose projects and by scavenging the Saint Louis Book Fair (where I can get kids paperback books for $.25-$.50 and hardcover books for $1-$3!!!!).  Sometimes, I have students fill out a short read aloud log.  Mostly, we just discuss what we've read.  They NEVER have to fill out novel packets.  Who does that in real life?  Seriously? Who reads a book, but stops after every chapter to answer questions or write a summary...ick.

Book Clubs:
Twice a week, my students meet for 10 minutes to talk with their book club group.  I first started assigning students to groups based on their Lexile score, but recently, I've let them pick their own groups.  In book clubs, students choose from a list of books I have available, and all read the same book.  They decide on their reading schedule, too.  I give them three weeks to get the book done, and that's been more than enough for most groups (even the groups that have chosen Lightning Thief!). 

I usually have some type of accountability that students need to complete for book clubs.  I've changed this up almost every time.  Sometimes, they had to bring at least 3 sticky notes to share.  Other times, they had typical lit. circle jobs, and most recently, I've given them a booklet of reading response activities they can share.  I got these from a Scholastic book, and the students really have enjoyed them.  They've done different things, like create an award for a character and create scrapbooks for the book. 

For the next round of book clubs, I think I'm going to give students a task to think about and take notes on while they read, like theme or characterization.  Then, during book clubs, I'll have groups work together to create something, like a character sketch, or a movie poster.  It might take a little more time, but I think the conversations would be deeper, which is really my main point of book clubs. 

My school requires students to read at home for 20 minutes three times a week and record this on a reading log.  I also have my students log their time on Biblionasium, which tracks books they've read, minutes read, and number of pages read.  They like this, and they like sending book recommendations to each other!

So that's my typical day in reading class. WAIT!  WHAT ABOUT STATIONS AND GUIDED READING?  Sorry. You won't find those in my classroom.  Why?  I think they're a waste of time.  I've always hated reading stations in fifth grade, because it's simply busy work and socialization time.  I can think of SO MANY MORE things to do during that precious reading time that will actually benefit students than doing centers.

Does this actually work?  I guess so.  I mean, my SRI Lexile scores have SOARED THROUGH THE ROOF this year.  Right now, out of 42 fifth graders, we have 17 who scored over 1000 Lexile points, and 13 who scored between 830-999 points.  We were one of the lowest elementary schools in the district last year, and our scores have improved so much this year, that admin was bragging on us yesterday. 

I feel like this post is kind of scattered, but I'm basically calling it a brain spill.  I released all my knowledge about my reading class onto this page.  It may be sort of all over the place, and I may think of other things to add later, but I just wanted to share!