I have been attending a Literacy Institute over the past few years in Hong Kong. Matt Glover, Stephanie Harvey, Kathy Collins, Dan Feigleson and many other Literacy gurus have come to share their passion and ideas with hundreds of excited teachers. I attribute the change and improvement in my literacy practice directly to this Institute.
There was something about Matt Glover that spoke to me in my first year. Is it normal to have a crush on a literacy guru? His passion and humour towards engaging young writers pulled at my heart strings. I found myself signing up for all of his workshops, raising my hand at every question, like an excited Kindergartener who wants to impress their teacher.
A few years later, I met Dan Feigleson. I read the schedule incorrectly and accidentally ended up in his workshop. I think it was fate. Although, I felt guilty. Was I cheating on Matt Glover? Practical Punctuation? Yes please! When he passed around an excerpt from Kurt Vonnegut to use as a mentor text, I knew he was my new literary love. Sorry Matt, I have moved on but you will always hold a special spot in my heart. I decided to go to another workshop of his on Reading Projects.
Yes! This is what was missing in my classroom. I don’t know about you but I dreaded guided reading time. I knew that it wasn’t making a significant difference in my students’ reading practice but I felt as though everyone had to do guided reading. What could I do instead? Reading conferencing and projects, it seemed like such a perfect approach!
The workshop really made me think…
Do we have enough books in our classroom that inspire children to read?
Are we talking about books that children might be interested in ?
Are we giving children time to talk about books they think their classmates might like?
Thankfully I was working in a school that encouraged and supported us to try new things.
That evening I went to the store and purchased some new book baskets. Monday morning I headed to the library to check out a cart full of new books. I spread them around the classroom and when my students arrived we talked about books. We talked and we talked and we talked. I talked about some of the new books around the room. They talked about the books that they had been reading and then we read! Some children took their library book out of their bag. Others took a book out they had brought from home. Most children found an exciting new book from the baskets. I sat and savoured the sight just for a moment. Yes, this is far superior to guided reading.
Notebook and pen in hand, I began!
I quickly glanced over the summary of what a reading conference might looked like…
- Find out what they have been reading lately
- “What are you thinking about while you read _____?”
- “Can you tell me more about that?” x 3
- “It sounds like you are the kind of reader that ______ (name the skill).
- Explain why that is an important skill as a reader (build their confidence)
- Co-create the project- an opportunity for the child to solidify something we know they are doing as a reader. Not time to teach what readers do.
- Reiterate that what they are doing is really important and we want them to inspire other readers to do the same
- Decide when they will share
My first attempt:
Me: I see you have been reading some books in the Fly Guy series.
Me: What are you thinking about in these books so far?
Student: I am thinking about Fly Guy.
Me: Can you tell me more about him?
Student: He is funny.
Me: I heard that he was a funny character. How do you know that he is funny?
(Student started flipping through pages)
Student: Here is whistling and copying Buzz. I don’t think flies can really do that. Over here he stamped in the water and it looks really funny.”
Student: It sounds like you are the kind of reader that really gets to know the characters in the book.
(Student shakes her head)
Me: This is a really important skill to have as a reader because authors don’t always tell you with words about the characters personality but often they show the readers by their actions. It sounds like you really look for those examples in the book to get to know your characters.
Me: Do you think as you are reading this Fly Guy book you could keep track of the times where you see the author showing us that Fly Guy is a funny character?
Me: You have showed me 2 examples already, let’s put a post-it note on them now. How many examples do you think you can find?
Student: I think I can find 4 or 5.
Me: That is great! This will really help you to get to know Fly Guy and it will help you when you come to reading a different book because you will know how to get to know your characters in those stories too. Do you think you could share this with the class when you are finished?
Student: Can I share tomorrow ?
Me: (barely containing my excitement) That sounds great.
Yes, I love this! Time for round two! I found another student with a stack of books that she had found in one of the baskets.
Me: What have you been reading?
Student: Lots and lots of books about animals.
Me: I know you love your animals. What have you been thinking about while you are reading these books.
Student: I have lots of animal books at home too and I just really want to stop people from killing animals.
Me: Can you tell me more about that?
Student: Well I keep seeing more books about different animals and in every book they tell me how people are hurting them and I just want them to stop.
Me: Could you show me an example of that in one of the books.
Student: Well I didn’t know that people can hurt sea otters too but if you look here the sea otters sometimes get covered in oil and they can’t keep themselves warm and if they try to clean off the oil they are poisoned. People also use their fur to keep warm, like jackets and gloves. It just makes me sad. (grabs another book) I already knew a lot about rhinos but I didn’t really know why they used their horns for medicine. This part shows me that they make medicine for so many different things and there is no proof it works. No one knows if it even works and the rhinos are almost extinct. (she continues for a while because she is desperate to share everything she has learned)
Me: It sounds like you are a researcher when you read.
Student: I am always researching animals.
Me: There is a lot of information in these books though, how do you decide what is so important?
Student: Well I read it all first and then I go back to the pages that I remember were really interesting and I read it again.
Me: Re-reading is a really important skill to have as a reader. I find myself re-reading a lot of different parts when I read non-fiction as well.
Student: I like to write down what I learned like on a poster or a book or my writer’s notebook or something.
Me: (Again, barely containing my excitement) Wow! That is such a great way to help us to remember what we have learned in our reading. Do you think you could show me how you do that? Can I give you some post-it notes to mark the pages that you thought were interesting?
Student: Okay, can I have some big poster paper too so I can write down all of the important things. I think I will need 5 sheets of paper.
Me: Sure, let’s go get those. I think this will be really wonderful if you could share your project with the class because readers read non-fiction texts differently than fiction texts. It will be great if you could show the class how you pull the important information out of non-fiction texts as you read and re-read a text.
Once students started sharing their reading projects, it inspired other to try out what their fellow readers were doing and the classroom was full of excitement towards reading. I had students begging to come to me and tell me about their books. Yes, this is what learning to read was all about!
Do you do reading projects in your classroom?