The Importance of Doing the Laundry: Maintenance Matters

by Kate Roberts, 2017 Literacy for All Conference Featured Speaker

A little while ago, I attended a keynote on the importance of innovation in our schools, classrooms, and nation. It was a rousing speech, and I agreed with all of it. Of course, we need fresh, inspiring ideas to help solve some of our most pernicious problems in education. Of course, we want educators who are able to think in new and creative ways about how to best reach and raise our children. I left energized and rearing to go.

Kate RobertsAs I began to implement these innovative ideas, I hit wall after wall of reality. I didn’t have the resources I needed. I didn’t have the experience to truly teach or guide the new ideas I had, so that when my students had trouble, I was not sure where to go. I still had my old, “un-innovative” curriculum to contend with, plus the assessments that seem unmovable, plus the grading system of my school. My foray into innovation gave me a few days of shiny new practices, but they soon gave way to the gravitational pull of normal.

I was tempted to say, “This just doesn’t work.” (Ok, I did say it.)

I was wrong and, at the same time, right. Many innovative ideas can work – as long as we are able and supported in devoting great amounts of labor to them for the long haul.

Innovation needs maintenance. So does normalcy. In fact, without maintenance, the whole thing (our classrooms, our homes, our world) just falls apart. But there are few keynotes given or books written in praise of the need to carry on and keep things going. There are few PD sessions on the power of grinding away at the same old stuff making sure things are working well enough.

But there should be.

In their Aeon article “Hail the Maintainers,” Andrew Russell and Lee Vinsel make a case for the importance of supporting the maintainers in any profession. From the fall of the Iron Curtain to the inequity arising out of Silicon Valley, they point out that while novel ideas are integral to our evolution, these ideas wind up really taking on a very small percentage of the actual work.

Russell and Vinsel argue that the hard (and mundane) work of maintenance opens up the space for innovation to exist:

“…focusing on infrastructure or on old, existing things rather than novel ones reminds us of the absolute centrality of the work that goes into keeping the entire world going. Despite recurring fantasies about the end of work or the automation of everything, the central fact of our industrial civilization is labour, and most of this work falls far outside the realm of innovation.”

I would argue we do not spend enough time talking about and celebrating the labor of teachers – all the maintenance it takes to get great and innovative ideas up off of the ground and into the world. And we do not spend enough time helping each other to find sustainable ways to practice that maintenance and keep it going.

If innovation requires the essential and mundane work of maintenance, we must carve out ways to support and nurture this unglamorous work. Here are a few ways that we can support the maintenance that takes innovation going:

  1. Consider the systems and structures first.

When an innovative idea comes along, create systems in your classroom to maintain and support that idea, keeping it accountable for you and your students. For example, you go to a workshop on student blogging and expanding their intellectual social network. Great idea. Now, how much class time per week will you devote to this practice and when will that happen? Wednesdays for 20 minutes? Every Friday? Without repetition, innovative ideas will stay flashes in the pan.

Next, ask yourself, where will they do this work? What platform will they use and how will you make sure your kids know how to use it.

Finally, what is the expectation for the outcome? How will you hold them accountable?

When creating a system to maintain innovation, lean on the building blocks of reality:

TIME: When will students practice this innovation and how will they be         reminded?

SPACE: Where will students practice this innovation and how will you know?

MATTER:  (Ok, this is a stretch in the science metaphor) How will the work    take shape, as in, what is the accountable expectation in your classroom.

Without these systems in place, any new idea will be a flash of something promising, yet struggle to take root.

  1. Listen when it feels like too much work.

If you are listening to a speaker or reading a book and begin to feel overwhelmed (like, what is being presented is way too much work for you to actually get up and going), then, honestly, it probably is, at least completely. The answer to innovation cannot be that teachers just take on more and more work into infinity. And yet that is often the implied suggestion behind every professional development session, every new idea, every exhortation to “lift the level of …”

I am not suggesting that you shut down when things feel like too much work. But when you feel like you cannot do it, I am suggesting that you pause, step back, and realize that you will not be able to get everything in place – at least not right now. Ask yourself, “which part of this do I feel like I can tackle right now? Which part feels like it will take some work, but not so much work that my sliver of work/life balance won’t be obliterated?”

This way, you can begin.

  1. Focus on what matters and be willing to let go of the rest.

Innovative ideas can often come packaged in ideals. And yet, as often quoted, perfect is very much the enemy of the good. We can strive to always ask ourselves, “what is truly important about this work? What is the heart of it? Often, when we name what the most important work is, it helps us to set priorities or to simplify the work ahead of us. We can always work on perfecting things, but let’s get the good stuff going first.

When I was in my 20’s, it felt like I was innovating my life. New relationships, new jobs, new cities and friends. But with each new huge life changing experience, I noticed things were falling apart around me. Heaps of dirty clothes piled on the floor. Stacks of bills to be paid. Unreturned phone calls. Before long, the new things  – relationships, jobs and experiences – paled in comparison to the need to maintain. I realized then that the only way I could create this new life for myself was to keep up the day-to-day stuff; this behind-the-scenes maintenance helped me create the headlines in the newspaper of my life.

We can be innovative. But in order to do so we must also maintain.

References

Russell, Andrew and Vinsel, Lee. “Hail the Maintainers.” Aeon.com. https://aeon.co/essays/innovation-is-overvalued-maintenance-often-matters-more. (Accessed August 6th, 2017).

Singing: A Joyful and Meaningful Bridge to Literacy

by Renee Dinnerstein, 2017 Literacy for All Conference Featured Speaker

Renee Dinnerstein“Look Renée, it stopped raining!” Akhira pointed to the window and twenty-four pairs of eyes followed her finger. Sure enough, the incessant rain had stopped and we could, at last, have outdoor play. But for my kindergarten children the ceasing of the rain also meant that at our morning meeting we would all happily sing Blue Skies.

Singing together infused my classroom with good feelings. When Vicky had a problem separating from her father one morning, we all solemnly sang our Comfort Song – “What should I do if my best friend is crying? What should I do? I don’t know what to say. I take my friend in my arms and I hold her.” Of course the children then wanted to continue singing verses for their daddies, mommies, uncles, aunts, sisters, cats and puppies. Eventually Vicky too forgot her separation anxieties and joined in the singing.

I believe that singing is a powerful tool for building community, and not only in classrooms. During the civil rights movement, in the 1950’s and 1960’s, group singing helped freedom fighters hold onto their courage in the most difficult of circumstances. “The freedom songs are playing a strong and vital role in our struggle,” said the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., “they give the people new courage and a sense of unity. I think they keep alive a faith, a radiant hope in the future, particularly in our most trying hours.”

Community building in the classroom is probably our first goal as teachers. When we form a cohesive, caring community, class rules seem to easily fall into place. Children help and support each other, bullying becomes practically a non-issue and maintaining discipline is not the teacher’s priority.

Before I continue writing about the importance and joy of singing with children, I must address the issue of voice. Many teachers have told me that they really cannot sing in school because they don’t have good singing voices. Truth be told, my voice is somewhat flat and I have difficulty carrying a tune. However, that never seemed to bother the children in any of my classes.

We sang every day and for many different purposes. As we studied bridges, we sang Love Can Build a Bridge, which led to an interesting discussion of metaphors. Maggie described a kiss as the bridge of lips between two people and Nils noticed that a rainbow could be a bridge from our earth to the sky. During the years that I co-taught with Connie Norgren, combining her first grade class and my kindergarten class each day for Choice Time, Inquiry Studies and group sings, Connie, a wonderful guitarist and folk singer, taught us many ecology songs (Think About the Earth; The Garden Song), freedom songs (Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around; Rosa Parks; This Little Light of Mine) and songs from different cultures, (Des Colores; Que Bonita Bandera; Santa Lucia)

Many literacy skills can grow out of the joyful experiences of singing together. Here are but a few of them.

Phonemic Awareness

When children sing and clap out songs, they are also playing around with sounds. They segment them and then put them back together again.  They tap and clap out rhythms. Consider the song Baby Beluga where the rhythm spaces the song into syllables, “Ba-by Be-lu-ga, in the deep blue sea” or the chant Miss Mary Mack:  “Miss Mar-y Mack, Mack Mack. All dressed in black, black, black. With sil-ver buc-kles all down her back, back, back.”

Rhyme

Because there are so many rhyming songs it’s almost difficult to know which ones to highlight. For starters there’s Down By the Bay, Jenny Jenkins, and This Old Man (which is also a counting song). Singing songs that mix up initial consonants such as in Willoughby, Wallaby Woo bring out lots of giggles but also involve children in thinking about the sounds of the consonants in addition to the rhymes.

Alphabetic Awareness

Besides the old standby of the ABC song, don’t forget about A You’re Adorable. My class loved to sit in a circle and write the letters on each other’s back as they sang. Then they rubbed their hands across the back that they wrote on to erase the letters, turned around and re-sang the song as they wrote in upper case! It was a non-threatening way for children to practice writing the alphabet and it gave me the opportunity to casually walk around the circle, singing and noticing who was still having difficulty with letter formation.

Phonemic Awareness and Spelling Patterns

A song that opens up opportunities for the engaging activity of going on hunts for spelling patterns is I Can’t Spell Hippopotamus.  After we’ve had many opportunities to sing that funny song and come up with some simple spelling patterns (can, man, pan or bet, let, set) children set themselves up in partnerships, get sticky-notes and pencils, and peruse the classroom looking for spelling patterns on charts and in books around the room. Then we get back together and sing again, incorporating their notes into the song. It’s a game, it’s a song, it’s a spelling lesson, and it’s fun!

One to One Word Recognition

After children know a song really well (“by heart”), put the lyrics on a chart and the children will begin making connections between the words that they have been singing and the words that are written on the paper. Children can then take turns being the teacher and, with a wooden stick (I’ve used a chopstick), point to the words as the class reads and sings along. Children might take turns looking for sight words on the song chart and underlining them. Then they might put circles or boxes around words in the song that keep repeating. The key importance here is to wait until the children have internalized the words of the song aurally before making them visual. When you do that, the print is meaningful to the reader.

In June, I often celebrated our year of singing by recording the children singing together, making copies of the tape (would it be a CD today?) for each child and adding a sing-along songbook.  I recently met a former student, now a college graduate, who told me that for years after kindergarten she listened to the tape and that the family played it when they went on long trips so that they could all sing along together, karaoke style!

I like to keep in mind the words from an African spiritual that encourages us to “sing when the spirit says sing,” and to bring spirit and joy into each school day. Joyful singing can become a bridge to many joyful literacy learning experiences!

 

Renee Dinnerstein is a featured speaker at our 2017 Literacy for All Conference, October 22-24th.  She will be presenting on Monday and Tuesday of the Conference.  Click here for detailed information on all of our workshops.

Poolside PD: Time for a few great reads

by Cindy Downend, Assistant Director, Primary Programs at the Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative

cindy-downendThe dog days of summer are upon us here in New England.  That means it’s the perfect time to grab a lounge chair, a cool beverage, and a good professional book to enjoy some poolside PD!  Here are a few suggestions to refresh and renew your passion for teaching just like a good dip in the pool can revive your body and soul.    

HeartHeart! Fully Forming Your Professional Life as a Teacher and Leader by Timothy D. Kanold – I’m reading this book slowly to savor the inspirational message that the writer provides.  The purpose of this book is to serve as a guide to reflect on your journey as an educator.  Kanold introduces the idea of a heartprint which he defines as the distinct impression that we leave on students and colleagues.  He challenges us to think about what we can do to make a positive difference in our school cultures.

joy writeJoy Write by Ralph Fletcher – As the title indicates, this quick read by one of the “greats” will reinvigorate your teaching of writing.  Fletcher leads us through an exploration of a concept he calls “greenbelt writing” which helps students experience the fun of writing and develop a passion for it!  Fletcher discusses how “low stakes” writing can lead to high levels of growth and help students to identify as writers.  This book is skinny, but it will leave you thinking deeply about your current work.  Perfect for an afternoon at the pool or on the patio!

Simple StartsSimple Starts: Making the Move to a Reader-Centered Classroom by Kari Yates – This book looks like a practical guide for creating a classroom environment in which children in grades K – 2 can become highly engaged and motivated readers.  Kari shares the essentials to help teachers: foster the love of reading in children; provide time for reading and discussion; and nurture independence through choice. Kari will be speaking at our annual Literacy For All Conference in Providence, Rhode Island on October 22 – 24th and I want to be sure to read her text before I have an opportunity to learn from her in person!

Powerful Book IntroductionsPowerful Book Introductions: Leading with Meaning for Deeper Thinking by Kath Fay, Suzanne Whaley and Chrisie Moritz – Written by our fabulous Literacy Collaborative colleagues in Fairfax, VA, this new text will be available from Stenhouse Publishers on July 29th.  This book takes a close look at the purposeful planning that goes into preparing meaning-driven guided reading book introductions.  This text promises to help you think about what to address in your book introductions and how to present that information to the readers.

What are you reading this summer? Please share some of the professional texts that you’ll be reading as you relax and rejuvenate on your patio or by the pool.

 

Navigating The Literacy Continuum to Guide Responsive Teaching

by Helen Sisk, Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative Faculty

 

helen-siskTeaching in a responsive manner requires us to think reflectively about literacy growth by noticing and analyzing student talk and written work. We reflect on why students respond in certain ways and know how to help them take on next steps in building a complex and flexible literacy processing system. It takes a skillful teacher to do this effectively.

One tool that can guide our decision-making is The Literacy Continuum: A Tool for Assessment, Planning, and Teaching (Fountas and Pinnell, 2017) It is a valuable resource to support us in observing what students know and understand as readers and writers and it informs our teaching. It is organized around eight literacy learning continua that span grades PreK-8. Not only is it aligned with literacy standards, it includes detailed descriptions of student progress over time.

The Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative at Lesley University is excited to offer an introduction to this continuum during our summer institute for teachers of grades K-6: “Navigating the Literacy Continuum to Guide Responsive Teaching,” This institute is an opportunity to delve into the new, expanded edition of the Literacy Continuum, and learn how to use it as a guide to observe, plan, teach, and reflect on literacy teaching.

The reading focus in this institute includes extending teacher and student talk for effective processing during interactive read aloud and shared reading. Two other components that further address comprehension include guided reading and writing about reading.  All of these literacy elements will be explored.

The writing focus begins by understanding the continuum of word study and how it progresses over the school year and across grade levels. We will study student writing to develop purposeful mini-lessons and the talk surrounding teacher-student conferences to identify strengths and next steps to address in teaching.

Come hear Irene Fountas discuss the Literacy Continuum and its impact on teaching and learning. Work in small groups with literacy trainers and other teachers to refine your practice and expand your knowledge about the teaching of reading and writing.

We hope to see you here at Lesley University for our Summer Literacy Institute, July 10-13, 2017. Register now!

Making the Invisible, Visible: 5 Ways to Illuminate Learning in Our Classrooms

By Paula Bourque, Literacy Coach/Author and Literacy for All Conference Featured Speaker

Paula Bourque

  • A student returns to class after pull-out support, looks around, and asks, “What are we doing?”
  • I’ve finished my mini-lesson and call on a student with a raised hand. “I don’t get it.” he says.
  • I conference with a student who holds out her paper and asks, “Is this good?”

These interactions remind me there is often a mismatch between teaching and learning.  Learning is that “in the head” process only perceptible through the work, behavior, or conversations of our students. So I need to keenly observe their words and actions to get inside their heads, see my teaching through their eyes, and better align pedagogy to student need. I need to find ways to make my intentions and expectations more visible and accessible to them. If I have any hope of cultivating self-directed learners they truly need to see the direction we are headed! Here are a few approaches I have found to be helpful.

Give them the box to the puzzle! For some of our students, school is a big puzzle. Routines and structure can be like the box to that puzzle for students; the big picture for how all the pieces fit together. Frameworks that use a workshop model, mentor texts, exemplars, anchor charts, and posted learning targets give a visible structure to the expectations. This predictability can free up working memory from what are we doing to focus more on how are we doing it.

For students who are pulled from our classroom for supports, it is critical that consistent structures are in place as they come and go. They should see assignments, anchor charts, exemplars, and/or learning targets posted so they can join in with minimal difficulty. They should have an idea of what the class was doing while they were away so they can continue to make connections to their learning. If students seem disoriented, confused, or disconnected, we need to find ways to take the mystery out of how school (or at least our classroom) works for them.

You can’t hit a target you can’t see. Unless students clearly understand the intended learning, it is difficult to meet the expectations. Students are shooting blind when the teacher is the only one who knows the exact location of the bulls eye. They may be aiming in the right direction, but their accuracy is severely compromised.  When we create ‘kid-friendly’ learning targets that address ‘bite-sized’ amounts of learning, it removes the blinders and allows for greater self-direction from students.  It makes the intention of the lesson visible and accessible to everyone, not just the teacher.

Try to see our expectations through our students’ eyes.  What would “right” look like? What would comprehension/understanding sound like? How will I know when I’ve “hit” the target? Many teachers use a framework for targets using this stem to increase visibility:  Today I will____, So I can____. I’ll know I have it when____. Students need to see how the activity they are engaged in moves their learning and skills forward. Time is too precious of a commodity in schools for students to engage in activities that do not explicitly advance their learning or understanding.  Making our expectations clear and visible can eliminate wasted time and energy for students trying to figure out what we want from them.

Learning Target                  LT w SC

Post Look-Fors. Anytime we hang student work in the hallways or publish it to an audience, we can’t be sure what others will notice. I encourage teachers to post Look-Fors that direct attention to the learning that happened while completing a piece of work.  If word choice was a focus for a writing project, a Look-For that illuminates this for the audience will give equal time to process as well as product. Ex: “We’d like you to notice our 4th graders worked hard on using more precise and descriptive words in this writing.”  Look-Fors invite others to appreciate the learning and encourages other students to try out those skills and ideas as well.

Student Look Fors          Look Fors

Good demonstration is good communication. Think alouds and demonstrations are nothing new, but I think they are often underutilized in classrooms that feel time-compelled to fit more and more into a busy day, but they are one of the best ways to make the invisible (thinking) more visible (words and actions).  They require us to slow down and accurately recreate the thinking and behaviors that go into successfully completing a task or understanding a concept.

However, I would encourage us to reflect on our demonstrations and consider how closely they mirror the thoughts and behaviors of all the students in our classrooms. Frequently we model or think aloud the right way to do something, yet we have students who don’t grasp what we are doing. Our modeling is outside their zone of proximal development. If we asked ourselves, “How might a struggling student approach this task?” and offer a demonstration with this in mind, we may provide a more accessible model. What are some typical misconceptions we are seeing with students? How can we offer demonstrations to address and support them? What if our think alouds walked students through common confusions?

The best demonstrations offer our students a visible path from where they are to where we want them to be. Modeling expectations without contemplating the starting point of our learners may end up leaving many behind.

Create/document a learning history.  Sometimes it takes visible proof to help students see their learning and foster a growth mindset. Because it happens so incrementally, students often don’t believe they are growing. Keeping samples of student work in portfolios (either digitally or on paper) can be a powerful visual documentation of their learning history.

Students who keep writer’s notebooks are often amazed near the end of the year when they look back at their early work. (“I never even used to paragraph!”) Students who keep reading logs/lists are frequently stunned at how much they read. (“Oh wow, I forgot I read all those Flat Stanleys!”) Keeping samples of math work can demonstrate the increasing complexity and variety of math work students worked on during the year. (“That’s so easy now.”)

Opportunities to reflect on learning over time is a powerful way to develop a growth mindset that can sustain students when they encounter new challenges. Invite them to reflect with stems like: I used to ________ but now I ______.   Some things that used to be hard for me were: _____.  Then encourage students to lean on those revelations to buoy them in the future: “When I have assignments that are hard next year, I’m going to remember_____.”

In the same way, we make physical growth visible with lines drawn on door frames, and we can make their cognitive growth more visible as well. For many of our students, seeing is believing. We need to make the invisible, more visible.

Diving in with Ownership

by Guest Blogger Dr. Gravity Goldberg, Author/Educational Consultant and 2017 Literacy for All Conference Featured Speaker. You can reach her on Twitter @drgravityg.

We all know what it is like to be put in situations where we are going to “sink or swim” by being pushed into the deep end of the pool. It can be a terrifying and even traumatic experience. We know that most students do not learn by being thrown into the deep end without having had enough scaffolding and teaching first, and that maybe throwing them in is not so kind.

Gravity GoldbergThe Gradual Release of Responsibility model (Pearson & Gallagher, 1983) helps teachers consider an alternative to “sink or swim” by offering a clear framework for helping students take on more and more responsibility over time. You could picture it as students walking down the steps of a ladder into the deep end of the pool. Rather than offer direct instruction and then “assign and hope” for learning, the Gradual Release of Responsibility Model moves from teacher modeling (I Go), to shared experiences (We Go), to independent practice (You Go). In this model, teachers move along this gradient of doing less over time, based on the pace that their particular students need. When we add student choice to our instructional model our end goal is not simply independent practice that is directed by the teacher, but independent application that is directed and chosen by the student because it is relevant (You Choose To Go).

What if rather than pushing our students into the deep end (sink or swim model), or telling students to walk down the ladder into the deep end one rung at a time (gradual release model), we gave students a choice about whether or not and when they wanted to go swimming (ownership model)? This helps student readers develop excitement about feeling ready to take the leap themselves into the water. Once in the pool they choose if they want to tread, do laps, or float.

Picture1

Figure 1: The Gradual Release of Responsibility Instructional Model Re-imagined with student ownership as the goal

In order for students to make choices about their own reading lives teachers must view student ownership as a realistic and valuable goal, and open up spaces in their classrooms for more student-direction.

Believe in Student’s Ability to Make Choices

The psychology research is clear that whatever we expect from students is what they will demonstrate (Achor, 2010). Positive psychologist , Shawn Achor explains, “the expectations we have about our children-whether or not they are even voiced—can make that expectation a reality.” This is called the Pygmalion Effect and means that if we believe student readers can make wise choices about their own reading lives or that they can’t, we will be proven correct.

I know not every student enters our classrooms knowing how to make choices or being confident in their ability to make choices and this gives teachers the opportunity to teach them how to make a choice. If and when students struggle with making choices about which book to read, which strategy to use, what to talk about with their book buddy, then we can take note and be grateful we now know what to teach them. We can view students’ struggle with choice-making as a necessary part of the learning process.

When we look at the steps of the typical Gradual Release of Responsibility Model we see that student’s independent practice is the last phase. But, what about all of our students who only use strategies when they are told to use them? What about all of our students who are afraid to make a wrong choice so they wait for us to make choices for them? If we believe students can learn to make wise choices about their reading then our classrooms will make space for students to be self-directed.

In my book Mindsets and Moves: Strategies That Help Readers Take Charge (2016) I included several lessons that help students learn to make choices for themselves. The lessons fall into three main categories: how to set goals for yourself as a reader, how to make choices based on your goals, and how to reflect on your learning towards that goal. Just because we believe students can make choices does not mean we don’t also spend time mentoring them in the process.

Open Up Spaces for Students to Make Choices

It is not enough to say we believe student readers can make wise choices, we actually have to create space for them to be able to make them. Let’s consider a typical reading lesson. At the beginning of the lesson are you assigning students a strategy to use that day or reminding them of their strategy choices? We often think we are offering students opportunities to make choices, but in reality all of the reading time is directed by the teachers. I suggest we all study our own classrooms and notice just how much space and time there is for students to actually take charge.

The following chart shows a few examples of what our teacher language might sound like when we are assigning and directing and when we are creating space for students to be self-directed.

Screen Shot 2017-05-09 at 5.00.40 PM

The Benefits of Ownership

There are so many benefits of teaching students to make choices and one major one is the level of engagement and ownership students experience. Rather than having to cajole a student into using a strategy or forcing them to read, they begin to self-initiate and truly transfer learning. Students begin to view instruction as adding to their toolbox and they decide which tool to use when. We can help every student shift from reading on their own to owning their reading. I have seen so many students choose to “jump from the high dive” and find joy in their decision and ultimately find joy in reading.

 

References

Achor, S. (2010) The Happiness Advantage. New York, NY: Random House.

Goldberg, G. (2015). Mindsets and moves: Strategies that help readers take charge. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Literacy.

Pearson, P. D. and M. C. Gallagher, “The Instruction of Reading Comprehension,” Contemporary Educational Psychology, 8, 1983, pp. 317-344.

When Independent Reading Isn’t Working

by Guest Blogger Kari Yates, Educator/Author and Literacy for All Conference Featured Speaker

I can think of nothing in the school day more authentic, more differentiated, and more essential than the joyful time when students nestle in with self-selected texts for high-volume, high-success reading (Allington, 2009). Whether you call it independent reading, read-to-self (Moser and Boushey, 2014) or reading workshop, engagement is the priority for readers at every age and stage of development. This is the time of day students can grow leaps and bounds, applying what they’ve learned elsewhere to texts they are personally invested in.

Kari YatesYet, sometimes getting and keeping a whole classroom of diverse readers settled in and reading for real can be a challenge. And of course, if they aren’t engaged, this becomes nothing more than lost time.

So, what can you do to maximize every reader’s engagement during independent reading? Below are five suggestions to help you do just that (and without points, prizes, or prodding).

  1. Confer every day as much as you’re able.

When you confer, you pull up alongside a student in order to offer your partnership as a fellow reader. You engage in authentic, in-the-moment assessment, through observation and conversation. You listen with openness and empathy, working to identify interests, successes, and struggles. You celebrate efforts and strategic actions, nudge students forward toward next steps, and help them make plans and set goals to help themselves as readers. Regular conferring gives you a front row view of a child’s reading life; positioning you to make wise decisions for instruction across the literacy framework, including future conferences, flexible small groups, and whole group instruction. Without regular conferring, it’s unlikely that you’ll ever leverage the full power of self-selected independent reading. Conferring is just that powerful.

  1. Consider book choice first.

Engagement during independent reading begins and ends with the books students hold in their hands, as well as those they’ve selected for standby. Whether it’s a fancy basket, a simple plastic storage bag, or a cereal box, having portable personalized collections at their side provides students a direct link to engagement for independent reading. When every reader chooses and regularly curates their own good-ft collection, they will always have a variety of topics, authors, genres, lengths, and levels at their fingertips. When a reader finishes or needs a break from one book there’s no need to go searching; he can simply reach into his box to find something else. So, if you’re worried about engagement you’ll want to start by getting curious about that reader has chosen for this collection. A quick conference to get a peek in the book box and have some conversation with the reader can provide loads of information.  Find out what kind of texts they’re truly excited about and which texts aren’t really working for them, then provide strategic support. Every choice a child makes can provide clues as you work toward helping the student become a more strategic book shopper. Book choice deserves more than a few quick lessons in the fall of the year; it is crucial work that goes on throughout the year. Helping students become savvy book selectors can be a messy business, but is essential if they are to be able to carry on a reading life in the real world. Helping readers develop their capacity to regularly find books worthy of their time and attention – books that they both can and want to read- is a critical skill; one worthy of our time and attention.

  1. Bless many ways to read a book.

If every reader in the class is expected to read every book word-by-word, page-by-page, cover-to-cover engagement is likely to suffer for all readers, but particularly for readers who don’t yet have the skills or stamina for processing long stretches of text. However, when you make room for young readers to have choice not only about what to read, but also about how to read the books they’ve chosen, you open up a world of possibilities for meaning-making and critical thinking. To raise engagement levels of all readers, consider teaching students other ways to read a book such as read the pictures, retell, reread favorite parts, reread the whole book, choose sections of interest, focus on features, alternate time spent reading a more challenging text with time spent reading a more comfortable text, and occasionally decide to abandon a book altogether.

  1. Be sure the classroom library is well-stocked and well-organized.

Healthy independent reading practices develop in the context of a thriving, growing classroom library. The library, like all living things, needs regular attention including grooming, feeding, and occasional weeding. Take a moment and step into your classroom library. Imagine yourself shopping for books there each week. Is the collection inviting, well-stocked and well-organized or has the school year taken its toll? Are the baskets clearly labeled?  Do they contain topics, authors, series, or genres that reflect the interests of every reader in the class?  Without regular attention, classroom libraries can quickly fall into disarray, reducing, rather than increasing the likelihood that students leave the library equipped with good-fit texts.  And when students leave the library texts they are less than excited about, you can be sure engagement will suffer.

  1. Regularly take time for reflection.

How are we doing? What can we celebrate? What might we need to do differently? As a professional you likely use questions like these to you reflect on your practice, keeping the wheels of improvement in motion. But when you can involve your students you can multiply the positive effects of reflection. Taking just a few minutes at the close of independent reading to look back and reflect can serve invaluable in terms of shaping independent reading habits. As you scaffold reflective practices for your students, they learn to identify successes and struggles, learning from both and using what they notice to make intentional plans for the future. When we value reflection enough to take time for it even a few times per week, it impacts not only independent reading, but empowers students with a skill that can be applied to any setting or situation.

Independent reading can and should be a joyful and productive time of day for all readers. With these five suggestions as starting points, more engaged independent reading can be within the reach of every child.

Please join me at Literacy for All for more conversation about conferring with readers, embracing the messiness of choice, and taking your next move toward move toward high levels of engagement in a reader-centered classroom.

Simple Starts: Making the Move to a Reader Centered Classroom, Heinemann, 2015.

Simply Inspired Teaching

@Kari_Yates

Allington, Richard L. 2009. What Really Matters in Response to Intervention: Research-Based Designs. Boston: Pearson.

Boushey and Moser. 2014. The Daily 5 (Second Edition);Fostering Literacy Independence in the Elementary Grades. Portland, ME: Stenhouse.