Jumping Back into Independence

When we returned to the classroom yesterday my students were abuzz with their tales from winter break.  Their stories ranged from watching multiple movies on multiple car trips to not being allowed to use electronics and instead reading for hours each day.  With a range of experiences and a range of beginning and transitional readers, I quickly realized the need to strategically revamp our attachment and identification with our reading lives.

Start with the familiar and infuse it with novelty.  Young children thrive on routines and reading is just the same.  We started our first week back by reviewing our reader’s workshop routines and strategies.  But this work seems so boooooring.  If you’ve ever taught or lived with a first grader you will know – things they learned earlier in the year are things they have “always known.”  Instead, I plan to disguise our review of skills with something new – literature clubs.  Each student, regardless of their reading level, will have a chance to read a book and discuss it in a group.  They are challenged and supported based on their reading needs and the amount of scaffolding I provide.  All the while, we practice accuracy, fluency, and speaking/listening skills in a new way.

Explicitly teach stamina.  Using our senses, I ask students to envision what reader’s workshop looks like, sounds like and feels like.  After picturing and discussion these ideas they work during independent reading time to make their bodies and minds match their ideas.  On the first day back, they read for 25 minutes straight, engaged and energized by their books.  When discussing what that felt like one student described reading as magic because she was so into the book.  We charted our time for reading and celebrated our stamina.  On day two, many students slowed down or took a break from reading only after 15 minutes.  During our discussion, we explicitly talked about why there was a lag in reading today.  They articulated that they weren’t as interested in their books today.  Talking about what strong reading looks like, using the clock to keep track of our stamina, and figuring what goes wrong when it does help readers get back into the routine of reading.

Revisit finding “just right” books. At this point in the year my readers are advancing but not always choosing more challenging books.  In fact, some have attachments to books they have read over and over.  Propelling students forward means helping them step beyond their comfort zone.  Liturature clubs allow me some control as the  books are assigned intentionally at their maximum independent reading.  Using a fresh round of assessments and running records, I can select books and assign groups to stretch my readers.  These books will also become anchor texts, ones they can refer to when selecting new and more challenging texts.

Read more and more. With any habit we are trying to get back into, frequency proceeds regularity.  Getting children to read more throughout the day is critical to developing indepence. I changed the routine for library sign up – now more want to go because they get to sign up on the whiteboard. I encourage students to take more than one book home to read at night, hoping to inspire more outside of school reading. I’m noticing and naming when they self select books more frequently.

Maybe not every tactic will resonate with every reader. By varying the techniques to promote engagement and reinforcing already taught skills in new ways we can continue our reader’s workshop right where we left off in December.


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