Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Slice of Life: Developing Students' Independent Reading Lives


As a reader, I am a bit of a book juggler.  I don’t read one book, but I have several, at the same time, that I alternate between reading.  Currently, I am reading a novel (Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi: I would highly recommend this beautifully written, stunning story.).  I am also reading a professional text because I am participating in a virtual book discussion.  I am reading another professional text to increase my knowledge for a workshop I will be teaching on mentor texts.  I am reading a children’s book so I can add a title to the list of those to book talk for students during the school year.  One morning when I go to the coffee shop, I may bring one of the professional texts with me and read and learn while I sip my latte.  When I’m at the beach, I’ll most likely read the novel so my mind can escape to another time and another place.  Before bed, when I can’t think too much because I'm so tired, I’ll choose the children’s book because it’s a fun and light read.  The reading I am doing at any moment may be influenced by my mood, my energy level, my desire to find something out or to escape on a journey.  

I recently read Who’s Doing the Work: How to Say Less So Readers Can Do More by Jan Burkins and Kim Yaris.  I have actually gotten to know this book well, since I began a virtual book club last month and have been chatting about the chapters on a weekly basis.  In their book, Burkins and Yaris (2016) discuss instructional practices that allow students to do more of the work within reading contexts (read aloud, shared reading, guided reading, and independent reading) than we traditionally have them do so that students grow into independent readers.  Providing students with the opportunity to think deeply and make decisions about their reading work is the basis for what they term next generation reading instruction.  The chapter on next generation independent reading gives a reminder that students should not be confined to reading levels when choosing books for independent reading.  Students may have “harder” or “easier” books because, as Burkins and Yaris (2016) state, “'Just right’ involves more than numbers; different books are just right for different purposes” (p. 107).  When students are choosing books by reading level the decision-making work is mostly done for them, but when students are choosing books based on their purposes they have more control and ownership over the path they take to become better readers.  

I have observed students who gravitate towards the “harder” books because they believe these are the books that make them a good reader.  Sometimes their interest, motivation, and effort can get them through these books, but sometimes they end up abandoning them only to go in search of another hard book.  Then I have observed other readers who choose the “easier” books – whatever they can find with the least pages or the fewest words on a page.  These students may need these books as they are developing their reading skills and building their confidence, but they may also be able to stretch themselves with a book that presents them with a bit more challenge.  As someone who juggles books, I know the necessity and the joy of reading a variety of texts.  Students will not always arrive at this understanding on their own, but explicit teaching about the purpose of reading and book selection will support students as they develop reading habits. I share my own reading life with my students so they can see that even as a “good reader” I sometimes choose books that challenge me and other times I choose an easy book so I can give my mind a break.  I let students know what I am reading so they can see that sometimes I read novels because fiction is my favorite genre, but I also read nonfiction in order to learn new things and sometimes I even read poetry. 

I am an avid reader.  I finish one book and I add another one to my reading stack.  I read every day (although I admit I have those days that my tired eyes only manage a sentence or two and I’m practically dreaming before the book is pushed aside).  My reading life helps me understand how to engage students in the habits of real readers. Real readers read for different purposes.  I model my reading life so that students will develop their own, not a reading life that is the exact mirror image of mine, but one that fits their interests, purposes, and needs.  I teach students to choose books that are just right for them because I want them to become better readers, but also to enjoy reading.  I have a joyful reading life and I wish the same for my students.  

Burkins, J., & Yaris, K. (2016).  Who's doing the work: How to say less so readers can do more. Portland, ME: Stenhouse.

23 comments:

  1. I connected so much with your last paragraph!!!!!!!!!!

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    1. I can't imagine a life without reading!

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  2. Thanks for the great post! It's so important that as teachers, we model our reading lives. I like how you described yourself as a "book juggler." I also juggle a few books at a time! I love how you reflect on your reading as information for your teaching. Real readers read for different purposes - kids too! If we want them to enjoy reading and have a joyful reading life, we should let them make choices - as you said, one that fits their interests, purposes and needs!

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    1. Reflection is so important and I'm trying to be more reflective about my teaching. I was at the ILA conference and that seemed to be one of the themes - in two workshops I attended presenters showed a quote by John Dewey about how we don't learn from experiences, but reflecting on those experiences. Choice is absolutely necessary if we want students to enjoy reading! Thanks for reading and commenting!

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    2. This quote by Dewey is what has guided my professional life and a belief I embed into all classroom activities. This also resonates with a book study that just started this week on The Teacher You Want to Be.

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  3. Oh yes, the books we juggle. Add in there all the reading I do on blogs and on Twitter. We just got back from vacation and I had a bag of mixed books, journals, and devices. When It rained I certainly was not at a loss! I need to get my hands on WHO'S DOING THE WORK. I've heard so many good comments about it and I think I have room in that bag for one more book! Thanks for sharing, Lisa!

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    1. I can't go on a vacation without a bag of books! You will love Who's Doing the Work. If you want to check out what others are thinking about it you can join this facebook page where there was a book discussion going on: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1738331936446879/

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    2. Who's Doing the Work is one of those game changer types of books. I highly recommend it.

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  4. Lisa, it was great meeting you in Boston and sharing some ILA16 moments with you. I am also one of those eclectic readers who has multiple books, articles, electronic feeds open. A little of this and a little of that makes for a healthy reading diet. Let me know how the Wonderopolis campaign goes when you return to school.

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    1. I will definitely update you when I share Wonderopolis at my school. Thanks for reading my post!

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  5. Good morning Lisa,
    It was great meeting you at ILA in Boston.
    I enjoyed reading your blog post and can hear the sincerity and passion in your voice. You included so many meaningful talk points that are resonating. I see students with what I call the "Harry Potter" syndrome walking around holding this thick book but never opening it. Struggling readers have a tender self image to uphold and want their peers to think they can keep up. They choose books that are too difficult for them for this reason while under the sheets with a flashlight sort to speak otherwise known as one on one with their teacher they are reading Frog and Toad practicing their sight words. So while I agree with free choice and motivation I also still agree with the student coming to terms with the reality of their ability to read text. The right book at the time has many interpretations.

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    1. I was glad I got to meet you as well. I have also observed the Harry Potter syndrome. We definitely have to support students as they learn what is just right for them. I think there is a need for books for older students who are struggling to read. When I have a student who is reading much below grade level it is often a challenge to find texts that the student can read with content that is appealing and interesting for the student's age.

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  6. I love this post! I just returned from a camp and their main focus was on teaching a love of reading. And they stressed letting a child choose the books they want to read instead of assigning them. It was a very inspiring conference. :)

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    1. That sounds like a very inspiring conference! If we only teach kids how to read without teaching them to want to read then we haven't fully done our jobs!

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  7. Lisa,
    I've had similar thoughts this summer after reading Who's Doing the Work. I am that reader with about four books going all for different purposes. And I'm thinking about my students. I'm coming to believe that in the best case situation, a student always has something to read and is always reading. That they have choice in what they are reading. There may be times when they need to respond to a group (just like us) and there may be times when they need to respond to a classroom (just like us- when we take a class). I'm looking forward to implementing the great thinking in Jan and Kim's Next Generation thinking about reading! Hope you share your journey with your students.

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    1. I am looking forward to implementing Jan and Kim's ideas as well. I'm glad I have the summer to really think about some changes I am going to make. Thanks for reading and commenting!

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  8. So important to connect out own experiences with what our students might be thinking and experiencing as readers. I think a lot about the titles that are chosen that are out of reach because kids believe these will make them good readers. So challenging when the wish is so strong before the skills are there.

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    1. As a reading specialist who works with students in grades 1-5, I have a wide range of books available in my room. I often run into the challenge of students who want to read something out of reach because they see the books I've displayed for students in the older grade. I try to appease them by finding something similiar - same genre, same content, etc. that is more appropriate.

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  9. It's so crucial that our students see us reading and living the life of a reader. I'm about halfway through WDTW - loving it.

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    1. Who's Doing the Work has definitely become one of my favorite professional reads. I am looking forward to implementing ideas from it in the fall.

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  10. Thank you for sharing. I've really enjoyed Who's Doing the Work? book study you facilitate. I like to hear that you read different text levels depending on your brains capacity for stamina and comprehension. This is one control issue I see us (teachers) having. We mostly insist that students pick one book and finish it. We never take into account that they may not be in the right frame of mind to read that text at that moment. We should give them permission to be reading from different texts. We also insist that students read and re-read the books in their box. We don't take into account that they have read the book and don't care for it. We, as adult readers, set books aside when they don't grab us. I want to start instilling in the teachers I work with that creating life-long readers includes respecting students' capacity for that text and their interest in that text. Thanks again.

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    1. Our adult reading should be a model and I think if we don't do it ourselves as readers we really need to think about whether students should be doing it. The reading and rereading of books we don't like is a good example. Control does get in the way for many teachers. It also seems tidier to have students just reading one book - it's easier for a teacher to see and track, but learning is messy and we have to embrace that.

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  11. I too am the kind of reader that has several books going at once. I also have a pile that I can select from when I'm finished with whatever book(s) I am currently reading. I know my students are the same. Sometimes they'll have a book that they're reading at home and a different one in school. Although this is OK, I encourage them to bring their book from home to class, so that they don't see reading at home as separate from reading at school. And, I encourage them to have an "easier-to-them" book when they're tackling a challenging book. I tell them their brain needs a break and it's OK to move in and out of more than one book. I know some teachers will disagree with me, but if I examine what I do as an avid reader, I know that this practice works and makes sense for me. I share it with my students in case it resonates with them, too.

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