Sunday, April 24, 2016

Book Clubs & Strategies to Help Students Think More Deeply About Character

Helping my third graders think more deeply about fiction and go beyond retelling the plot has been a main focus and goal this year.  Through read alouds and class discussions my students have come along way. Getting my students to do this work independently is the challenge!

I have found using some of the signposts from Kylene Beers and Robert E. Probst's book, Notice & Note: Strategies for Close Reading to be extremely helpful.  In addition, I love using ideas from the book, What Readers Really Do by Dorothy Barnhouse and Vicki Vinton.  I've wrote about this book here and here.  Both of these books are brilliant!

To get my students to start thinking beyond plot and focusing more on character I have found one strategy very useful.  I call it the FAST strategy. (It's nothing new and my apologies for not giving proper credit to the inventor!) FAST is an acronym.

  • F: Character's feelings
  • A: Character's actions
  • S: What the character says
  • T: What the character thinks
We spent a lot of time this past winter working with this strategy during read aloud.  Students use their reader's notebooks to collect notes.  A simple T-Chart labeled text and thinking works well. This was a great place to practice together.  Because not everything the character does or says is important to note, our class discussions gave students the opportunity to share and listen in on classmates' ideas.  When Ivan throws a "me ball" is that an important action, or is is just a funny part?  When Opal asks her dad to tell her about her mom, is this important? Does it reveal something important about the character?  It's not enough for students to note something from the text.  They have to connect their thinking to the text and explain why they chose this piece of text.  Rereading our notes each day was also an important part of helping my students begin looking for patterns and start forming theories. 

When my students are reading independently they use post-it notes to jot down their thinking.  When I would confer with students I was not surprised to see that most were not using the FAST strategy independently.  Most still clung to earlier strategies we had learned that focused on plot or predicting. Working with students in small strategy groups helped some, but I knew they could benefit from reading the same book together and having a conversation about that book.  So, I headed to the book room in search of multiple copies of books.  

When I go to the book room I'm generally looking for more than just a particular level of book.  In this case I wanted books that were more character driven.  I needed stories that didn't spell out everything for my students and they would need to make inferences.  I wanted books that my students might need to reread parts to really figure out things.  I wanted realistic fiction that my third graders could relate to the character and conflicts.  I wanted the character to have internal conflicts!  Yep!  In second and third grade this can be a challenge.  After weeding through all the Junie B. Jones and Box Car Mystery books (seriously, why do we need so many?) and reading some books that I ended up not liking, I was able to find a couple of books.  And then one of my trusty colleagues had another couple that fit my requirements. So, here are the books that I used during our "book clubs".

Class Clown by Johanna Hurwitz
Students enjoyed this book a lot.  Lucas is very naughty and fools around at school all the time.  They could relate to the story because they have all had a "Lucas" in their class at one time or another! The big question for my students centered around why Lucas was behaving so badly.  It was amazing one day when a student theorized that perhaps Lucas wanted attention?  With that theory in place, the book club looked for evidence to support this theory as they continued to read. In the end they were excited to share that they noticed Lucas changing and discussed their ideas as to why this was happening.

The F & P reading level is listed as either O or Q, depending where you look.  I feel it is more of an O.

Fourth Grade Rats by Jerry Spinelli

Suds is starting fourth grade and is being pressured by his friend, Joey to be a "fourth grade rat".  Throughout the story Suds is conflicted about becoming a rat, which means basically being mean, tougher and not listening to your parents.  Of course students were highly interested! Maintaining focus on Joey's conflict was a challenge for some of the readers who tend to read to quickly or just like to talk about the funny parts.  Even when students pointed out that their notes were about events and not character, they often continued to focus on events alone! Several times they needed to reread sections because they were either confused or disagreed with one another. Students stood their ground and pushed others to prove their reasoning!

Champ by Maria Thornton Jones

What kid doesn't like a story with a dog?  But the key here is that the story is NOT about the dog, but about the main character, Riley.  This book is more complicated for several reasons.  First there are more characters and relationships to keep track of for the reader.  The dog is important to the story and the character's development, but readers have to understand this and stay focused on the character.  The conflict is also difficult to understand at first, so group discussion was very important, as was staying focused on the FAST strategy.  I was happy to see that most of the group began to realize that the main conflict wasn't the dog's injury, but Riley's conflict regarding baseball.  It was great when one student theorized that perhaps Riley stayed in baseball because he didn't want to let his dad down.  This is key to the story!  Riley's relationship with his dad.  Then they were able to discuss the role Champ plays in helping Riley face his fears.

Rules by Cynthia Lord

I selected this book for my students who are reading above grade level and were already using the FAST strategy independently.  It was a chance to really experience the person versus self conflict more deeply.  They pulled out quotes and favorite lines non-stop which became a focal point of discussion.  As they discussed Catherine's conflicts they began wondering how they would be resolved.  Catherine seems embarrassed by her autistic brother, she wants to have friends and fit it, she feels neglected by her father - these were some of their ideas.  One reader asked, how will Catherine solve her problems?  Her brother can't be fixed.  He has autism.  She wants him to be "normal" but that can't happen.  Through their discussion they realized that Catherine might need to change herself!  From then on they started focusing on this big idea or theory.  My favorite student quote: "Catherine says she wrote the rules for her brother, David, but I think she wrote those rules for herself.  Maybe not intentionally, but they were for her."

I know this type of work will continue in 4th grade and beyond.  This is just the beginning for these young readers.  How do you engage younger readers in thinking beyond plot? Do you have favorite books for book clubs?

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Using Inquiry Circles to Teach Content Area

Back in December I wrote about how I have been experimenting with inquiry circles.  You can read that post here.  I have continued implementing ideas I learned while reading the book, Comprehension & Collaboration: Inquiry Circles for Curiosity, Engagement and Understanding by Stephanie Harvey and Smokey Daniels.  During the winter I began an inquiry unit on slavery and the Underground Railroad.

First, I would like to say that this topic is not part of our official third grade social studies units.  So, why did I choose this topic? Over the years that I've taught elementary school I have noticed a lot of confusion surrounding African American history.  I've had numerous students after reading about Martin Luther King Jr, ask if he "freed the slaves". While reading various picture books that either focus on an African American or a topic in African American history I have many students ask questions during the reading that often surprise me.  One such question is, "What is a slave?" And while I always answer these questions I have been surprised at how many of my students are either confused about or don't know just a little bit about our African American history.  Their knowledge at best is very superficial.  And when I do answer questions I often feel like I am just skimming the surface and there is so much more I would like them to know! Every time I share books or talk about Martin Luther King, Jr and the civil rights movement I have felt like there was a big piece missing.  So that question that so many of my students had: "What is a slave?" or "What is slavery?" turned into an inquiry circle.  It wasn't long until that question morphed into "Why was there slavery?".

I began by reading several picture books to introduce the topic of slavery in America. One of my favorites was Now Let Me Fly: The Story of a Slave Family by Dolores Johnson.  It is a fictional story about a young girl kidnapped from Africa and sold into slavery. It is not a pleasant story and doesn't have a happy ending, but my students were riveted, shocked and had so many questions afterward. This is exactly what I wanted - they had bought in and wanted and needed to know more.

I decided to use the Underground Railroad Scholastic website for our internet research.  It it well put together, in chronological order and used a lot of primary documents as well.  In addition, it gives students the ability to listen to the text as well.  This was important since there was so much new vocabulary and the text could be challenging at times.  Students would work in partnerships to read, discuss and take notes on each section of the website.  Each partnership used one computer.  This kept them focused on collaborating. This portion of the research took a LONG time due to limited access to computers and the fact that they are 8 and 9 years old!  There were many lessons on collaboration - how to listen and have a conversation. There were lessons on how to read and understand the text - how to reread, how to notice when you are confused, noticing important vocabulary, asking further questions.  There were note-taking lessons - using 3 column charts to note our new learning, questions and important vocabulary, learning to reread our notes often.  Periodically, we had whole class discussions about our learning and questions.  An important idea that we explored was noting our misconceptions.  As students began to read about the Underground Railroad I knew it would be difficult for them to understand that it was not a real railroad.  There were several days of discussion before most of the class began to realize it was a symbol or metaphor for escape. (They did not use those terms!)

When we weren't in the computer lab or using the chromebooks with our school librarian, we were reading the book, If You Lived When There Was Slavery in America by Anne Kamma.  This is a great non-fiction books for third graders because each chapter or section has a question as the title.  Students were divided into cooperative groups.  I gave each group a different set of chapters from the book to read together and take notes on.  Later each group taught the rest of our class their sections of the book.

As our research started to come to a close I began thinking of ways my students could share what they learned.  I decided to have them write slave narratives.  Each student would tell their story as an escaped slave, writing in first person.  In addition, I decided to have them do this in a Google document.  This would be the first time they would type a long piece of writing in Documents. Prior to this they had only used Google Presentation and Draw, but this had provided the practice they needed to get familiar with the keyboard.  They clicked away with one or two fingers fairly quickly! A link to their slave narratives is available on our class blog.  Just scroll to the bottom of the page.

During the time I was planning this inquiry unit a discussion began on twitter and other social media regarding the depiction of slaves in the book, A Fine Dessert by Emily Jenkins and Sophie Blackall.  I read all the tweets, blogs and comments surrounding the book and hope I have learned a lot and am a better teacher because of these discussions.  But I will admit that I was even more nervous about teaching this unit!  What if I did it wrong?  I am white.  Do I have enough understanding of the topic to teach it to my students?  Yikes! But then I thought back to the 8 year old Debbie, back in third grade, in 1968, living and going to school in a suburb where everyone looked like me.  That little girl went to the library and checked out a book on Harriet Tubman.  That little girl cried and cried over that book.  That little girl wondered why she hadn't learned about Harriet in school. That little girl went back to the library to learn more.  It's with that little girl, that little Debbie (pardon the pun) in mind, that I tried to create an inquiry circle that would encourage my students to learn more.  

I will close with one last story.  As students were peer editing their documents I heard this comment. "Your narrative is so good, it makes me want to cry." 

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Technology and Digital Learning: Reflection, Update and Status of my Teaching #CyberPD

Around this time of year I always start reflecting on my current year of teaching.  Last summer I participated in #Cyber PD Google Community, which caused me to stop and reflect on my use of technology.  You can read my posts here, here, here and here.

I wanted to write an update on my current use of technology and my current mood/philosophy regarding technology in the classroom.  A couple of things have changed since last summer.  Our school got a cart of Chromebooks for the library and the district hired a full-time library media specialist for our building.  We still don't have wireless in my hallway, but I hear the district is working on that.  I also hear they are purchasing another cart of Chromebooks to be checked out for the classroom.  This, in addition to a computer lab is good news!

I still believe that technology should be used to help students create, collaborate and share their learning.  In general, I'm not interested in the next best app or gadget just because it's available and all shiny and new.  Whether it's an old fashion pencil, book, or electronic device I always ask myself one question.  How will this improve my teaching and students' learning?  If a notebook and pencil works best, than I'm still going to use it! Last summer, I have to admit, I felt envious of all the 1-to-1 i-pad and Chromebook classes.  It was frustrating to see the inequity across schools in regard to technology.  This fall and winter, as I dreamed of my own 1-to-1 classroom, I realized that I needed to decide what that exactly meant to me.  What would I do if I had access to devices all day long?  Would I use them for everything?  Since I don't have 1-to-1 devices yet, I can't tell you what exactly I would do, but I'm pretty sure I wouldn't use them for everything.  Here's why;  First, I just don't think it's healthy for children to sit in front of a screen for long.  Elementary students need to touch and manipulate paper, pen and math manipulatives.  They need to use oral language.  They need to lay on a beanbag and read.  And, yes they need to do the physical act of writing.  And they need to do it a lot.  I also think it's important for students to have choices and know when to use technology.  So right now, for me, a 1-to-1 class means that my students would have access to the technology whenever they need it.  They don't have to sign up to go to the computer lab.

One thing that has come up quite often this past year, at least in my school district, is whether or not teaching third graders to use Google Drive is appropriate.  Many teachers argue that without keyboarding skills, students cannot successfully use Drive. It is my opinion that Google Drive is definitely appropriate for third graders!  Yes, they are very, very slow with the keyboarding skills, and it takes most students 1-2 sessions just to learn how to log onto their account.  But we must remember that learning is a process, it is not about a product.  I start with Google Draw and Slides which allows students to get familiar with the keyboard without having to type an entire document.  I also think it's important for teachers to understand that Drive is so much more than a word processing program!  Right now my students are creating their first Google Document.  They are pecking away much quicker and finding the right keys.  Using Draw and Slide, along with working collaboratively, allowed them time to learn the keyboard and how to format text so they were ready for independence.  My access to computers is very limited, so I didn't want to use that time with a formal typing program.

Other Changes
I started a class twitter account and still have a class blog.  One goal I had was to blog more regularly.  This didn't happen, so I need to re-evaluate my class blog and whether I will continue blogging.  I did revamp my class website and I think it is very useful.  I am particularly proud of my Symbaloo page.  It allows my students to easily access different Internet sites that we use. I continue to use Wonderopolis for shared reading, but also added DogoNews.  I tried out Bookopolis with my class, but students really don't use it due to our limited access to computers.  My class has visited the library often to use the Chromebooks for several inquiry projects.  You can read a post about it here. It has been wonderful to work alongside our new library media specialist.

Next year some things will be changing.  I've decided to move to 5th grade.  I've been in grades 1-3 for the last ten years, so I am excited and nervous for the challenge of a new grade.  I have loved every grade I have taught.  There isn't a big reason for the change, it's just something I have been considering for awhile.  I started my career teaching 4th, which made me a better 1st grade teacher, which made me a better 2nd grade teacher, which made me a better 3rd grade teacher, and that will make me a better 5th grade teacher! I look forward to using Google Drive with my fifth graders and exploring other digital tools as well.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Mock Caldecotts - The Why and How

This week my third graders participated in a Mock Caldecott.  It was a whirlwind of reading, rereading and analyzing 15 picture books in 1 week.  Crazy, I know.  For some reason I thought the ALA Youth Media Awards were later in January, but over my winter vacation I checked my calendar and noticed the Caldecott Medal would be announced on Monday, January 11th! Yikes! That gave me one week to put the mock together. But, it ended up being a great way to jump start our new year.

If you haven't ever participated in a Mock Caldecott or Newbery, I highly recommend you do so.  I think this year marks the 4th or 5th year I have organized a Mock Caldecott and I'm always happy with the outcome.  Picture books are a wonderful thing and I read 1-2 each day to my class.  Read aloud time is probably their favorite time of the day.  But giving students extra time to reread and carefully look at and discuss the books is valuable teaching and learning time.  I'm always amazed at what they notice and discuss.

Fortunately, I had already read most of the books on my list of titles I wanted included in our mock this year.  The few that I hadn't read aloud yet I was sure to read on Monday and Tuesday.  I think it's important to just read and enjoy the book as a "reader" first.  Later we can reread as a "Mock Caldecott Committee member".  I provide a list of our titles which includes author, illustrator and art media used.  You can click here to see the list I gave my students this year.

It's always fun to get other students or teachers involved with your mock.  One year I was able to convince my 6 second grade colleagues to participate in a month long Mock Caldecott.  It was lots of fun and lots of work organizing the books and voting, but well worth it.  This year I met Kathleen Sokolowski at nErDcampLI and after mentioning I would be doing a Mock Caldecott, asked if she would like to participate with us.  Kudos to Kathleen for participating and skyping with us after my last minute tweet the Sunday before our week of mocking! On Thursday we skyped and shared/discussed our favorites for the medal.  Lots of fun.

Finally, there is the voting part.  Before we do the voting I give my students plenty of time to work in small groups with the books each day.  I give them a list of the criteria from ALA, but put it in third grade friendly terms.  It takes a few days for students to start moving away from "this is my favorite book" or "I like this page" and start focusing on the criteria, but they eventually do.  I usually have a chart with the terms I want them to focus on - noticing how the illustrations tell the story or make the story better becomes important to them.  We talk about how the illustrations show mood or character emotions. Students like to compare illustrations in different books.  They like that Kadir Nelson's and Matt Tavare's illustrations are so realistic. (but they do note that the animals in If you Plant a Seed are NOT doing realistic things!) They notice that Christian Robinson's illustrations in Leo: A Ghost Story use limited colors.  They like that and wonder why Christian decided to do that and discuss possible reasons.  They notice a similar thing in the artwork of Erin Stead's  Lenny & Lucy.  They decide that Erin must of wanted us to notice certain things on the page and that's why she gave them color.  They pointed out over and over how each illustrator was able to convey emotion in characters whether realistic or cartoon-like.  By Thursday I started noticing favorites when students kept going back to certain books.  They would pull a group of students over to them and start pointing out the qualities they loved in the illustrations.  Many students loved the magical or fantastical elements of Drum Dream Girl and The Whisper.  On Friday, before we voted students got up and gave their last pitch at convincing their classmates that their book should be selected for our Mock Caldecott Medal.  Then I gave each student a ballot and had them vote for their top three choices.  You can click here to see our ballot.  The book that gets the most votes wins our Mock Caldecott and any close seconds get our Mock Caldecott Honor. You can see who won our Mock Caldecott by going to our class blog.

This year I also started a Twitter account for my class.  We are @Grade3Warriors.  During the week we tweeted about our Mock Caldecott thoughts.  When authors favorite, retweet or tweet back to us it is thrilling for my students. Authors have become real celebrities to my students.  They are so disappointed when an author or illustrator doesn't have a twitter account!

On Monday we will watch the ALA Youth Media Awards live in our classroom.  The awards begin at 8am EST and fortunately my students begin arriving around 8:10am EST.  This year we have also invited our new full time library media specialist, Ms. Yildirim, to watch with us. (Thank you School Board for working to restore full time librarians.) My students are so excited for Monday morning.  They will be thrilled if a book that they have read wins of course, but I also know that if a title is announced that they are not familiar with I will hear voices calling out, "Can you get that book?"

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Exploring and Experimenting with Inquiry Circles

Over the years I have been interested in taking my student research in a more authentic direction.  I wanted to move away from a teacher-chosen, whole group topic to more of a student chosen topics.  While teaching second grade I did this with research clubs during reading workshop.  After finding out what my students were interested in learning about I collected books and magazines on that topic.  Students selected the group they wanted to be in and spent time reading and taking notes on that topic.  I usually had at least 5-6 themed clubs prepared.  The usual topics were outer space and various animal groups. Groups usually presented their learning on a poster.  Kathy Collins' book, Reading for Real gave me the inspiration for these clubs.

Since moving up to third grade last year I started reading about inquiry units and recently read the book, Comprehension & Collaboration: Inquiry Circles for Curiosity, Engagement, and Understanding by Stephanie Harvey and Harvey "Smokey" Daniels.  What a terrific book! The book explains why small group inquiry should be used and describes 4 different models for inquiry.  The best part is the lessons that are included, which are divided into 3 sections: comprehension, collaboration and inquiry.  The books is filled with examples from real classrooms with real teacher talk.  This book gave me the push I needed to dive into inquiry circles in my classroom.


First, I want to say I am so excited that my school district hired full time librarians once again for our elementary schools.  After many years of budget cuts I am delighted that our school board worked to restore these wonderful library media specialist.  This unit was completed with the help of our most wonderful library media specialist, Ms. Yilidrim.

I decided to make my first inquiry unit a curricular inquiry.  I began with a broad theme, "Oceans".  As part of our science curriculum we are suppose to study plants, photosynthesis, etc.  I decided I could teach the skills and concepts using the Ocean theme.  By using a collection of read alouds, short articles and videos I taught my class important reading comprehension and note-taking skills.  Along the way I gave my students an "Inquiry or Wonder" Notebook and gave them time daily to enter questions they had about our topic of study.  I used the information in these notebooks to pull questions that I thought might work for our first "mini-inquiry".  It was my intention to get them into the research part quickly so they could begin answering their own questions.  Here's some of the questions we started with: How deep is the ocean?  Where are the underwater mountains located?  What is the temperature of the ocean?  How do fish breathe underwater?

Students chose the question they were interested in researching.  I placed students in pairs to begin the research.  They have limited experience working collaboratively and I thought partners would be a good beginning.  While students researched together everyone was responsible for their own note-taking.  When I do this again I will have larger groups to compensate for absences and learning/reading abilities.  Besides more researchers get through more research!


While we taught our students how to use trade books and reference materials to search for answers to their questions, I also decided to BEGIN teaching them how to use the internet to get answers to their questions.  I was hoping to teach them how some questions are quick to answer, while we might have to delve further to answer other more complicated questions. But that didn't happen. For my third graders these questions were hard to answer!  Here's some problems using the internet with third graders.  First, reading level.  There are some good sites to help them out, but often they are so full of technical language that they needed help to figure it all out. I think for the future I will create a list of helpful websites for students when doing research.  Second, trying to teach them that everything on the internet is not always trustworthy is an ONGOING lesson.  Hopefully by the end of the year my students will have acquired some basic knowledge on using the Internet for research.


I decided to put my students in larger groups after the research was complete.  Most groups had 4-5 students.  I taught them how to use Google Slide Presentation.  Students divided up the slides making sure they had an introduction slide and a slide with all the resources included.  Each group presented to the whole class.

You can see some example slide presentations here and here.


I reminded myself the entire time that the PROCESS was more important than the product.  I learned that my students could work collaboratively but it was messy and filled with problems along the way - but very worth it.  I know that with practice, they will be better at it next time.  This was authentic because they researched questions that were important to them.  I want to make sure I give students skills and strategies that they will use for a lifetime, not just for the moment.  Finding reading materials on a third grade level is the most challenging thing for me, especially if I want students to be able to work on different questions.  Going to the library to work with on the Chromebooks was great because I had access to another teacher.  It was a joy working with our new library media specialist.  Completing this type of research would be very difficult without having another expert involved!

Here's a list of some of the skills and concepts they learned and practiced:

  • working collaboratively, listening, helping and not always getting your way, being a member of a team
  • listening and taking notes
  • reading and taking notes
  • non-fiction reading strategies
  • locating information in table of contents or index, deciding if the text will help you, deciding what key words to use
  • rereading over and over to understand something
  • using graphics to understand what you read
  • summarizing key points from text or video
  • asking questions when you don't understand and helping someone when they don't understand
  • why it's not nice to plagiarize
  • what does .gov, .com, .org mean?
  • how to locate the author of the website
  • how to use key words to look something up on the internet
  • getting your questions answered is hard work, you have to concentrate and persevere
  • how to use Google Drive and create slides
  • how to use a Chromebook
I know my list could go on and on, but I will stop there.  I wanted to make sure I documented my thinking after I was finished with this first try at inquiry circles.  I look forward to our next set of inquiry circles.

Have you used inquiry circles?  Have you taught young students how to use the Internet for research? Do you have favorite search engines or websites?

Saturday, November 21, 2015

What can you do about fake reading?


A colleague recently complained to me about a group of fake readers in her class.  You know what I'm talking about! Those students that hold the book and try to look like they are reading.  They turn the pages and when they think you are watching they place their eyes on the book.  But we know they are often looking around or just staring at the pages.  Often they might read the words, but they aren't making any meaning.  They just can't seem to stay on task reading!

I see this problem every year, mostly in the beginning when many of my students unfortunately, have not had a lot of experience reading independently. And sometimes it sneaks back in and I have to do a few reminder lessons. Here’s a list of possible lessons.  I know it might sound like a lot, but it’s worth the time.
(If you have a couple fake readers, your other students are probably fake reading at some point also)

  • Do a mini-unit to build stamina during independent reading.  I spend the first couple of weeks of school doing this, but you can do it any time. (I have also needed to do a repeat with a small group of readers mid-year in second grade, and last year I pulled a couple of fake readers mid-year to “practice” our stamina.
  • Define stamina.  Tell students directly that the class will be building reading stamina.  I start with 3-5 minutes the first day of school. As soon as I see one student become unfocused I call time.  I tell them how many minutes we have done and set a goal for the next day. Some teachers even graph the stamina. (Always connect why these habits are important to them - i.e. they become better readers, this is what good readers do.) 
  • Model independent reading time. The good and the bad!  Make an anchor chart with the class, and review it every day until it becomes habit. Go back to it when these habits breakdown later in the year.

  • Model fake vs. real reading. (Here's some ideas from Pinterest)  I find naming the problem and telling them why it isn’t good for them helpful.  Students are often relieved to find out that they aren't the only ones that have a difficult time staying focused during independent reading.

  • Teach students Fix-Up Strategies. In my third grade class we create a chart that displays problems we have during reading. Once a couple of students share their difficulties other students begin sharing too. Then we can begin talking about what to do to fix those problems. I refer to this chart all year long and even add to it as we become more advanced readers. Once students can name their problem it's easier to focus on solving it!

  • Teach them how to select good fit books.  I have found lack of stamina and choosing the wrong book to be the key reasons students fake read. Sometimes choosing an easier book (or one we think is easier) can help students develop better stamina and feel successful. I also think it’s important to confer with readers to check accuracy and comprehension on their independent book, especially if they fake read.

  • Third reason students fake read… comprehension strategies or lack of… lessons on what good readers do (think) while they read are essential for all, but especially these fake readers.  Fake readers often have never experienced what it feels like to read and enjoy a book. This is constantly a topic of my small group instruction.  Pull those fake readers together for a group (level doesn’t matter) and give them a strategy to practice.

Independent Reading needs to be taught and modeled. Simply putting a book in their hands is not enough. We need to send the message that Independent Reading time is important. If you use this time to lesson plan, organize your desk, check in with colleagues or grade papers what message are you sending to your students? Instead, pull up a chair next to a reader. Take a few minutes to talk with them about their book. This will go a long way in teaching your Fake Readers the value of independent reading. They will long for you to talk with them!

Other than fake reading, what do these types of readers have in common? My experience has been they are my lowest readers. Not surprised, are you? But I also find they are my students that are performing "on grade level", but at the lower level of that group. I call them my "low average" students.

I hope one of these ideas helps! While Fake Readers are so annoying, I don’t believe most are doing it on purpose. I think there is some kind of “breakdown” in their reading that we have to address.

Here's some books that I have found helpful in teaching independent reading routines and comprehension strategies.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Mercy Watson to the rescue! How one student becomes a reader.

This is the story of a student in my class, we will call him Nathan. Nathan reads below grade level and receives academic support services for both reading and math.  In September Nathan struggled to complete the reading survey that I gave to my third grade class.  Even when I read many of the questions to him he was confused-he didn't know himself as a reader.  He worked hard to answer questions, but the survey was handed in incomplete.   He readily admitted he didn't like to read, or "sort of" liked to read.  But this is not why I am writing this post.

Early in September Nathan found the Mercy Watson series of books in our class library.  I would like to say that I introduced this wonderful basket of books to him, but most likely I did not, because Mercy Watson books are considered too difficult for him according to his benchmark reading level. Having said that, I rarely, if ever, tell a student No, they can't put a book in their reading box.  I do however help them navigate the book selection process - some students need more guidance than others. Choice is the key element to my reading workshop.  Students chose the books that go into their book baskets, but they must be a good fit book, one they can read independently. (Students are free to read any book during our Free Choice reading time.)   This is where the story really begins - during "shopping time", when students in my class select good-fit books from our class library to put in their personal book baskets for independent reading.   Nathan asked to put a Mercy Watson book in his basket and I said yes.  I prepared myself mentally to have some other book choices ready for him when we met later to read Mercy Watson.  I felt fairly confident that Nathan would struggle and decide to choose a different book.  But Nathan proved me wrong.

As I conferred with Nathan he stumbled over word after word, often reading nonsense words and he lacked fluency.  I dutifully continued with our conference and taught him a decoding strategy that he readily applied.  Of course he was struggling and this book definitely wasn't a good fit, but I knew he wasn't ready to let go of this book.  I asked, "Do you think this book is a good-fit, just-right book for you?"  He replied, "I think so."  I realized he had probably never experienced reading a book that was on his independent reading level!  No matter how many lessons I had done on choosing a just-right book he couldn't relate...yet.  So the book stayed in his basket.  I made sure there were other books that were a better fit, just in case.  I made a note to meet with him again soon.

Every time I met with Nathan I thought, "this will be the day" he figures out Mercy Watson is too hard for him.  But each day we met he kept rereading that Mercy Watson book and practicing the strategies that I showed him.  He had even began collecting the tricky word on post it notes so that he could practice and show me them later. Before long he was discussing the content of the book with me.  It was clear his comprehension was sound and he really liked the story!  Then a few more amazing things happened.

During shopping time and free read time I observed Nathan chatting up Mercy Watson with fellow classmates and even taking them to where the basket of books was located.  Other students started to check out Mercy Watson books.  Nathan even told the AIS Math teacher who pushes into our room about Mercy Watson!  One day he showed me a page in the book that had a picture of all the books in the series and said he was looking for two that were missing.  After asking classmates it was clear that 2 of the books had gone missing. (Yeah, this happens sometimes...a book finds a new home.)  He wrote the titles down on a post it note and asked if I could get them for the library.

So what can we learn from this story?  Choice matters.  Time to practice reading matters. Students are individuals, not levels.  All the data we collect on them should be used to help us help them!  And most of all, we are teaching children to read and write so that they can read for enjoyment, connect with other humans, and learn about the world - we are NOT teaching them to to read and write so they pass a test.  I know this.  I believe this.  I try to remember this ever day in my class.

It's October and Nathan is still a below grade reader.  That's okay.  He's a reader now.  And he knows what he likes to read, and he can't wait to tell you.

By the way...those missing Mercy Watson books...I ordered a new set and they came in the mail today.  I can't wait to hand them to Nathan on Monday morning.