(R)evolution Time

How is it that for the last eight years I taught reading in a room with no books for independent reading?  I’ve been using a prepackaged reading program which has some high interest titles, but I have nothing for the kids to sit and thumb through when they are struck with the desire to read. Why did I accept this as okay?

After attending an amazing session on the Reader-Writer Workshop model at my second NCTE conference in 2014, my heart was pounding with excitement and fear.  I was excited because the session helped me to articulate what was missing in the reading classroom.  BOOKS.  Sounds so simple, right?  I think if a noneducator is reading this post, they’re wondering – What?  How can a classroom (a reading classroom!) not have books?   Ok, slight exaggeration.  There’s about 50 titles – most of which I acquired at last year’s ALAN conference.  The American Library Association and leading literacy researchers recommend having 1500 titles per classroom.  Room B12 doesn’t even come close!

I felt fear because I knew it needed to be fixed.  Quickly.   It was time to step up.  It was time to be brave.  I needed to revolutionize the way my reading room helped students develop a love of books.

So, how do a Reading Specialist and two English teachers revolutionize reading in their classrooms? Where the heck do we start?

On my drive home from the NCTE conference I realized I had to start employing Penny Kittle’s philosophy the next morning. I couldn’t waste one more day with the status quo.  I stayed up until 2:00 in the morning reading Kittle’s Book Love, figuring it would give me something for immediate use.

Kittle discusses the idea of creating a reading culture inside the classroom and beyond.  This is where I would start.  Or, I should say restart. Books need to become the main attraction of my instruction.   Because there aren’t many books in my classroom, I generally send students to the library to find a book.  How scary for a reluctant reader, right?   Students often struggle with finding a novel that holds their interest. How can they handle this task on their own?  As the reading specialist, I need to introduce them to a variety of texts – easy and complex, fiction and nonfiction –  building an excitement and curiosity about what can be discover through reading.

I would simply restart the classroom culture with some formalized book talks.  We turned to the back of their reader’s notebook and created a To Be Read Next List.  As the students see and hear possible book ideas, they can start to write them down – making their next trip to the library easier. Here is the idea behind Kittle’s

Book Talk:

  • Take 5 minutes at the start of class to present a possible book choice.
  • Show the book.
  • Read an excerpt.
  • Share why the book matters.
  • Have the book available in the classroom library for students to borrow.

Since Thanksgiving, I missed two days of Book Talks because of delayed weather openings.  Because independent reading time has always been nonnegotiable in my room, I didn’t want to skimp on reading minutes.  Wouldn’t you know – they were begging for a book talk.

I sometimes forget that it is okay to start small.  One little 5 minute tweak at the beginning of class has helped to change my class’ reading culture.   I’m not as afraid as I was back in November. (R)evolutions do not happen overnight.  If I can make a tiny difference in my instruction every day, based on current reading research and best practices, I know the Reading (R)evolution will come.  And that is exciting.

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