Saturday, October 17, 2015

Moving Beyond the Awkward "Just Right" Book Conversation

Helping readers to choose just-right books is always an uncomfortable conversation - especially with our youngest of readers.  Sometimes I feel like I am talking out of two sides of my mouth.  I want you to read everything, but....

I want you to choose, but...

Spending time with texts they can read significantly supports growth in reading.  How do we honor their interests as readers while they are still taking those very first steps into books?  How do we put books in their hands they will love and they can read?  How do we help them to find books that will help them grow as readers?  I want to honor their choices.  I want to see them fall in love with authors.  I want them to want to take home the book I read aloud to the class.  I want them to come back from the library excited about their new choices.  I also hope a significant portion of their reading time will be spent on books they can read instead of books which are too challenging.  What to do?

Self-selected reading is something I want my readers to have the opportunity to do.  At the same time, I know the importance of students reading books that are a good match for them as readers.  Experience has taught me if I can help students to make smart choices, they make faster progress as readers.  I do want them to learn to make these choices on their own.  I've never been one to want my students to shop for books from leveled baskets.  I want them to be able to select books from our classroom library so they can go to a library or bookstore utilizing the same strategies to find a book that works for them as a reader.

This is always a tough conversation because I want my words to be just right.  I want students to hear the love of reading in my voice.  I want them to know that I pick books for a variety of reasons.  I want them to know I sometimes choose books that are more challenging, but that I can't spend all of my time reading challenging books.  It's actually exhausting.

The conversation to help students self-select doesn't happen magically in a day.  It's a series of conversations woven together across time.  In the beginning days, there are picture books I love to read to help students understand there are books that fit us now and books we will grow into later.  To help them to begin to think about balancing their choices, I use a system where students determine who will read a book going home at night:

  • me (I'll read it)
  • you (mom or dad will read it)
  • us book (there are parts I can read)?  

This has helped to honor their choices as readers a bit, but it has never felt concrete enough.

This week I was talking with a first grade teacher after school.  We began to talk about this challenge of honoring students hearts as readers while helping them to choose books they can read independently for understanding.  We don't want to limit our libraries.  How could we support young readers in this conversation?  As we talked we began to think about what we wanted students to be able to consider in these beginning steps.  As we talked we realized we wanted students to make choices based upon their heart, head, and eyes.

HEART:  A book should always feel good to our heart.  There's just something that made us pick it up.  Maybe we can relate to the character.  Maybe we love the author.  Maybe the illustrations are calling us.  A book that is a good match for our heart will be a book we want to tell other readers about.

HEAD:  A book needs to be a good match for our thinking.  When we read we are trying to determine what the author wants us to know.  This means paying attention to the text, understanding characters, inferring meaning, and thinking deeply about text.  A book that is a good match for our head will be one we can think, talk, and write about.

EYE:  A book needs to have readability.  We need to be able to use our eyes (and some good reading strategies) to read the book.  This is quite simplified, I realize, but we want students to be able to choose a book they can read independently.  I don't want students to think reading is about getting the words right, but I want a way to help them understand readability is one part to consider in making book selections.

As we talked we felt that talking about these three aspects of book choice with our readers will allow us to honor all students and their choices, while giving us a way to talk about the aspects of our selections we may need to think more about.

In this way, we can honor the choices readers make for a variety of reasons in our conversations.  We can talk more about the reasons for our selections and begin to help students to think about book choice in new ways.  It will allow us to also work toward finding the sweet spot for choice where books work for our heart, our head, and our eyes.  This will allow us to talk about balance in our reading lives.  It's okay as beginning readers to pick books that speak to our hearts as that is what readers do, but some days - and more and more days - we need to choose books that bring all of the pieces together.

Other Post of Interest
Catching Readers:  Leveled Books - Questioning Our Practice Part I and Part II
Reflect and Refine:  Home Reading: It's a Reader's Choice
Reflect and Refine:  Real Reading
Jennifer Serravallo:  Choice During Independent Reading:  What's a Teacher to Do?
Education Week:  Roadblocks to Reading:  An Interview with Richard Allington

Sunday, October 11, 2015

DigiLit Sunday: Digital Reading Opportunities for Primary Learners

As I work with primary students it seems most of the digital tools they use independently are for creation.  Where would we be without tools like Padlet, Pixie, Educreations, Voicethread or Kidblog?   Among other things, these tools allow students to share their thinking in reading, publish their writing in ways we can share with the world, and build thinking around topics.  Digital composing is a part of our literacy workshops.

Finding sites for primary digital readers is something of greater challenge.  Many of the sites we use work well for shared reading.  Some of these sites students can return to, but for emergent and early readers many digital reading sites are too challenging.  Just as in reading print books, I do work to find digital texts that students will be able to engage in independently.  This is a much greater challenge when we are talking about our youngest readers.  Since participating in the #cyberPD conversation around Digital Reading:  What's Essential by Franki Sibberson and Bill Bass, I've been working to build the possibilities for the young readers I support to experience digital texts.  Here are a few of my favorites sites for emergent and early readers:

Tumble Books:  Tumble Books is a "read to me" site.  I have been a fan of this site for beginning readers for years as it has a wide variety of books available.  Many digital sites have books created specifically by developers for their sites, but Tumble Books has many of the popular picture books and early chapter books students might check out at their library available.  The only challenge of Tumble Books is that it is a paid site, but it can be accessed through many libraries including our local Columbus Metropolitan Library Tumblebooks site.

National Geographic Kids Young Explorer Magazine  Looking for informational text for young readers?  National Geographic has really kept up with needs of student readers.  No matter their product, print or digital, students enjoy finding out more with National Geographic.  The Young Explorer digital site allows readers to view and/or listen to past National Geographic magazines.  There are two versions available for reading:  Scout and Voyager.  Of course, a stop by the National Geographic Kids website can always provide additional digital material for students.

The Poem Farm with Amy Ludwig VanDerwater  It's true, I'm a bit of a poetry fan so I like to make sure digital readers have the opportunity to experience poetry.  Amy LV's site is the perfect stop for teachers as she shares so much about her writing process.  Honestly, Amy's site is one of my favorite stops for digital writing mentor texts.  You'll find her site to be helpful in planning for poetry mini lessons.  You can look up poems by topic and technique making it a great stop for shared reading as well.  However, this post is about digital reading for kids so I digress.  The reason I like this site for our youngest readers is that Amy always includes a SoundCloud version of her poem.  Students can revisit poetry and listen to her read it!  There's nothing quite like hearing a poet read her own poetry.

Storyline Online Beginning readers need to hear the sounds of books.  There's something about those wondrous words whispering in their ears through read aloud.  Storyline Online has many titles available to listen to as they are read by readers you just might know.

Unite for Literacy  This website is a must see for young readers.  Displayed as a digital bookshelf, readers may click on a title of choice.  Students can read the book independently or have a narrated voice read for them.  Words are not highlighted and the narration is a bit choppy, but this is an excellent stop for finding digital books.  Additionally, you can adjust the language to have different different languages read.  When I switched the narration I was still viewing the English text, but with the other language narration.

eBooks with Narration  Recently I noticed in my library's Overdrive site that digital titles are becoming available "with narration."  In a recent stop to Overdrive, I discovered that books are becoming available with narration.  This allows readers to view the text WHILE listening to the story being read to them.  Game changer for younger readers!  I've tried to find out more about this, but haven't been able to really get to the heart of what is available and if it will be sustainable shift in children's books.  Anyone know anything more?  Check out your library's digital reading section to see if titles are available.

Digital books with narration.
Columbus Metropolitan Library
You can see how I have been able
to locate titles available with narration.

I'm hoping to grow the list of sites available for my youngest readers.  I'd love your recommendations.

Here are some other favorite digital sites (not all are for beginning readers):

Follow Mrs. Cathy's board Reading Websites on Pinterest.

As part of a continuous collaboration among educators interested in digital learningMargaret Simon hosts a weekly Digital Learning round-up on her blog:  DigiLit Sunday.  Stop by Reflections on the Teche.  

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Creating a Reading History Archive

Some readers are already starting
to add response to their digital archives.
Talking About Our Reading Lives
Last year as parent-teacher conferences rolled around, I decided I wanted parents to be able to hear from their children.  Using Evernote presentation mode, I collected snapshots of work samples (more here) and began to create a story of these young literacy learners.  I wanted parents to be able to hear from their readers so I decided to voice record a few discussion topics for parents.  I had three basic topics of conversations with students that I recorded for parents:

  1. Tell me about yourself as a reader.
  2. What are your strengths as a reader?
  3. What are you working to improve as a reader?

I was quite surprised at how hard it was for my students to speak to these topics.  When asked to talk about themselves as readers they didn’t really know how to begin.  I would have to stop the recording to explain they could tell me anything:  books they enjoyed, authors they loved, favorite spaces to read, topics they liked to read about, where they liked to get books, who read to them - anything.  There were so many possible answers, but still they struggled to respond.  Strengths and goals came easier as we talked about these in our reading time each day.  It was at this time that I knew I needed to do a better job of helping my students to see themselves as readers and to begin to think about their reading lives.

Our Reading Lives
This is my second year working as a reading specialist supporting primary readers.  These young readers receive intervention to help them make quick gains.  Of course, this work requires teaching of many aspects of the reading process, but the part that is equally important is often the first part that gets lost in busy schedules:  developing a reading life.  Readers receiving support often have less time than peers for real reading.  It’s not uncommon for them to spend more time in groups and be given the books they are to read at home.  This leaves little time for them to find themselves as readers.

As a classroom teacher, there are so many more opportunities to support conversations around our literate lives than in the thirty minutes I have with students each day.  When I was a classroom teacher, my students kept track of the books they took home each evening.  While this helped us when books were temporarily misplaced, I found its greatest purpose was in talking about our choices in our reading lives.  Since students chose their own book to take home each evening, it became a place to begin our conversations about reading choices.  By looking at the recorded titles we could discuss the types of books selected.  Did students have favorite authors, topics, genres, or other interests?  We could also discuss the level of challenge of selections.  Were students selecting books of appropropriate challenge?  The record allowed us to look for patterns and push ourselves to grow past our places of comfort.  In reading intervention, I needed to find a way to create these same opportunities in smaller windows of time.

Rewind to my first year in reading intervention.  Families were used to a calendar that was to be initialed each evening to show students had read.  As I didn't want my students to be discouraged by the cumbersome work of writing titles, I decided to continue the practice of a calendar signature.  It wasn't long, however, until I was missing the benefits of archiving our reading history.  Without keeping track of the titles students had read, I couldn't consider their choices.  We couldn't talk about favorite titles or books that didn't really work.  We couldn't push past our places of comfort.  Most of all, I don’t think students realized how much reading they were really doing.  They weren’t seeing themselves as they readers they were becoming.  I knew I needed to find a better way to help students get to know themselves and archiving their reading life seemed a good place to start.  

Archiving Our Reading History 
There is much debate about keeping reading logs, and I am not talking about a logging system.  In an extensive search I could find little written to support their use in a classroom.  I think this is because often logs are used as a measure of accountability.  Students are given a particular system, often parents are expected to sign and enforce, and parameters are placed on reading.  This is really the opposite of what we hope to accomplish.  We really hope our systems will ignite a fire in our readers, yet this rarely happens.  Unintentionally we seem to discourage our real readers and frustrate those we are trying to bring on board. We hope our systems will:

  • encourage student ownership of reading
  • provide opportunities for choice and self-selection
  • connect home and school reading
  • help readers connect with other readers
  • open a world of reading opportunity for our students
  • begin conversations around reading with peers and in our reading communities
  • help students to grow into different types of reading
  • shift students toward intentional decision making
  • make students more metacognitive about their reading lives
  • most of all, fall in love with reading

This year I wrestled for weeks about archiving reading.  There are systems available through sites like Bookopolis and Biblionasium.  There are possibilities for keeping track of reading in writing or using Google docs.  I didn't want a cumbersome system, but I did want to be able to talk about choices.  I don’t think the vehicle matters as much as the purpose.  

I did want these readers to realize how much reading they were doing across a year.  I wanted them to begin to see themselves as the readers I knew they were.  I wanted them to be able to talk about the books they were choosing.  I wanted them to tell me about favorite books, authors, and genres.  I knew I wasn’t concerned about the parent signature.  Yes, I needed to get parents to help support reading at home, but it seemed to me I needed something better than a signature on a calendar.  Honestly, I knew I had students the previous year who hadn’t read, but had signed calendars and those that had read in which calendars remained unsigned.  I decided to help these readers grow their reading lives I needed to start with them.  I needed to help them own their lives as readers, connect with others, and learn to talk about books.  

To accomplish this, it seemed I needed to start with two changes.  First of all, I felt I needed to work within classroom take home systems.  Many of the students I work with are able to self-select books so I helping them to learn to make smart choices seems something I shouldn’t overlook.  Secondly, I wanted a way they could archive their reading so that they could reflect on their reading lives.

Our Reading Walls
After much consideration I decided to create reading walls for each student on Padlet.  There are many ways I could have accomplished having a reading archive, but I wanted something students would be able to own and would have continuous access. Padlet seemed an easy way to keep track of the books we were reading. We could take pictures of our books to add to our wall and easily add text or links as well.

  • Each student has their own digital reading wall.
  • Students have a QR code that will take them directly to their wall attached to their reading bags. This goes home with them each evening and is in the classroom during the day.
  • Students just snap a picture of their book selection and place it on their wall.
  • This creates a reading archive or record of some of the reading they have been doing and provides a starting point for continued conversation about our reading lives.

Growing Our Walls
I would never want a system that makes students not want to read.  The ease of this system should make it seamless.  We will only be adding the books students are selecting for home reading.  Using Padlet will allow students to grow their walls in new ways if they choose to do so.  For me, it is important they are able to make the choices about how they will use their wall. Some ways I envision readers might want to grow their wall:

  • adding books read in class
  • adding books read beyond the school day
  • staging pictures of books read in favorite spaces
  • adding comments about books
  • including a personal written book recommendation
  • adding links to more information about the book
  • writing reflections on paper or in digital spaces and link them to the wall

If our goal is to truly help readers to develop their reading lives, we have to ask hard questions about our systems for home reading.  Who is choosing the books?  Are students required to do certain reading?  How are students keeping track of reading?  Are our systems cumbersome for students?  Do our systems free students up to read or distract from our intent? I'm hoping I've found an authentic way for students to archive their reading histories to allow for purposeful conversation about the choices we make in our reading lives.

Graphic Novel Celebration: Toon Books for Beginning Readers

If you haven't heard, today and every Thursday in October is a day to celebrate graphic novels.  Thanks to Franki Sibberson and Mary Lee Hahn of A Year of ReadingAlyson Beecher of KidLit FrenzyTammy Mulligan and Clare Landrigan of Assessment in Perspective; and the Nerdy Book Club Community for bringing this community together.  

This week I continue my search for graphic novels for our youngest readers and return to an old favorite recommendation for the celebration:  Toon Books.  Several years ago, Katie DiCesare shared the possibility of Toon Books with me.  Toon Books are small graphic stories that students will enjoy reading.  I have found this series to be a smart recommendation for young readers because:
  1. They vary in level of difficulty.  
  2. Students can read the book in print or digital copy (some titles).
  3. The titles available online will read to students (in a variety of languages).
  4. Stories are engaging.
I find Toon Books to be useful in introducing graphic formats in read aloud or shared reading to readers.  I've added several to my classroom library as students enjoy reading and rereading these stories.  If you haven't seen Toon Books, they are worth checking out.  

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Close Reading with Primary Children

Close Reading
As a teacher of reading, I work hard to keep my instruction balanced.  It is easy to get caught up in trends and lose the balance our readers need between developing efficient reading skills and strategies, being able to think and talk deeply about books, and growing their love of reading.  There has been much talk around close reading.  I work to keep a thoughtful ear on these educational conversations, but am often concerned these discussions may throw classrooms, teachers, and students out of balance if close reading is not implemented with care.

When the words "read closely" were added to the Common Core standards the buzz about "close reading" began.  I'm still trying to learn more.  It's a bit hard to imagine how these two words which are a small percentage of all the words used in our common core gained such a spotlight.  It wasn't long until I was receiving tweets asking what "close reading" might look like for primary students.  I'll be honest, these conversations for our youngest readers worried me a bit.  Emergent and beginning readers are taking their first steps into books and it seems to me if I don't connect their hearts to books I'll never be able to open their minds.  The hard work of close reading, if not carefully balanced in our reading instruction could easily turn off our more reluctant readers.

Close Reading with Our Youngest Readers
There are those who know and understand much more about close reading than I do, but it seems close reading should look different for a six year old than it does for a sixteen year old.  When I think about close reading for our youngest children, I want to be thoughtful and intentional about the decisions I make.  What do students understand?  What do they need as readers?  What is developmentally appropriate practice for young children taking their first steps into a literate world?

Our work as early literacy teachers is to nurture and grow the talk around books.  I want students to say/think, "I read ____ (part of text) so I _____ (think/wonder)."  I hope to foster curiosity, develop oral language, grow a love of books, and bring joy to these young readers.  These conversations carry across read aloud, shared reading, small group reading opportunities, and into independent reading.  For these reasons, I'm wondering if close reading for our youngest learners might mean:
  • Rereading when you are confused
  • Asking questions when you wonder
  • Stopping in the moments that surprise you
  • Noticing when something touches your heart
A New Lens
With interest, and a head full of questions, I've been fortunate to listen to Chris Lehman speak on different occasions.  Most recently, I have listened to him talk about close reading at the Dublin Literacy Conference (last February) and Ohio's Literacy Connection (on October 3rd).  I've read his work about close reading and have been thinking about it a lot.  After listening to him speak I can envision him with his students, bringing joy to reading as readers look closely at text and see things through a new lens.  You can see from the collection of tweets that his conversations around close reading have been inspiring.

His work, along with the work of others leading the close reading conversation, has had me doing a lot of thinking about our younger readers.  I still have a lot of questions about the developmental appropriateness of this practice, the frequency, the intention, the ownership, and the lens we would consider with our youngest literacy learners.  

Chris Lehman reminds us that close reading should be:
  • highly engaging and joyful
  • lead to student independence
  • part of a balanced diet of reading instruction
  • one method in our toolbox
I appreciated his suggestions for developing emergent habits for close reading.  He reminded us of the importance of supporting our youngest learners in purposeful focus.  For our youngest readers, close reading might be a way to have them look, point, and use information from the text to grow their thinking.  His examples of using this purposeful focus in looking at, not just text but, the world through the eyes of our students might help them to think about their world with a more thoughtful eye.  His examples of using songs, commercials, and favorite items to zoom in on a small part to think about it in a new way were helpful in thinking of how we can look closely and talk about our world together.  

I'm looking forward to the continued conversation across the year with Ohio's Literacy Connection colleagues --- and another day in April with Chris Lehman to hear more about his thinking.  

Sunday, October 4, 2015

DigiLit Sunday: The Global Read Aloud 2015

DigiLit Sunday seems the perfect day to talk about digital reading and connecting with other learning communities through the Global Read Aloud.  It all starts tomorrow!  I will be participating with students in the conversation around picture books by author, Amy Krouse Rosenthal.  I'm so excited she has been chosen for this year's event.  Of course, if you're not a primary teacher there are other titles featured for students at a variety of age ranges.

As a reading intervention teacher, my plan is to take one day each week to read the title being discussed with students I support whose classes aren't participating #gra15.  We will then likely take time to post on our blog and join the conversation with other classrooms via the hashtag #graAMY.  I'm never quite sure where the event will go so I just dive in and get started.  The connections and next steps seem to become obvious once we begin.  Across the years I've learned to trust the process.

I've found certain benefits to be true year after year:
  • Students get excited about the featured author.
  • Students begin to notice patterns in the author's work. 
  • Students find authentic ways to respond and talk about the featured titles.
  • Students learn to talk about books in connected conversations.
  • Twitter allows us to see what others are thinking about the titles featured.
  • Twitter allows us to connect with other classrooms around the world.
  • Students talk about the author across the year.  
I'm looking forward to joining the Global Read Aloud with my students.  You can sign up for the Global Read Aloud here.  Thanks to Pernille Ripp for getting us organized.  I hope you'll join the global conversation.  Who's in?

As part of a continuous collaboration among educators interested in digital learningMargaret Simon hosts a weekly Digital Learning round-up on her blog:  DigiLit Sunday.  Stop by Reflections on the Teche.  

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Graphic Novel Celebration: Week 1 Mr. Pants

If you haven't heard, today and every Thursday in October is a day to celebrate graphic novels.  Thanks to Franki Sibberson and Mary Lee Hahn of A Year of ReadingAlyson Beecher of KidLit FrenzyTammy Mulligan and Clare Landrigan of Assessment in Perspective; and the Nerdy Book Club Community for bringing this community together.  

The celebration might have slipped right past me in these busy first days if Tammy and Clare hadn't brought it to my attention.

I have to admit that I still have a lot to learn about graphic novels.  I've read a few, but there are so many more I would like to get to know.  Additionally, I think there are considerations for making meaning in graphic novels that readers need to understand - and I'm still trying to figure out myself.  As a reading intervention teacher, I believe graphic novels are one way to provide new possibilities for my developing readers.  For this reason, I have been wanting to spend time reading graphic titles for my young readers.  The #gncelebration seemed the perfect motivation.

Graphic Novels for Young Readers 
This week, I am starting with Mr. Pants:  It's Go Time by Scott McCormick and illustrated by R. H. Lazzell.  Mr. Pants really wants to play laser tag.  He has cleaned his room --- according to him --- and should get his summer reward.  His mom isn't so sure.  She instead focuses her attention on the younger siblings.  Mr. Pants isn't happy.  How will he get his mom to take him to laser tag?

Students will enjoy the humor in the story as Mr. Pants works to get his way: playing with a box,  going to a Fairy Princess Dream Factory, trying to get even with his little sister.  Students will laugh over the antics of Mr. Pants.

Mr. Pants will make a great read for developing readers.  The way the book is divided into chapters helps to make the meaning clearer for young readers.  For the developing readers I support, having a "chapter book" helps them to fit into their reading communities.  Best of all, there is no short cut on making meaning in this book.  Readers will have to use chapter titles, character conversation, sequence of events, and illustrations to fully understand the story.  However, there is less text which makes it more manageable for students still working to gain stamina in reading.

I'm looking forward to spending Thursdays in October getting to know more about graphic novels.  I hope you'll share your favorites and join the conversation.  Join the #GNcelebration Google Community here.