Reading aloud to a group of students has always been one of my favorite parts of being a teacher. Getting to share my love of reading with the children, seeing their reactions as the story unfolds and hearing their connections as they relate to the story has been so enjoyable for me.
However, not all of our students find reading so enjoyable. I have tried over the years to help my students find their own love of reading, become proficient readers and keep them on track with their growth as readers. Seeing children struggle has been a concern for me.
Recently I was able to go to my local library with students from my school to ring the Literacy Bell. The Literacy Bell is a large, cast iron farmhouse dinner bell that all of the kindergarten and 1st-grade students from the local elementary schools ring when they have completed reading their first book. Watching the little 1st-graders ring the bell with such pride, knowing that they had read their own book, was a moment I will never forget. They cheered on their classmates as they rang the bell and jumped for joy that they were all readers.
Unfortunately, not every child sees themselves as a good reader. Some children may even say they hate reading. So what do we do to grow our readers? The answer: plant the seeds for the love of reading.
The best way to plant the seed is to focus on each child. Look at each individual student to determine their needs as a reader. Fluency checks to determine how many words per minute a child is reading, miscue analysis to identify specific errors the child is making as they read and running records to help determine the reading level or progress a child has made will help you determine where each child is in his or her current reading abilities. These tools will help you identify patterns in each student’s reading behaviors and will give you a place to start when determining what each child needs to make growth as a reader.
Knowing the students individually is a great start, but one of the most important ways to grow readers is simply by reading. Students need time with text to become proficient readers.
I always encouraged the parents of my students to spend at least 20 minutes each day reading with their child. I know that our lives are busy and this doesn’t always get to happen, so I also gave my students at least 20 minutes of reading in my classroom too. They were allowed to read books of their choice, which usually makes reading more enjoyable for them.
I would talk to the students about the books they were reading each day and help them to think deeper about the text. I would ask them questions to help them be metacognitive and think about their own thinking as they were reading. I would ask them questions such as what are you thinking, what are you wondering, how has your thinking changed and what do you think is important here.
Allowing students to read for at least 20 minutes in class each day was always part of my reader’s workshop. The workshop model has four basic parts: the opening used to introduce the learning target, a mini-lesson of direct instruction, work time and share out. Using a reader’s workshop allowed me to explicitly model the reading strategies during my 10 to 15 minute mini-lesson and think aloud about the texts we were reading
The best part of reader’s workshop was always our “Share Square.” The Share Square was a time that all students would sit around the perimeter of the carpet to talk to their classmates about the books they had been reading and share their thinking about the texts. This was an opportunity for students to hear how their classmates understood the texts they were reading, make connections between texts and discover new books they might like to read themselves.
The Share Square also was a time for me to do some anecdotal records – or notes for myself – based on the observations I made of my readers. I was able to hear who truly understood their books and who would need more support.
Focusing on building a student’s stamina for reading and getting them to keep a growth mindset is also important for reluctant readers. Students need to be able to have stamina to focus and read independently for long periods of time without getting off task. Having a growth mindset means the child believes he or she can get smarter through hard work and practice. We have to help students to believe in themselves as readers and believe that with dedication, they will and can improve.
I often would read aloud books to my students like Mia Hamm’s “Winners Never Quit,” Kate DeCamillo’s “The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane,” and “The Most Magnificent Thing” by Ashley Spires. These books all have characters who were learning to build their physical or mental stamina, persevering and never giving up. We would talk about how the characters set goals and worked to achieve them, just as we do as readers.
I would use the read aloud time to model my own thinking and use of the reading comprehension strategies too. For example, I would stop in the middle of reading one of these books and point to my head and say, “Are you wondering what I am thinking? What can we learn from this character? What lesson is it trying to teach us?” We would talk about the difference between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset and set goals for the students’ reading.
Finally, just as a garden grows in time, so do our readers. If we start nurturing each child early, hopefully they will grow strong roots as readers and develop the love of reading.
Belinda Furman is the curriculum specialist at Mason-Corinth Elementary School. She is in her 18th year at Grant County Schools. She taught last year at Sherman Elementary as a 2nd-grade teacher and her first 16 years at Dry Ridge Elementary. Furman earned her bachelor’s degree from Northern Kentucky University, her master’s degree in instructional leadership from Eastern Kentucky University, and achieved her Rank 1 through National Board certification. She is the 2018 Kentucky Elementary Teacher of the Year.