Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Significance of Talk in Reader's Workshop

The Significance of Talk
You won't walk into my classroom and find absolute quiet.  I believe students learn through collaboration and conversation so I create opportunities for talk.  Students have partners to "turn and talk" during focus lessons and read alouds, students talk to other student authors during writer's workshop, they are able to read with friends during reader's workshop, and there are opportunities across our day to have friends assist and challenge thinking.

Of course, talk isn't always easy to manage.  Some students prefer a quieter room for working.  We have to discuss and reach a shared understanding about what we want our classroom to sound like during learning times.  We talk a lot about talk that helps us to learn.  What does it sound like?  What is it about?  Students learn tricks for keeping talk soft.  We discuss often the importance of keeping our conversations about learning.  Students know what to do if a conversation gets too far off track.

Often as I'm conferring with individuals or working with small groups during Reader's Workshop, I wonder about the conversations taking place around books.  I often wish I could just place little microphones around the room so I could reflect on the talk in our classroom and highlight examples of smart talk for our community.

Talk is important for students, but listening is important for teachers.

Lessons from Readers
Last week, I was busily conferring with readers after which I pulled a small group of students to work on inferring.  Throughout the group, I kept watching three boys who were congregated around a magazine.  They were obviously quite caught up with the magazine, but the volume level of their conversation was ever increasing.  I do not like to have to interrupt a conference with a student or a conversation with a group to redirect kids in the classroom, but it was all I could do to wait for that group to end so I could go over to get those boys redirected.

Luckily, I've learned over the years to ask kids about the work they are doing before redirecting them.  So I sat down beside the boys and asked, "What are you reading?"

They quickly showed me the front of this magazine that had them so caught up in discussion.  One of the students had purchased Predator Showdown, a Scholastic publication, at a recent bookfair.

"What have you been talking about?" I asked.

"Which is more powerful:  an alligator or a shark?"  they replied.  The three did not agree on which was more powerful and they quickly filled me in on the conversation.  They took me to several parts of the magazine to prove their thinking.  This magazine was full of graphs, charts, pictures, captions, and text with evidence.  They flipped from the page to the back of the magazine and then to the front, back and forth.  Though they didn't agree, each had good evidence to prove their current thinking.  They listened.  They talked.  They showed.  They debated.

So while I had been working with a group to infer, these three boys were busy putting this into practice in an authentic and engaging debate about animal power.  Talk is significant.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Real Reading

When Franki and Mary Lee at A Year of Reading asked me to join the round-up of discussion regarding "Love of Reading vs. Homework" which is part of a larger literacy conversation taking place at Share a Story: Shape a Future, I couldn't resist.  My students choose their reading each evening.  We don't really think of it as homework.  It's more of an opportunity to take home the books in our classroom to share with our families.  Books from read-alouds are among the favorites going home each evening.  

The Significance of Choice
Parent-Teacher conferences were held in our district a few weeks ago.  A father of one of my students was chatting and asking questions about his child's progress when he commented, 
"We can't skip reading at night.  Ella loves to read stories, and if we don't have time she just isn't happy.  I'm amazed at how well she is reading, but I'm really surprised by how much she knows about books and authors.  I don't remember knowing about authors when I was in school --- and she's just in first grade."  
I give Ella credit for her success.  She loves to read and can be found with books throughout the day.  She loves going to the library to get new books.  An artist in the making, she's as excited about the work of the illustrator as she is about the work of the author.  Ella is a first grader and she's learning how to read, but she's learning something much more important.  She's learning to live the life of a reader.  

As a first grade teacher I've always thought it was important to send books home with kids.  However, my thinking about how this should look in our classroom has evolved over time.  Over the years I've transitioned from having students take home the books they read with me in guided reading to having students make their own thoughtful selections each evening.  It seemed more purposeful to have children choose their own books, learn to make their own selections, and develop their love of reading.

Recently I wrote about having students select their own books to take home at night.  After publishing this post I was asked, "Do you ever worry if a student never chooses a "just right" book to take home to practice?  A lot of my parents really want their child bringing home a book they can read independently.  Thoughts?"  I think we all wrestle with this.  Being intentional about the books I place in our classroom library helps support young readers.  When considering books for our classroom libraries we are accommodating a variety of reading levels and individual interests.  

Intentional Choices for Supporting Developing Readers

Author Collections 
Author collections support developing readers.  Authors often use similar styles, formats, and vocabulary across texts.  In our classroom authors like Mo Willems, Jan Thomas, Robert Munsch, Eric Carle, and David Shannon help young readers not only fall in love with books, but help them to learn about reading.  

A Basket of Favorites  
In our classroom we pause to read aloud several times each day.  Choosing books for read aloud that students will be able to revisit and reread after hearing the story is always a priority.  We keep a basket of favorite books chosen by our class.  
Familiar Stories 
Stories that are familiar to students are easier to read independently.  Fairy tales and song books are obvious choices for familiar stories.  Students can often read a variety of versions successfully because of their familiarity with the plot, characters and stories.  

A Variety of Levels of Books 
Each basket of books in our classroom contains books at a variety of levels.  We spend a lot of time early in the year learning how to choose books that are of an appropriate challenge.  These baskets allow a variety of readers to sit down and find a book that is a good match.  
Favorite Characters 
My students always enjoy books with strong characters.  Our classroom library has many character collections for students to enjoy.  Some of our favorites include Froggy, Spot, Ben, Biscuit, Marley, The Bear Family, Tacky, Splat the Cat, and Bear.  When students become familiar with a character it is often easier for them to read new books about this character.  

Little Books
We have a few baskets of little books in our classroom.  While these books can be found leveled in our bookroom, these baskets are not leveled.  I usually place books across several levels with similar text features in the same basket.  Honestly, kids read from these baskets here and there, but rarely do they choose books from these baskets to take home.  

Shared Reading   
Having a collection of small copies of books we have read together in shared reading is helpful to developing readers.  I find these collections to be most useful with kindergarten students and beginning first graders.  Readers who need confidence benefit from these collections.  

Individual Reading Bags 
Students have a bag they keep with their individual books.  Books in this bag include Keep Books, books from guided reading, as well as books students have chosen to revisit.  

Thanks Asha Ruiz (@asharuiz) for the inspiration for this post.