Igniting the Love for Reading: My Top 5 Secrets Revealed!
My first five years teaching, my goal was to get students to pass the end of year reading test.
Being dropped into a testing grade your first year is wild, especially if you have admin that are score-focused.
You can only imagine the anxiety I felt when I returned from maternity leave my 3rd year in the classroom on the day of the reading state test!
Spoiler Alert: my kids bombed.
This will come as a surprise to noone, but even though I left 6 weeks of meticulous plans for my long term sub, me not being there to deliver the instruction myself really affected my student’s prep.
The real WTF moment came when I was pulled into my principal’s office and told that I was being “red flagged” to the associate superintendent because of my low scores.
You would think the fact that I spent the 6 weeks leading up to the test out of the building literally birthing a human would have earned me some empathy, but you would be wrong.
Anway, I left that office and thought, “forget this!” It’s one test on one day and I wasn’t going to spend all year stressing and prepping 8 year olds for a test just so that upper managment would be happy, they didn’t care about me anyway.
Every school year since 2013 has been different for me. My focus is different.
I spend all year growing a love of books and reading in my students and intentionally building them into life long readers.
This also probably won’t come as a surprise to you, but my scores have gone way up over the years since I changed my focus, some years even pulling 100% pass (me as a new teacher would have fainted)!
Even though I’ve taught third grade for 12 years, being departmentalized has allowed me to teach reading to over 20 classes of students and I’ve learned many things along the way.
The most important being that if I focus on getting the kids to want to read everyday, the rest comes so much easier.
When I sat down to write this blog post, I asked myself, “What are some of the most important things I do the first week of school, and all school year, to turn my students from reluctant readers into life-long ones?“
I came up with 5 main points:
- Explicitly teaching them how to “real” read.
- Giving them independent reading time at the top of each ELA block.
- Sharing the books I am reading in my own life.
- Introducing them to new genres, series, and authors.
- Reading aloud to them every single day.
These 5 are some of my tried and trues. Each one of the main point above provides my students with value. Keep reading for the what, why, and how of each of my points.
I look at the beginning of the year as a blank slate. I make no assumptions that my students are coming from a teacher or home where they practiced “real” reading behaviors. I spend the first two weeks of each school year explictly telling my students the what, how, and why behind independent reading.
I teach my student what real reading looks like and what it does not look like (finding a good fit book, staying in one place, not “shopping” for books during reading time, not looking around the room, etc). We also discuss why it’s important to real read and what the growth of a “real” reader vs. a “fake” reader will look like throughout the year.
I introduce this every year with a series of 10 lessons in my Building Readers Slides. If you want to save time planning without compromising the quality of the lessons or the set up of your reading block for the year, you can check out my slides here.
Once my students know what “real” reading behaviors are expected during independent reading time, we practice. We practice every single day. For the first couple of weeks I chart of reading stamina on a graph that shows how long the class was able to exhibit real reading behaviors, our goal is 20 minutes.
During our independent reading block, I am activly monitoring the class and giving feedback every so often like “I love how Sasha is settled with her book box”, “Everyone in here is doing a great job focusing right now”, or “I see some fake reading because people’s eyes are looking around and not in their book”. I’ve found that this type of feedback every few minutes keeps them focused and motivated as they are learning my expectations and building a new habit.
Once October hits, you could hear a pin drop in my classroom during our reading block. The vast majority of my students are engaged in their books and real reading. When my class reaches this point, I start pulling stuents for one-on-one reading conferences during this time.
I’ve experimented with my schedule over the years, but I’ve found that keeping indpendent reading first in my ELA block is not only a good transition over from whatever we were just doing, but shows my students that it is our proproty. It also keeps reading from being the thing cut when my lesson runs over.
Sharing My Reading
The beauty of teching elementary is that students just want please their teachers and be just like them.
I’ve found that sharing what I’m reading engages the students because I’m sharing my personal life. They like to hear what books I’m into and what I do at home.
I use these conversations to model behaviors like abandoning a book or following up with a story I loved. I might say things like: “I started this book set in the Wild West about an outlaw but a few chapters in I realized I don’t like historical fiction that much so I decided to move on.” or “I could not put down the last book I read about a magical forest fairy. I was so sad when it ended that I immediately looked up other books the author had written.”
These conversations usually take place informally as students are eating breakfast, during transitions, or whenever we have down time and are just chatting. I’ve also loudly had these type of conversations with my coteachers while students are in earshot because not only do they love to eavesdrop, but it’s good for them to hear how peers can discuss books with one another.
Introducing Students to Books
Even if both your school library and your classroom library are bursting at the seams, the majority of students will go straight for what they know and stay there. Intentionally introducing your students to new genres, series, and authors helps to broaden their interests and find new books that might just be the perfect fit.
A few ways I introduce my students to new books throughout the year is by using my book display rack and by first chapter Fridays.
Every month (sometimes twice a month) I switch out the books in my book display rack. The displays always have a theme and just seeing new books up front, in their line of vision all day is enough to entice students to pick them up and check them out. My students love when I set out a new display and automatically try to find the theme. A few themes I’ve used are wordless books, nonfiction, Black History, poetry, etc. I try to tie it to current events or celebration months.
First Chapter Fridays is an idea I first heard about on social media. Please tag me if you know where this originated as it’s been a few years that I’ve been doing it and I’m not sure who came up with this genius idea.
Every Friday I choose a chapter book and read the first chapter to my students. My kids are always eager to see what book I will choose. I tend to go for books that students don’t normally choose based on the cover. I also try to choose books that have multiple copies in the building or are a part of a series, this way if multiple students want to add the book to their book box afterward, I have options.
A while ago, I started occasionally including picture books in First Chapter Fridays. I choose a longer picture book and read until I get to a great place to pause for predictions.
Daily Read Alouds
If I do nothing else in a school day, I will always read a loud to my students. There are so many reasons why but the bottomline is that behind independent reading, listening to a fleunt reader daily has a huge impact on reading growth. Not to mention the community building aspect of sharing a story or learning something new together a class.
You can read more about the why and how of my daily read alouds here. I discuss how I created resources to make turning any read aloud into a lesson simple and I’ve even linked a freebie there for you!
I could talk about this all day, so I decided to try out something new…
I’ll be hosting 2 webinars this summer going into detail about these 5 strategies plus even more that didn’t fit in this post. I’ll be answering questions and giving you a peek inside my classroom. If you’d like to be notified when the webinar takes place, drop your email below my signature!
Talk to you soon,