Bear with me here, but I get pretty excited when it comes to reading. This week, I assessed most of my students on their reading levels (with help from my awesome Trent University Teacher Candidate), and I was absolutely thrilled to see the progress they’ve made. (I’m sure I’m supposed to maintain a neutral expression as they read, but if any child looked up he or she would have seen the silly grin on my face!)
Our school board uses the PM Benchmark program, and what happens is that I sit with the child, give them an introduction to the story, and they read it to me. I keep a running record of their errors, which can be helpful when figuring out if they’re substituting words that look the same (hat/hot), or mean the same (hat/cap), and what words they’re still having trouble with. Then the child retells the story to me and orally answers a few pre-set reading comprehension questions. Their percentage of accuracy, combined with their comprehension, tells me what level they have reached in the program.
Some ideas I incorporate in my class to support reading (this list is by all means not exhaustive; just a few highlights):
Self-selected reading: For 20 minutes a day, every day, the students are allowed to find a cozy spot in the room to silently read material of their choosing. In September we have to do a lot of work on how to choose a just-right book, so that the time they spend reading each day can really help “grow their brains”. Regularly choosing books that are too challenging, or way too easy, won’t be beneficial for them. I truly believe that the best way to improve reading is to read. Crazy, I know, but compared to worksheets and drills out of context, reading material that they’re interested in is so motivational and authentic. For children who really struggle, especially those with learning disabilities, there are some great direct instruction (rote drill) type programs that are very successful (our school board uses Empower, which is taught to small groups by the Special Education Resource Teacher), but I always want to combine that with high-interest books as well.
The kids love to read somewhere other than their desks!
An extensive classroom library: We do visit the school library once a week, but in the classroom there are hundreds of books students can access as often as necessary. Bins are labelled by genre or book series. I never label based on reading level, which some educators might disagree with, but I also provide each student with a handful of leveled books from our school “book room” to keep in their desks to supplement their own choices, so they always have material they can handle. Points earned from Scholastic book orders really help to build the library, as well as donations from families and thrift shop finds. I allow students to borrow books with no sign-out system, and to take books home at will. I trust the families, and if a couple of books go missing along the way by accident it’s still totally worth it. (I’ve had many books returned months and even years later, when families discover them at home!)
“Featured Book” rack: This is where I place books we’ve read in class (it can be very helpful for kids to reread books that they’ve heard as read-alouds) and titles that go along with a subject of study (e.g. Black History Month, liquids and solids).
Grade 8 buddies: Once a week for half an hour we meet up with our buddies from the Grade 8 room. Sometimes I visit the older classroom first to talk about what strategy/skill the Grade 2/3s are working on, and some days there’s a writing component or I even switch it up and have them work 1 to 1 on a math task, but usually it’s another solid chunk of reading time.
After school program: In January, I set up weekly after school program where a few of my students stay for an hour and read with local high school students looking to earn their volunteer requirements. I can really see the difference it’s making for those kids.
At-home-reading: No rules, no reading logs. (I'm a parent; I get it!) I find students a short book, at the right level, from the book room, make a note in my binder, and send it home. When the student can read it fluently (sometimes this is the next day, sometimes weeks later), it gets returned and exchanged for a new one. That’s it.
Before I wrap up, I want to make sure I’m clear that there’s a whole lot more to reading than the scores: I can see the kids’ interest levels have shot up, parents tell me they’re reading more at home (and more willingly), the students can show their comprehension and share their thoughts about reading material much more adeptly, they say "YES!" when I announce they have extra time to read – but there’s also something to be said for cold, hard data, and seeing those numbers go up really does give me a thrill. (By the way, I don’t share the actual levels with the students, we just talk about their progress in descriptive terms, but I do update parents with notes in the planners.)
A grandmother of one of my students stopped me after Mass on the weekend to tell me how impressed she is with the gains her grandson has made. While teaching kids to read is most definitely “my job”, it’s certainly nice to get that acknowledgment. I’m also very aware that the progress happens much more quickly when there’s support at home as well, so I’m definitely not doing it alone!
So there you have it – the highlight of my week! It might help the kids too that their teacher is a voracious reader. On tap for the weekend: catching up on my favourite magazines on Next Issue, and reading Funny Girl by Nick Hornby. Can’t wait!