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Setting Up the Year With Reading Independence in Mind

By Gravity Goldberg
 | Sep 13, 2016
september calendar 091316

Our students’ learning and independence happen one intentional moment at a time. As we start the school year, just how do we best plan for these incremental steps toward truly independent and engaged readers?  I’ve found it helpful to focus on a handful of key milestones each month so I don’t become overwhelmed and distracted by everything I want to accomplish across the year. In this post I share Reading Milestone Calendarsthat remind us of the key moments in our fall reading classrooms.

What to focus on in September

Although focusing solely on structures in September to create a solid management routine can be tempting, I’ve found that getting independent reading up and going from the start is equally important. On the very first day of school and every single day afterward, I make sure students have books in their hands that they can read and actually want to read.

Students can organize books in the classroom into bins by category and topic—and not only is this task great for reading, but it’s also a terrific ice breaker. Students create labels for these book bins such as “Tear Jerkers,” “For Dreamers,” “Crime Solvers” and “For Adventure Seekers.” Rather than label the books by reading level, I suggest you keep the level on the inside or cover of the book. When choosing topics for the larger categories and labels for book bins think, “What would kids actually say to one another in a book talk?” Students tend to be motivated and engaged by topics they care about much more than a reading level label.

Getting students turning pages is one thing, but it’s jump-starting our own curiosity as teachers that matters most, because our reading instruction is only as good as the quality of our last mining expedition. As I’ve written about in my book, Mindsets and Moves (Corwin 2016), right from the start of the school year we can take on the role of a Miner, uncovering what—and how—each of our students read. In order to get to know students well and value who they are as people and readers, we observe them in action, talk about their process, and listen to them read. By getting to know students well, we can make sound instructional decisions for the rest of the school year.

By mid-September, assess your students’ current reading stamina and set a goal for how much more they will be able to read by the end of the month. If they can read for seven minutes on day one, aim for about 15 to 20 minutes in a few weeks. You can chart your progress, share strategies for building focus, and talk honestly about setbacks and challenges. Stamina is developed over time and requires our patience.

By the end of the month (if not a little sooner) introduce students to their reading notebooks. A reading notebook is not a place to complete assignments for the teacher. Instead, it is a place for students to document and develop their thinking about the texts they read. Give students choices right from the start about what they write down and how they choose to write it. Show examples of structures such as a timeline, t-chart, bullets, and visuals, but allow students to decide what works for them. Build excitement for these notebooks by having a gallery walk of decorated notebooks, discussing how you will use them in the coming year, and letting students know they are in charge of what and how to record their thinking. These notebooks become a boon to conferring and formative assessment.

A third initiative in the march toward independence is to dare to make yourself known as an independent reader. We have known for years about the benefits of sharing with students the magazines we read to relax with on trips, favorite authors, guilty pleasure “commercial” fiction or “geeky” science reads, but this September and throughout the year, model your mindset and goals as a reader. Spend time every week in your read-alouds, minilessons, and conferences showing students how you reflect on your strengths and challenges and then how you go about forming personalized goals for yourself. For example, I might share how I tend to focus so much on predicting the plot that I read too fast and miss out on some of the author’s vivid language and word choices.  Once you have modeled this process, invite students to do the same. No need to worry if the goals are “good” yet; instead, focus on the process of setting a goal, as this helps students develop ownership of their reading lives. Students can work with a partner to talk through their self-reflections and help each other choose strategies that will help them accomplish their goals.

The Reading Milestones Calendar offers these reminders and reflective questions you can use when planning for September. There’s a link at the end of this post so you can print your own.

What to focus on in October

If we look ahead to October, we can build on the solid foundation we laid in the previous month. Much of the work we began in September will carry over such as building stamina and reflecting on and setting new goals. We also continue to get to know our students well taking on the role of a Miner.

Begin a weekly book talk ritual in your classroom by giving students approximately 10 minutes to share some of their book recommendations with a partner or small group. Older students can write reviews or create a class Goodreads account or book talk blog. Model how to give a book talk and how to sell your book so others will want to read it. We know books become popular when students tell one another about them, so create space where students talk about books on a regular basis.

While continuing to be a miner, take on the role of a mirror, offering feedback to students about how they are reading and what is working for them. Like a mirror, you reflect back on them their own process as readers, which is profoundly supportive to students’ independence and self-concept as readers. When we take the time to explain to students that we see them, really see them, and value all they already know how to do, we build a respectful and trusting relationship. In so doing, before jumping in and teaching new strategies, you are supporting what students already know how to do by reinforcing it and explaining how it helps them as readers. Students will be more willing to develop ownership and independence when they trust you and feel safe to take risks in the classroom. This mirroring work is all part of moving students from a fixed mindset about their abilities to a growth mindset.

You’ll find some reminders of these milestones in the October calendar. You can print your own copies of both of these calendars here.

Good luck with your reading milestones! Remember: Nothing is accomplished overnight. Be patient with yourself and your students, and don’t forget to record your celebrations on this calendar too. Time to celebrate gives us a boost and motivation to go after the next one.

Gravity Goldberg headshot-2Gravity Goldberg is a literacy consultant and author of Mindsets and Moves: Strategies That Help Readers Take Charge (Corwin, 2015) and coauthor of Conferring With Readers: Supporting Each Student’s Growth and Independence(Heinemann, 2007) in addition to managing her blog. This post is one in a series on how teachers can create more independence in the classroom by embracing new roles. She also can be reached via Twitter


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