Building a Reading Community

Kathleen Tolan
My morning session Monday was with Kathleen Tolan - senior director of TCRWP, author of several books including some of the new Units of Study

Kathleen spoke passionately about building a reading community.  Below I am sharing my notes that still may sound a little disjointed even after I reread and filled in but I left what I felt was important or worth repeating.  I am italicizing her thoughts that are some direct quotes and some paraphrased by me.

How do we really think about building a reading community?  It is essential.  We will be holding on to it all year long. Most of the kids you teach have a broken relationship with reading, only a few have a good one.  Some of these essentials maybe weren’t addressed earlier you can’t make assumptions that they have heard of it before.   

When trying to develop curriculum it’s hard because you are always being given more things to stir in the pot and never one to take out.  And reading affects ALL content areas.  Reading has to matter in a school as a whole.  In every classroom.  Make things in your school that display that reading matters... Photos, displays of book reflections, book ads...  We have lots of assessment data but we need to think of the kid as a reader.  If you were making a timeline as a reader what would be on it?  Let kids talk about themselves as readers.  If they had a great experience reading what were the components of that?  If kids had a bad experience what were the components of that.  Lists of favorites and why they are favorites. Conversations with readers about their lives as readers.  Some kids who are avid readers lose the love because it isn’t cool to read.  They don’t talk about themselves as readers.  It’s important for them to speak about themselves as readers.  Tell them about YOU as a reader.  Read the books in your classroom library so you can talk with kids as a reader of that particular book.  Book buzz- sell them or talk about them to kids.  When was the last time you walked into a bookstore and just picked a book off a shelf and just read it?  Really?  Kids with broken relationships with reading do that on a daily basis.  Let kids sell books to each other. Also talk about books you found not so good.  Why did you not like it?  Oprah Winfrey’s book club sales would go up after they talked about it, not the day she introduced it. 

Build a community where we talk about books.  Rating systems for books, interactive bulletin board happening in room.  Recommendations inside covers on sticky notes.  Let kids own and not be ashamed of the books they read, every classroom has a range of readers they should still be a part of the reading community.  If you are talking about the characters of books it doesn’t matter what level you’re reading.Make sure there are plenty of choices for all levels of readers.  Struggling kids shouldn’t have fewer choices.  They need to feel part of that community.

If you want to scare yourself, do a running record on your content textbooks.  They are always written above their level. Reading identity gets established young.  Have time each week for kids to shop the classroom library to find new books to read.  1/3 of books leveled but part of the library not leveled for interest level.  Have a smaller library out at the beginning of the year so you can control choice a little until after you assess.  Getting kids turned onto a series will help kids read a ton of books.  If you have second language learners it’s good to have a few books in their native language to continue their reading skills in their native language as well as books in their English level.  When we launch book clubs or historical book clubs we need to save books to side so they won’t have read them already.  Structures and units affect how we roll out our library.  It’s important for kids to read for long stretches of time.  The more you practice something the better you get at it...  LONG periods.  AT LEAST 30 to 40 min a day.  So many “activites” around reading than kids actually reading.  The reading extensions can’t become more important than the actual reading.  How many of you as adults finish reading a book and go get a coat hanger out of the closet with some yarn and make a mobile about the book?  It’s not growing readers!

Help kids keep track of the reading they do.  They can keep a log but use it for conferring and have kids use it to look at their reading habits.  Help them see how they can use it to assess themselves for reading time and genre type and where they read.  Columns to have on the logs:

book /level / home or school / page started / page ended / minutes read / genre

If you don’t talk with kids about noticing their reading patterns and they think of it as only an assignment don’t do it.  That is not what it’s for.  Study and get data on yourself as a reader.  Also compare with a friend. 

There is a magic to books if you get kids hooked in to reading books, but they won’t progress without the right instruction.  Structuring your day with rituals and routines that make roles for the kids and teachers clear is important.  60 minute block is really needed.  Mini lesson needs to be mini.  It’s important for kids to be on the floor close to you because it creates an intimacy with you.  Your feedback is instant and if you ask them to do something to practice what you teach you can hear and see what they are doing better.  30 to 40 minutes is the time for workshop and reading. You pull small groups, assessments, circulate, confer.  Don’t do one thing only every day.  You might also be working with a book club or partners reading.  Sometimes you might have a mid-workshop reading point.  You stop what they are doing and note it.  The share closes the workshop time with a noticing where a student used what you taught in that mini lesson. 

During running records you need to look at fluency and reading rate.  If that’s not something to patch and fix the longer you wait.  Reading logs will help you assess this informally.  The important thing about a running record is you don’t stop until they bomb.    How can you assess their higher level comprehension?  Written responses to their reading.
Depending on your assessments, that will tweak your instruction and units.  Some groups may need more word work or compare/contrast.  Assessments should change your instruction. 
Our educational system teaches to deficit model, always teaching at what they don’t know.  If you teach to the strength that can spiral back to help the deficit as well.  Don’t get caught up in all weaknesses.  

I think that all the teachers in my building agree that we are ALL reading teachers and that it is
important to use reading strategies and teaching techniques throughout the day, but there is always more for us to learn about teaching reading through content or informational text.  I think that we will do more of that in our professional development this year.  But I am thinking there are some creative ways we can display to our students, parents and stakeholders that we are a "community of readers".  Maybe highlight a teacher's favorite childhood book, short "commercial" clips that teachers or students can do for books to be played on morning announcements or accesible on a share site for teachers to show at a good time and maybe even capture video footage of teachers in the school that are willing to share their life and habits as a reader.  Especially those teachers that are familiar to all students, so watch out resource teachers and administrative staff...I'm coming your way with a camera!  What ideas can you share to build a reading community?

Cross posted at LIVE from the Creek


Mrs. Taylor said...

What a wonderful and energizing experience for you...and might I add, IN NYC!! :)
Thank you for sharing your notes and reflections. I will pass this on to the teachers at Criwn Point, as well as some teachers friends.
Developing a culture of readers is important, and you have shared some excellent ideas!
Looking forward to travels!!

Laurie Justo said...

We are working on building our reading lives and I really feel like our kids are getting it! They seem more excited for reading and more willing to be honest about their pits and peaks as readers. I love your notes. They confirm everything we are doing! Going to start the book recommendations on sticky notes in the inside book jacket. Love that idea!