Books, Character Education, Guided Reading, Reading, Small Group Novel Study

A teacher’s most powerful tool

I am, basically, a one trick pony. I am a reading teacher! I also teach writing, vocabulary, social studies, character education, current events….but all through the lens of reading. I have, in my career, taught math and science…shivers. I will leave that to my expert educator friends. I teach reading because I LOVE READING!

I love reading because it is every teacher’s most powerful tool to inspire, educate, broaden horizons, and teach tolerance. Reading can change the world. I do not say that lightly or as a platitude. Reading is the cheapest, most effective way to make a difference in the lives of your students so they can make a difference in the world.

So, how? How do you get kids to read? How do you teach reading when you don’t love it yourself? How do you inspire reluctant readers? How do you help students with reading disabilities? I want to preface this article by saying the tips are focused on improving reading comprehension NOT reading fluency to emerging readers. Although these ideas DO work to develop a love of reading in your beginner readers in K-2. Here are my best tips for teaching reading and changing the world as you do it!

  1. Read great books! This is a simple concept…if you want kids to love reading, read great books. There are so many books available today from every culture, tradition, genre, you name it. I make it my mission to only have my kids read books that make them feel something (joy, sorrow, inspired, an uncontrollable urge to laugh). I also strive to read really diverse books that appeal to all different kinds of students in my class who may be moved by different things. Common Sense Media https://www.commonsensemedia.org/book-reviews is an excellent website to not only find books for each age group, but if you select the book it will give you a detailed summary AND tell you what content you may find inside. Then for each category, it will give you specifics (a super important tool as a teacher and parent). Side note – you can also use this site for movies, video games, etc. to do the same. Find great books that YOU love, to allow you to share this love with your students.
  2. Talk about what you read! I am a huge fan of small group novel study or guided reading to allow students to really explore their higher level thinking and build skills as a reader. Check out Authentic Teaching Teacher Pay Teachers for materials to support this in your classroom: https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Small-Group-Novel-Study-Guided-Reading-4836948 (This includes a book list of some excellent 3rd – 7th grade novels that I love). There are lots of ways to talk about what you read – whole group discussions, Socratic seminars, online class discussion groups, and individual conferences. Kids who talk about their reading and thinking are more excited to read. They develop higher level thinking skills. You will be amazed, if you have never had discussions on books, just how powerful, exciting, and influential this can be with your students.
  3. Read Out Loud! I believe that every PERSON (not just children) innately craves oral storytelling. It is in our DNA to sit around a campfire and listen to stories. Reading out loud to your students AT ANY AGE fosters a love of reading that is impossible to replicate. I teach 5th grade and regularly use picture books to teach concepts and my students LOVE it. Kids from homes where they may not hear books read out loud, soak in a book read aloud. Kids who hate reading are often infatuated with a book read aloud. Many online reading programs have read aloud components (Storyworks magazine (my favorite reading resource), ReadWorks, Activelylearn, Newsela). I believe that if you are focusing on comprehension, allowing a student to hear the text read aloud in every setting except assessment will begin to build BOTH their fluency and comprehension. This will build both at a much faster pace than fluency drills alone while also allowing them to access the joy of reading without the fluency in the way.
  4. Have kids read for a purpose NOT A LEVEL! In my 17 years in education, the most significant damage I have seen done to reading instruction was the introduction of Reading Levels as the marker for what books a kid should read. Please read this blog post from Fountas and Pinnell (the tool that I have seen most closely associated with this practice) and their belief that a reading level is a teacher’s tool not a student’s reading label. https://fpblog.fountasandpinnell.com/a-level-is-a-teacher-s-tool-not-a-child-s-label I have had parents and students cry at the first conference in the Fall when they learned that their child could read any book they chose for free reading. They recounted the damage it had done to their child to hear “they were not able” to read a book of their choosing. Teachers had been taught to NOT allow a child to read a book above or below their assigned level and had misguidedly passed this information on to students and parents. Lexiles, F&P levels, etc. are meant to help you as a teacher select INSTRUCTIONAL materials that are appropriate for a student. If you have been told to have your classroom library set up by lettered bins of books at each level or to limit what books kids can read based on this – go and speak with your administration about the blog I shared above. If you want kids to love reading, it is counter intuitive to tell them NOT to read a book they want to try because they are simply not “good enough” level wise to read it. Let a kid try any book, give them tools to know when to abandon it and when to use supports (like read aloud) to read it.
  5. Get ready to gasp – The second most damaging impact I have seen on reading instruction is this phrase “The only effective way to teach reading according to research is….” There are HUNDREDS of curriculum models, methods, and tools to teach reading. Maybe thousands…. Children for HUNDREDS of years have learned to read using all of these tools and more. Years ago, I had a group of 5th grade students (4 boys to be precise), who were Kindergarten and 1st grade level readers in 5th grade. I had developed a weekly method to help them improve ( Monday we watched videos, looked at websites and discussed our passage topic to build background knowledge , Tuesday we discussed the tough vocabulary and used multi-media tools to understand the words, Wednesday and Thursday – get ready for it….WE READ ROUND ROBIN, and Friday we took the assessment to practice comprehension questions). Yep – you heard me right – we read round robin. These boys needed practice reading aloud, prompting each other through tough sections of the passage, and smoothing out their fluency. Round robin reading made that happen. It was a taboo, bad word, dirty concept when I did it. I know without a doubt, that my students grew to the level they did (2 passed our end of grade standardized test and 2 came within the standard deviation of passing) because of this rejected practice. Great reading teachers pull from a variety of resources, tools, and models and MATCH them to needs of the students in front of them. Remember, most reading curriculum is being actively promoted and sold to school districts with the intent of MAKING MONEY. So, if I convince people it is the ONLY effective method, I make more money. It is a shocking concept to consider reading can be taught in a variety of ways, but it is the truth.
  6. The best way to get better at reading…is to read! This is a quote from my husband about teaching reading. It is also a fact. If you want kids to get better at reading, they need to read. At home, kids can and should read ANYTHING that is interesting to them. Comic books, articles on video games, makeup tutorials, etc. all help to develop a love of reading. All of us read in our down time for pleasure IN OUR INTEREST AREAS and many times we read in snippets, not full novels. This is still good reading and helpful. At school, kids should be reading in every subject area as much as possible. Reading should be woven in to every possible corner of the day (books, passages, magazines, online articles, etc.) Now – here is another shocking concept for most reading teachers – I believe that NIGHTLY READING LOGS DO NOT ACHIEVE THE GOALS DESIRED. It is my firm belief that simply telling a child to read each night for a set number of minutes does 2 things (1) causes stress for parents and students that ultimately leads many people to simply “falsify”, for lack of a better word, the reading log and (2) causes reading to be a timed, miserable experience. Find a tool that uses how and what you are teaching in class in authentic reading practice at home. I use Storyworks magazine as my homework and it has consistently fostered some great reading homework. Message me if you would like the details. However, here is an excellent blog post with details on how to move away from nightly time based reading logs: http://www.giftedguru.com/the-problem-with-reading-logs/
  7. Read to teach, reinforce, or change a child’s world view. Our world today is in desperate need of tolerance. We need to explicitly teach our students that there is a big, beautiful world out there full of every shape, size, color, creed, or group of people. Having trouble in your class with unkind talk? There is a book for that. Need to expose a sheltered population to the experiences of people in a different community? There is a book for that. Want to develop empathy? There is a book for that. Get the point??? There is a book, article, passage, or online resource that can help you accomplish any character, community, or world issue you want to address with your students. I simply google the topic I want to discuss and the phrase “children’s books” (ex. empathy children’s books). We need our students to develop tolerance and understanding of those who are different from them, so that they can change the world one person at a time.

Reading has been the one of the most powerful tools throughout history. People risked their lives so that they themselves and/or their children could be taught to learn to read. Reading has been against the law because oppressive governments knew that knowledge was a weapon. Reading truly changes the world because reading provides you with the world. Foster a love of reading with your students by any means necessary….because our world depends on it.

2 thoughts on “A teacher’s most powerful tool”

  1. I love to read articles like this, i work as an ESL teacher in a Hong Kong primary school and have for a long time. The focus on improving levels rather than teaching skills has been an ongoing battle for every one of those years, with no end in sight! The push i have to do to encourage other teachers to see this is maddening at times.
    Although i speak about it better than write about it Its why i started my Blog to try to get some of these thoughts out there. It turns out there are quite a few people similar already!! I have so far only written my how to do guided reading articles, but its reading ones like this that are going to help me add my small voice to the calls to do it wisely and with thought that i hope are getting stronger!

    Like

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