What Can You Do to Nurture a Classroom of Readers?
As I began moving my classroom to its new location, I found myself wondering how in the world I had amassed so much "stuff." I have a penchant for borders, colorful objects, and an interesting assortment of things I collected because "I might be able to use them sometime." However, my largest load, by far, was the books I have amassed over the years. It helped me realize what, in teaching, is closest to my heart: reading!
As you are setting up your classrooms and establishing routines, take a moment, as I did, and ask yourself: "How do I nurture a classroom of readers?" In this age of standardized testing, this may be a loaded question, but the more a student reads, the more adept he becomes at it, the stronger his vocabulary becomes, the more his comprehension and other skills improve. You will likely find part of the answer to this question by exploring how did you become a reader?
Read out loud to your students
As I spoke with friends and colleagues about their own love of reading, many said they loved having their parents or a favorite teacher read to them and that set the tone for their own interest in reading. I can remember my fabulous first grade teacher reading The Call of the Wild to us. I loved the story so much I vowed to read my first chapter book because of it! There are numerous studies that show that reading to children is vital in the development of their skills. No matter the age or grade, kids love being read to! I love to playact with voices, but I know that isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Pick books you feel comfortable reading to the kids and you increase the chances that everyone will enjoy the experience.
I recommend making mistakes! Let your students hear that you have to sound out a word, or purposefully rush through a punctuation mark and then reread the sentence so that it makes sense. After you finish a paragraph, ask some brief questions about it, such as, "What does this word mean? Let’s look at how it is used in the sentence" or "Do you see an example of imagery in this paragraph?" By modeling it, I later see my students using these strategies as they read out loud. It’s important, however, to not interrupt the flow to ask these questions. It's too easy for them to lose the idea or theme of the passage.
Offer lots of choices
As I mentioned before, I have a lot of books in my classroom. The International Reading Association suggests offering a variety for your students to be exposed to. This includes picture books, magazines, chapter books, and an array of genres. I watch what the kids are reading, and what generated a lot of interest from book orders, and then get copies of those books for my classroom. I also accept book donations from students and friends.
Let them read for fun
I know that there is a big push for reading levels and such (which will be discussed in a later post), but kids have to be allowed to read just for the pleasure of reading. Let them make their own choices on what they want to read as much as you can. I have a friend who learned to love reading through comic books. She said she read them for years until she became interested in other types of books. From there, she became an avid reader!
My point is that kids will become better readers if you let them read things they enjoy. You can help guide their choices, or enlist the help of your librarian or other colleagues for ideas, but ultimately, let them make the decision. Forcing a non-reader to read something they don’t want to will just push them further from reading.
Let them see you read for fun
Just as you model reading out loud, don’t be afraid to let your students see you read for pleasure. I bring in magazines from home to use in projects or to share articles I think they would enjoy. I also read some of the same book series as they are, such as The Hunger Games, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, or the Harry Potter series. As they see me reading these books, it sparks some great discussions about them.
Create a place for them to read
I brought in a couch when I replaced the one in my living room, and have had friends and parents donate other furniture to create a reading area. The kids love that they have furniture to relax on! I have also had moms make pillows for kids to sit on as they read on the floor, and have added a bright carpet to make it seem homey.
Let them suggest books
Allow students to suggest books for each other. They can describe the book in terms peers use and understand, and it can motivate your students to read more so that they can make more suggestions. I let them create a wall of suggestions, including explanations of why they made a particular recommendation. This creates an atmosphere in which reading is accepted and encouraged. Plus, it gives your students ownership of the task.
Students create their own book suggestions and post them.
Tailor book choices to their interests
I like to start the year by surveying the kids to find out what television shows, movies, and books they like to help them find genres they will enjoy. Some favorites I have found throughout the years include the Hank the Cowdog series, Captain Underpants series, Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, Harry Potter series, Skippyjon Jones series and The Hunger Games series (this was a favorite of a lot of the advanced 5th graders, but I do pay careful attention to content and make sure that some books, such as these, are approved by parents before I hand them off). Favorite authors include Judy Blume, Beverly Cleary, Rick Riordan, Shel Silverstein, and Kate DiCamillo.
In a perfect world, I would be able to let my students just read for an hour or more each day and then start teaching, but with the reality of testing and the pressures for high scores, I look at my schedule and assess how much time I can set aside each day for pleasure reading. I also use reading aloud to them as a way of integrating my lessons on grammar as well as other subjects. Picture books can be great sources of information, and I highlight finds which are related to subjects that we are studying.
In closing, remember: What made you love to read? Why do your students who love to read do so? Ask your friends, your family, post it on Facebook (yes, I did that!) and you might be surprised to find trends surfacing. Don’t be afraid to analyze these answers and then see what you can do to create a classroom of kids that love to read!