Reading with Agency

The table had been set with a ‘delightful selection of dishes.’ This is the analogy our librarian used as he invited our class to taste and sample the books. Some of the choices were familiar and some were new to the eye. Each time our school librarian introduced another book from the new genre the student’s anticipation grew. They pounced on the book table looking for a satisfying book to settle down with and enjoy.

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Reflection Informs Practice

As we moved into more focused literacy at the beginning of the school year, I began to organize my students in groups. I assessed early in order to find out their reading levels and began choosing guided reading books and grouping students. I stopped. Was I designing the best literacy experience for my students?

I grappled with my love of certain books I had read before and wanted to read this year and creating more choice. More choice meant students would choose books they wanted to read with more autonomy. I wanted to see a joy of reading and yes, student agency where students were great readers, chose to read and took ownership of their reading.

I took some time to reflect on what I have been doing and assess my usual literacy practice. I read Regie Routman’s new book, Literacy Essentials. She has always been a guide and inspiration for me in the past. Her new book reminded me of some of my great practice and where it was time to make changes. One of the biggest aha moments was to “put guided reading in perspective”. It is only one part of the reading that takes place.

How do we read?

  • The librarian and I have a partnership. Every 4-5 weeks, the librarian comes in with a cart full of books in a particular genre. He would introduce the genre and books with a passion that had the students waiting in anticipation to grab a book off the cart. The genre connected with our learning in some way either with writing, Unit of Inquiry or concepts.
  • I shared my love of books and read aloud to the class. If a book made me tear or sparked a memory, I shared it. I teared for the twelfth time when I finished reading aloud to the class The Journey of Edward Tulane. I shared how upsetting it was for me to read The One and Only Ivan. I told the story of how I had seen the author Scott O’Dell speak when I was their age and how he told the true story of The Island of the Blue Dolphins. We read short stories and picture books regularly.
  • There were plenty of opportunities for independent reading. Students planned reading time into their self-directed timetable and we visited our amazing school library weekly.
  • We used sample texts to inform our writing. We used high-quality literature both fiction and non-fiction text to analyze for writing.

Time for Change

  • I started One-on-One Reading Conferences. Regie Routman breaks it down in her book and the practice fit right in with our individualized learning.
  • For Guided Reading, which I refer to as Book Clubs, I am fortunate to have two support teachers help me. Our EAL support teacher took a small group of students who were not ready to read independently.
  • I made video ‘book commercials’ to share a selection of books. Students watched the ‘book commercials’ and browsed through the selection. They made a first and second choice. I was able to balance three groups from their selections. The books were in a range of independent reading levels. Students gravitated to the books at around their level and interests. I did not match students and books to their reading scores.

Guiding Students and Choice

Striking a balance between guiding students and freedom of choice is something I strive for constantly in the classroom. It’s only through making reading a priority in our day, in our week and in their home learning does it become of central importance to our students. I will enter in discussions throughout the school year with students to get to know their reading preferences and provide suggestions for their reading choices to expand and grow. I can’t wait to read together the amazing books which await them this school year.

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