Parent Tips · Reading · Teaching

Things Good Readers Do: Series Wrap-up

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The Things Good Readers Do series is coming to an end today. Woohoo! My goal through this series has been to equip you as teachers or as grownups at home with more tools in your toolbelt to help the young ones in your charge to become better readers.

At the beginning of the series, I also told you I’d give all y’all a post at the end that gives some examples of how I put all of this together.

Please bear in mind that this post is just meant to be an idea to get your brain going on how you’ll implement this at home or in your classroom. There’s certainly not one right order or one specific time in which to introduce all of these ideas.

Now that I’ve said that, let’s get going!

Establishing the Habits

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As a teacher, one of the biggest things I’m doing in the first few weeks is creating the culture of the classroom – also known as setting the tone for how things are going to go.

You, as the teacher or grownup, are KEY to your grand plans to help your little readers flourish.

As many educators have said, you need to build reading into your day/routines, you need to be the example, and you need to talk about reading. A lot.

To that end, on the first few days and weeks of school, I make sure to explain and teach several habits of good readers (linked in parentheses below):

  • Introduce the classroom library. This includes talking about how things are organized, where/how to return books to their spots, and how to take care of books (aka not reading with sticky or Cheeto-covered hands, not leaving books open to a page upside-down which hurts the spine, setting books down gently vs. tossing, carefully sliding books into backpacks so pages and covers don’t get crumpled/folded/torn, etc).
  • Explain independent reading time, how much they’re expected to read each day (making it a habit), and the fact that I’ll meet individually with them on a rotating basis to talk about reading during independent reading time, which includes giving them personalized book recommendations (talking about books)
  • Share my love and excitement for reading with them. I have a few of my favorite books handy and talk about why I like them (talking about books). When a person is genuinely excited and passionate about a topic, they can’t help but be contagious. That’s your goal at the beginning: spreading your love for reading like the plague (too soon?).
  • Teach a lesson on how to find just right books
  • Have a conversation about good reasons to abandon books
  • Talk about their goal for the number and genre of books they’ll read that year (setting goals and tracking reading)

Of course, even though I make sure to explain and teach all of these things in the first week or two of school, a habit is not formed from just one lesson.

So I come back to tracking their reading, choosing just right books, and when to abandon books – over and over. I bring up the books I’m reading on my own time during lessons (modeling a reader’s life). In fact, sometimes, I even read during independent reading time as well.

Let’s just say that by the end of the year, when I ask kids to guess what I did on a weekend, vacation, etc., they always guess reading. And they are always right 🙂

Often, pre-Covid, I’d grab a book from my classroom library that I hadn’t read, because I always want to be able to recommend books to students. And the more kids’ books I’ve read, the more I have to choose from to recommend to them.

Seeing an adult reading in front of their very eyes is more powerful an example than just hearing them talk about books that they’re reading. But either way, model a reader’s life all throughout the year.

Check in with them regularly and individually (every couple of weeks at least) on their independent reading choices – not whatever book they have to read for small groups or whatever you’re reading together as a class.

Giving kids the choice of what to read both sets them up to know how to choose books they like whenever they’re not reading mandatory texts and gives them a huge buy-in to the idea of independent reading.

Providing the Brain Tools

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After I’ve established the classroom culture – or at least gotten a solid start – I begin the “actual” reading instruction with the SQP2RS reading strategies that I’ve mentioned in part two of this series.

[Actual is in quotations above because I would argue that helping students establish the habit of reading in their lives, while not being listed as an official state standard, is also *actual* reading instruction.]

Here are some ideas for what resources to use with each strategy and/or when to combine teaching it with a habit:

Skim and Scan

  • I briefly go over this strategy when teaching about choosing just right books, because previewing a book is an essential component of choosing a good fit book.
  • I teach an explicit lesson on it, and choose a book I can come back to with other lessons, like Enemy Pie.
  • But I also come back to this strategy with every text we read, all year long.
  • Especially with nonfiction texts, I will often do a refresher lesson since we tend to look at different things, such as the table of contents, headings, etc.

Predict and Question

  • This too, I mention when teaching about just right books, but I hit it hard after explicitly teaching about skimming and scanning. I love using Enemy Pie for this, especially at the climax. I either model what I’m “predicting” will happen (even though I already know the ending). Or I ask students to make a prediction or ask a question.
  • I teach this concurrently with plot standards because I explain that when we make predictions about how the story will end, we can check our understanding of the plot
  • I also have students practice this constantly once we get into some whole group and small group novels, like The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles, Fish in a Tree, Charlotte’s Web, or the chapter books we read in small groups during my unit on Westward Expansion.

Read and Respond

  • By the time we’re working on reading and responding, the school year is well under way, and we’re most likely reading a novel together.
  • I teach an explicit lesson each about visualization and making connections as we are reading the novel
  • I also ask students periodically throughout the remainder of the unit, and subsequent ones as well, to draw what they’re visualizing and to verbalize (whether out loud or in writing) the connections they’re making to the text. I find that even the most reluctant or hesitant reader, with coaxing and multiple opportunities for practice, can become confident in their ability to make connections. But they need many, many opportunities to practice.

Summarize

  • I often teach summarizing farther into the school year than I would like. However, I do start working on it while teaching about the plot, because determining the importance of various events in the book helps them determine what belongs on a plot diagram and what goes with the overarching conflict in the book.
  • Another way they practice summarizing is to summarizing a specific chapter of the novel we’re reading (though that often simply highlights how much more practice they need).
  • I often combine practicing summaries with writing standards (makes sense, right?) whether that is how to write a cohesive, complete paragraph, or types of nonfiction texts (it’s a sequential order text), or simple grammar practice.
  • As with the other strategies, we come back to summarizing again and again, all year long, no matter what we’re reading.

Have you noticed a pattern? These strategies, which are mentioned generally in many state standards, are ones that you cannot and must not simply teach about once to check that box and then move on. It is detrimental to the students to fail to practice these strategies over and over again, all year, every year.

The good news, though, is that, though these strategies need to be talked about and practiced all year long, you’re not only teaching these strategies.

For one thing, once you’ve taught about them explicitly, they become part of the very fabric of your classroom’s shared language. Kids know what you’re talking about when you say that your reader brain is making a connection to xyz. And they start to speak that way about books as well. It’s really magical when that starts to happen.

For another, you can review and practice these strategies at the same time as you are teaching other (also important) standards. And they actually enhance that instruction, because the children already have a framework for reading from which they can work.

The main takeaway I want you teachers to have is that these strategies, once explicitly taught, can be easily incorporated into lessons no matter what books you love to read to your class, and no matter what standards you need to teach.

That’s part of the fun/challenge of planning lessons: finding ways to make them rich, layered, and immediately applicable for our students!

Tips for Grownups at Home

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I’ve had this section throughout this series because I know that much of what I’m writing is from a traditional classroom teacher’s perspective. However, I know that the work parents do at home with reading is equally important to helping kids grow as readers, and the way this is done at home looks different.

You, in the home, have some advantages:

  • you’re with your kids for the long haul, and will have them year upon year (unless, perhaps, you’re fostering) so you get to see the long-term growth that teachers miss out on
  • you can start from infancy with teaching about print, talking about books, and modeling readerly thoughts and habits through your words and actions
  • you can have informal, one-on-one conversations about books that teachers don’t always get to have, which means you can check in more specifically on how they’re comprehending texts

So how can you put these things into practice?

You could, if it’s helpful, follow my classroom blueprint to build some reader habits at home: setting goals, establishing a regular reading check-in time, etc.

But what seems more natural to me is simply teaching about these things as they come up.

For instance, as your child gets more independent with reading, coach them about how to choose a just right book, set reading goals, and when it’s a good choice to abandon books.

The other big recommendation that I have is to make conversation about reading strategies part of your book talk from the very first moment you read a book with your kid. Of course, if they’re infants, they’re not talking at all. But you can already start the process of modeling book talk and book think by pausing as you read to share your book thoughts with them. Then your child learns reading strategies through a seemingly natural process.

As you’re reading together, whether they’re three or eight or thirteen, model making predictions and asking questions (wondering) and ask them to do the same. As you do, you’ll experience the magic of having a shared language about books and hearing your child taking ownership of their own thoughts about books. It’s really an unparalleled experience hearing that happen 🙂

Once they’ve gotten good at predicting and questioning, add in some of the other strategies, like visualizing and making connections.

You can start summarizing whenever you want, too. You’ll have to model heavily for a long time, and coach them for even longer, but since you have the advantage of years upon years, there’s no hurry to have them get it after the tenth or even twentieth time you ask them to summarize.

It might even take your kid until they’re in high school to be able to pare their summary down…like it did with my older brother. He just couldn’t bear to leave out any details and didn’t always realize what all he’d have to explain, so he’d backtrack and zigzag and circle his way through telling my mom every exciting (or not-so-exciting) detail of the book he was reading as she made dinner.

That’s okay. Eventually, they’ll all learn 🙂

Conclusion

Reading is a lifelong endeavor, and learning how to read is not a one-and-done type thing. Kids need teachers and grownups in their lives to coach them and encourage them on how to become better readers.

One of the ways we can do that is give the structure (habits) that allows them to practice reading and choose their reading every day.

Another way is to provide opportunities to talk about their understanding of the book (reading strategies) in order to help them construct effective ways to think about what they read.

As we support readers in this way, they’ll grow exponentially in their love for reading and their ability to read, which will leave them in good stead for the rest of their lives.


Now you tell me:

What was something that stuck out to you from this series? Did you get some new ideas? Learn something new?

Try something out in your own reading life or with your kids? None of the above, but maybe something was a good reminder?

Previous posts in this series:
Series Introduction
Part 1: Habits of Good Readers
Finding Just Right Books
Abandoning Books
Setting Goals & Tracking Reading
Make it a Habit
Talk About Books
Part 2: Strategies of Good Readers
Skim and Scan
Predict and Question
Visualize
Make Connections
Summarize

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