The start of a new year is a great time to reflect and consider what needs changing. That’s true for my teaching in addition to my life overall. Over the past two months I’ve been reading Passionate Readers by Pernille Ripp. It’s timely to finish it during my winter break, and it’s an incredible opportunity to reflect on my teaching of reading.
I’ve followed Pernille’s blog for a few years now, read her earlier book Passionate Learners, and got to hear her speak at nErDcampMI last summer. Being so familiar with her teaching ideas and approach, there wasn’t anything earth-shatteringly new to me, but instead it was full of reminders of who I want to be as a teacher. Reading her blog in the past, I have often felt that she was channeling my own inner thoughts and that she was someone who understood my teaching philosophy. During parts of the book, I felt like I could actually hear her voice as I did last summer, particularly when she wrote about being a reading warrior.
She speaks to my heart when she writes about the importance of communicating one’s own reading identity and love of reading to students. Being a reading role model is a key component of teaching literacy, no matter what age the students are. I love the idea in her book of creating a display for students to see what I’m reading. While I love the idea of it, I struggle with logistics. Where would I put it? I already have a #classroombookaday display in the hallway. Should I tally my number of books in public? I try to downplay how many books I read to avoid a comparison or competition among students, so that seems to be at cross purposes there. Could we have a staff display of what each of us is reading and change our covers as needed? Hmmm, this looks like a conversation to have with our librarian!
There are other aspects to being a reading role model. One is to publicly admit our own bad habits or slumps. Students then see that we’re not perfect and all readers have things to work on and improve. Talking about our reading plans helps students see that reading doesn’t just spontaneously happen. We plan for what we might read next with a To Read list, a reading challenge, a book club, or some other inspiration. Most avid readers have busy lives and actively create time for the reading they want to do. Self-aware readers see their reading gaps. I have told students that I didn’t like realistic fiction in the past (to outraged gasps!), but that I started bringing more of these books into my reading repertoire and discovered ones that I really loved. Sharing these aspects of our lives should lead to conversations with our students so that they can actively develop metacognition around reading.
And yes, she is a strong advocate for teachers reading the books that their students are reading. YES! How else do my students know that I’m current with kidlit unless they know that I’m reading it? How can they trust my recommendations if I’m not honest about what I’ve read or if I only recommend books that are older than they are? Will I recommend books that I haven’t read? Sure, but with the caveat that I think it looks good. I want the same connections with my students that I share with my friends when we recommend books to one another.
She writes about the importance of the physical space. Reflecting on my classroom, I think that it’s pretty clear that our library is the focal point of the room. It’s comfy and cozy, and I even refer to it as the “living room” sometimes. Yet, reading this book reminds me to ask my students what they think about how it’s working for them. Find out if there is anything that they would change about our space. In the beginning of the year, we made a decision to use our seating options in a certain way. Is that working the way that they would like? Should we change anything about book organization to make the library more useful? Asking their opinions demonstrates respect for their ideas … provided that I truly listen to their ideas and work with them to make the space work for all of us. The relationships that we have in the classroom are a foundation for the quality of learning that occurs.
This book reminds me other things I want to do. My teaching partner and I began using the Daily 5 structure this year, and I’m still building my repertoire of reading strategies/goals for students to choose from as we teach mini-lessons. Pernille recommends a book that I own, but haven’t yet read – Reading Strategies by Jennifer Serravallo. It’s moved up my To Read list.
Typically midyear, I do another big book purchase. I need to ask my students if there are titles that they wish we had. In the past I’ve had a suggestion box where students can offer ideas for books they would like to read, but I lost it at some point and haven’t replaced it. I purchase books with the intention of creating diverse offerings. A place where all students can see themselves represented and learn about others. I think I need to do a better job of changing the books that are displayed so that more of them get highlighted from our immense collection. One idea from Pernille’s classroom that I LOVE is to create a display of books that come from kid recommendations. A simple rotating wire display for the kids to see what their classmates are reading is a visible reminder that their voices matter.
In December, inspired in part by what I had read in this book, we asked our 4th graders how things are going with reading and what could be better. That stack of reflections is awaiting my deeper reading later this week, but a quick glance and conversations with students reinforced my sense that we don’t have enough reading time in class. I’m discovering that I have to be vigilant about protecting our time to read. I am a teacher who believes strongly in independent reading and the importance of dedicated time for it every day. And yet. Even I succumb to the daily pressure of all that we have to do … or think I have to do. This is an essential that we cannot do without. It is my responsibility to protect our reading time so that students develop further as readers.
There is a wealth of valuable information and teaching philosophy in Pernille’s book, including pointers toward other writers to explore further. She writes about how choice is important to ensuring student engagement. Her approach to incorporating the Notice and Note signposts from Kylene Beers and Robert Probst was intriguing in her comments on written reflections. Book abandonment is an aspect of reading that I want to explore further with my students. To “walk my talk” I’ve added a list to my personal reading journal so that I can keep track of what I’m abandoning and why. I want to try book “speed dating” as a structured way to get more ideas out to my students about books their classmates are reading. There is so much to unpack in this book!
I can’t wait to connect with Pernille again when she comes to the 2018 CCIRA Conference on Literacy next month. The mid-point of the year is a great time to reflect on the school year and evaluate where things are going next. I’m excited to further refine my teaching of reading and become even more of a reading warrior.