In our class of 23 sixth graders this past year, every single one of them read 40 books or more. Every. Single. One. The 40-Book Challenge, compliments of Donalyn Miller, was a component of the instructional philosophy Lizzy and I chose to implement for the 2017-18 academic year. Our learning from Miller’s edu-cult-classic, The Book Whisperer, fanned our existing love of books into a brushfire that swept through our shared Language Arts class, igniting a commitment to reading among every single one of our students. I had never seen anything like it, even though many colleagues had used independent reading as a mainstay in their ELA classes for years.
This post is first in a series that will explain each of the contributing factors to our success in establishing a reading culture that produced incredible results. First up…
Authentic and relentless enthusiasm. We can yak at kids all day long, but inevitably, they know what’s real and what’s not. They sense what we ARE and whether our words and actions are aligned. In my experience, kids recognize and respond to integrity. Our shared love of reading and all things books was the foundational action that led to our success.
Like every teacher we know, Lizzy and I feel great pressure to “get it all in”. From that initial class period in August or September, it’s a race to the finish line, cramming in as much as you can in however many minutes you have each class, beating the clock that ticks relentlessly and is loudest whenever you are not sprinting through the standards. However, this time, we began slowly and intentionally, committed to talk the talk that would lead to walking the walk with our students.
We talked favorite books, reminisced about childhood books, professed literary loves and hates, confessed to quitting books we just couldn’t get through, admitted to judging books by their covers, and discussed forming relationships with beloved characters. We laughed and poked fun; we bubbled with the joy of reading. We systematically created a palpable energy that radiated throughout the class, impacting even the self-proclaimed non-readers, and we fed this energy everyday in our interactions with each other and our students. And: we meant it–it was genuine and our own actions and instructional choices reflected that.
Practically speaking, you have to know yourself as a reader and just be real about it. Being an avid reader yourself is admittedly helpful in establishing reading, but some of us are just starting out or have fallen behind…That’s okay! Being authentic and enthusiastic doesn’t mean you have to have read the entire library. We are all learners and can walk that walk with our students. Whether you are miles ahead, a few steps in front, or alongside the kids, being genuine is what matters in establishing a reading culture in your classroom.
Next up in this blog series…
- Access to Books
Stay tuned for some practical tips on providing access to books and creating a classroom library. In the meantime, check out a free rubric you can use when conferencing with students about their independent reading. 💙Julie
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