For a variety of reasons – many of which I’m still trying to parse out – some of my students are showing minimal improvement in their reading. Sure, they are learning sight words (as I learn how to teach them and put a greater emphasis on finding them in context). Sure, they are able to read with me and independently the shared reading books of which they’re so fond. But it’s not translating into their own private reading experiences.
Yesterday, the literacy staff developer came to my school, and I was in the group of teachers who met with her to consider options for those readers who are 1) significantly below grade level (check) and 2) seemingly making little or no progress (check). She emphasized how diverse their reading choices could and should be.
Traditionally, a student should have 8-12 books on her “level” in their book baggies. These are the books they read during school and at home, and are specifically geared for where they are developmentally as a reader. However, our staff developer pointed out ways to enrich the quality of their reading experiences by enhancing the content of their book baggies past leveled books.
One of her suggestions was this: pick three sight words the student does not know, but should. Stick them in the book baggie on index cards. During independent reading, the child should do some old-fashioned flash card work with those words to learn them. This, to me, was a bit of an intelligent and timely eye opener. I have about 60 words on the word wall at this time. I can’t even say half my class knows them all (although a handful do with at least 95% accuracy). So what about the other kids? It makes no sense for me to expect them to miraculously know all 60 just because I say so. It makes perfect sense to have them learn them at their own, more logical pace.
The second part of this is what really got me and the class excited, though. You take those words the child needs to learn. (Donald and a few others, for instance, know some words, but are sorely lacking in most. Without the sight word knowledge, there’s no way their reading can improve.) Right now, I want them to begin to focus on the words “is,” “my,” and “friend.” These are high frequency words in the books they should be reading at this point, and once they know them lickety split, they will be able to get better. So I took those words as well as the pictures I took the first week of school and made a very simple, repetitive book for those students. It’s called “My Friends,” and each page features a student’s picture and the sentence, “______ is my friend,” with the blank being filled with the appropriate name.
I gave the book to five students to keep in their book baggies. Had you seen it, you’d have thought I was handing them a lifetime no homework pass. Now they can read that book to their heart’s content. The book won’t frustrate them, but will motivate them and help them learn those three simple words that much better.
I continued with a similar theme this morning when I walked around the classroom photographing elements of our room to illustrate a book called “In the Classroom.” The sight words that repeat in this book will be, “you,” “can,” and “see.” Each page will carry the same pattern: “You can see _____.” This will, again, help the kids learn those words solidly, and let’s hope, transfer them throughout their reading.
Finally, with my para out today and a substitute para in, I came back from lunch to find a slight bit of chaos ruling my class’ lunch table. I was less than pleased: garbage was all over and kids were not lining up. Our trip up the stairs was noisy and disorganized. When we got back to our classroom, I called a class meeting to discuss some problems we noticed with the class.
Here were the statements we came up with to (attempt) to rectify the situation(s):
1) We sit in the meeting area.
2) We put our garbage in the garbage can.
3) We line up when the teacher asks us to.
4) We are nice to all teachers.
5) We walk quietly in the halls.
6) We raise our hands.
These are not simple sentences. But the hope is to turn them into a big book that we can read as a class. Naturally, kids who are ready to read these sentences independently will get a small copy for their book baggies. But even those who couldn’t read it cold without help will be able to after being exposed to it in a group shared reading session.
These books are authentic. Since they’re authentic, kids will invest in them. And my hope is, since they’re investing in them, they will begin to transfer skills into other books, and (please happen) improve as readers.