What are we doing for our students that they could be doing for themselves?
[Now you can listen to the Big Fresh as a podcast!]
I recently covered a first-grade reading block, and Luke was trying to convince me that he was in the third guided reading group, not the second. He was in the middle of playing a word game; it was not going well. Pieces were all over the floor, and Luke’s partner’s face was scrunched up in frustration. “Is that true?” I asked them both.
“Yes!” Luke responded with gusto.
His partner silently shook her head.
Against my initial judgment, I invited Luke to join us for the third group. Luke looked through the pages of the guided reading text with squinted eyes. When we wrote sight words on whiteboards, Luke subtly peeked at his neighbor’s board, and then wrote down the correct spelling. Even though it wasn’t what the teaching guide said to do, I asked students to read in pairs rather than silently. I wanted Luke to be able to access the text. Luke read aloud and his partner listened respectfully. We wrapped up the guided reading group, and as they left, Luke smiled back.
“That was awesome!” he said.
At an earlier point in my teaching career, if a student like Luke had tried to sneak into another small group, I would have reminded him where he belonged. My rationale would have sounded reasonable: The text complexity needs to be at an instructional level, within their zone of proximal development. Too many students in one guided reading group was frowned upon.
What has changed for me is that I now see my role as growing readers rather than teaching reading. This means that sometimes I ignore the script and let the students make choices for themselves as learners. My role is about creating the conditions in which kids like Luke, and all the others who fill a classroom, can succeed. You see, I was kind of a “Luke” in primary school. I was not in the high reading group. I suspect it was because I could not hold my attention long enough to stay organized in school, rather than my reading ability.
We grow readers when we give students some authority in their reading lives. So what if they pick a book that is beyond their current capacity? Does it matter if they sneak a peek at another’s whiteboard for correct spelling? What might happen if kids self-selected their own guided reading groups? How might this empower them as readers? Could the benefits outweigh the costs? I think so.
When we decide to grow readers rather than teaching reading, then students learn what they are capable of because we see them as capable of anything.
This week we look at empowering readers. Plus more as always—shine on!
Featured Contributor, Choice Literacy
This month’s Featured Contributor is Matt Renwick. Matt is an elementary principal who writes at Read by Example and tweets @ReadByExample. He is a veteran public educator, working first as a classroom teacher and now serving as the school leader at Mineral Point Elementary School (Mineral Point, Wisconsin). Matt’s educational writing and consultant work focus primarily on literacy instruction, school leadership, and technology integration. This month you’ll find him on the Big Fresh podcast and offering Choice Literacy courses. Find all of Matt’s articles and videos on the site by clicking here.
On the podcast, we share our first Choice Literacy Book Club conversation about The Barren Grounds. We also reveal the March book selection!
Join the Choice Literacy Book Club! Bitsy Parks selected a thought-provoking picture book for our March read. Find out more at the site. Join the conversation using the hashtag #ChoiceLiteracyBookClub.
Matt Renwick is surprised when his son completes a reading quiz that isn’t required, and finally realizes it’s all about reading response. This article was first published in 2019.
Jennifer Ryan encourages us to read picture books again and again. In this post on Teachers Books Readers, Jennifer outlines the importance of rereading beautiful picture books. Don’t miss the links to videos to show how students’ responses become more sophisticated with rereading.
New members-only content is added each week to the Choice Literacy website. If you’re not yet a member, click here to explore membership options.
Christy Rush-Levine offers a close look into the needs of readers by considering engagement, enrichment, and nourishment. She offers three examples of reading conferences with students.
In this video, Andrea Smith talks with two boys about the book they are reading, Island. They discuss the way their partnership is going, even though the partners are reading at different paces. (Video was recorded before COVID.)
Christy Rush-Levine takes you into her middle school classroom and shares the strategies and techniques she uses with her students to deepen their reflection and understanding of books while conferring. And this is all done in five minutes or less without feeling rushed or constrained by a protocol. Meaningful Reading Conferences: 5 Minute Wonders is free for members and available to purchase for everyone else.
In this second installment of “Virtual Icebreakers,” Heather Fisher shares more creative ideas for opening meetings in order to maintain strong staff relationships while meeting virtually.
Literacy coaches Cathy Mere and Kelly Hoenie talk about the transition from being a teacher to becoming a coach.
In a new course, Matt Renwick guides instructional leaders to implement and strengthen instructional literacy walks. Through literacy walks, leaders seek out promising practices, note and name them during formative visits, and lead coaching conversations with teachers. The outcome is not only school improvement, especially in literacy, but also a community of learners who engage in continuous improvement as a natural stance. Free to Literacy Leader members.
Relationships are the foundation of leadership.
—John C. Maxwell
That’s all for this week!