Today was my second grader’s first soccer game of the season. This fall he begins his first full season. Before this year, he had had a couple anxious years trying to play soccer. Though he loved the sport and the physical activity, he had trouble making it through practice and games. Sometimes he would be smiling and happy to go to practice. He would make it through the car ride then we’d arrive to the field and tears would stream down his cheeks. I knew he just wasn’t ready. He didn’t know any of the kids on his team and isn’t the kind of kid who is brave enough to jump into new situations without some supports. After trying two practices and the first game with no success, we decided to keep playing at home for another year.
This year is completely different. He knows two boys on his team, we’ve practiced enough at home that he knows the game and he’s feeling safe asking for help (his shoe came untied during the game) and asking questions. Today he looked like a leader on the field. I noticed that he is more comfortable with himself and has support. The friends from school are familiar and help him to be comfortable in a new situation. The coaches know his name and give suggestions in the midst of the game and in one-to-one conversations. He is now in his element!
I couldn’t help but think about how familiar supports are key to helping kids feel safe in the classroom as well. Just like my son, there are readers who lack confidence as they begin choosing books independently. In the first days and weeks of workshop, I have been observing my students to see where they get stuck when it comes to choosing books. I notice some kids wandering, some kids going to the drinking fountain (more than once) and one who wanted to play. I reminded myself of the guidance I provided last year and then thought about my kids who need support this year. How can I offer support to help kids with book choice? Here are some things that I am trying . . .
Talking About Ways We Read Books: Picture Reading
One of the most important messages I want to get across to my students is that we are all readers. By beginning the year with talk about “picture reading,” I can connect with most of the readers in my room. Picture reading is the careful attention we give to observing the pictures in a story. Picture reading allows readers at all levels to practice comprehension strategies like connecting, predicting, questioning, and inferring. Picture reading is important for all readers — illustrations serve as a tool for reading new words as well as comprehending the story. Books like Each Peach Pear Plum and Where is the Green Sheep? are basic books that are fun for finding characters in the pictures as we hear about them in the text. Books like Truck Stuck and Wave are challenging us to rely on the pictures to understand the story.
Talking About Why We Choose Books
When I have a few kids who have favorite books or are confident finding books independently, I often ask them to share their thinking. Eric shared that he has Superhero ABC in his book bin because he knows and loves everything about superheroes. Andy has Super Fly Guy in his bin because he knows this book . . . he can read the words and he thinks it is funny. Kendall has chosen Dazzle the Dinosaur because she liked the sparkly pictures in it (who could pass up a book with sparkles?). I notice after a student shares, it allows me to build conversations with kids who are still having trouble choosing books independently.
At this point in the year (we’ve only been in school two weeks), I am not worried about kids finding books at their specific text level. I have plenty of time to help meet their needs for decoding, comprehension, fluency in small group or individual conferring times. Right now I want them to be successful just figuring out what they like, and possibly being able to think through why they are making particular choices of books.
Sharing Baskets of Books Students Loved Last Year
I have already found that my students know many of the books in my classroom because they were exposed to great books in kindergarten. This helps me build on what they love already. I know I can pull the Elephant and Piggie books out for kids who need help getting started right away. These books are funny and familiar. I also notice that the kids know and enjoy many of the books I use for shared reading. This makes perfect sense – books for shared reading like Where is the Green Sheep? and I’m the Biggest Thing in the Ocean are easy winners for my kids because they have enjoyed them many times in kindergarten.
Helping Kids Find Books That Connect with Their Interest
On one of the first days of school, a little boy went right to the nonfiction baskets. He easily found the whale books and enjoyed that basket for two days. He was lost on the third day, so I linked reading to another of his passions . . . cars. The Wheels on the Race Car was my first thought and he was pleased when I showed it to him. I helped him notice the first two pages that taught us to make movements as we read the song book. A few other interested boys and girls joined us as we sang the book together. I also noticed another reader who was having a hard time settling into stories. I remembered his eyes lighting up when I did a quick intro of some of the alphabet books earlier in the morning. I walked him over to the ABC basket and held up Alphabet City. He was sold, and then I noticed he choose Alphabet Under Construction next on his own.
Read Aloud, Read Aloud, Read Aloud . . . and Hand It Over to the Kids
My kids automatically want to have in their hands what I have read aloud. I remind kids, who are searching for a story, about the books we’ve heard together. These books are housed in a basket near the share area, and children see me grab them out of the basket regularly. I encourage students to browse the basket frequently, too.
Reading to or with Kids Who Need Help Getting Started
Get on the floor with your kids! This is a scaffold I use when kids have trouble getting started with a story, when kids need help building more stamina, or when kids need an adult to help them through a problem. I always have conferring and assessing to do during workshops, but I know that by taking time to help young readers in these beginning weeks of workshop keeps them from distracting others. It also sends a positive message that I am here to help kids along the way.
Finding a Partner
Not only have I been matching kids up to books that they are interested in, but I have also used a partner as a strategy for kids who are interested in being read with or to. As I was about to begin a DRA assessment, I noticed little Sam who needed help getting started with a story. To support her, I invited another student over to read with her. The other student had already made a book choice, and the two started talking and reading immediately.
Make a “Favorite Books from Home” Basket
This by far has been the best strategy for building community and stamina. After sharing my favorite childhood picture book (Panda Cake), I asked the kids to bring in their favorite book from home. We created a basket that they voted to name “Favorite Books from Home.” We have been learning about each other and making connections with each other just through these books. This basket has been very popular during workshop. In fact, I have been sharing many of the books during read aloud or doing a quick preview so that each child’s book becomes familiar to the whole class. Having a book from home is yet another way to support kids who are less confident about book choice in the first few weeks of school.