If you read this blog, you know I am a reader who shares. I am a teacher who believes in the transformative power of stories. I spend thousands of dollars and endless time filling, organizing and thinking about my classroom library. Recently, I have shared details about it here and here and here.
This year, I moved from a grade 3/4 class (mostly 4s) to a grade 2/3 class (mostly 2s). This summer, I spent time switching out books that would likely not be at the reading or interest level of my new students. I thought a lot about how to ensure I “switched on” the reading love with this new group. I even wrote a post about it: Literary Nest Building 101. Two weeks in, some of my instincts were bang on. We are reading a lot of humour filled silly stories. Read aloud time is joyous! It often ends with “Read it again!” We read multiple times a day. Every afternoon we begin with a #classroombookaday and on Friday we vote for our favourite. The children love this. One of them has even figured out that I will share the news with the author if I can.
“Ms. Gelson you have to tweet Cece Bell! I Yam a Donkey is the winner of the vote this week! Tweet her so she knows.”
We have connected books with celebration. We read the amazing story The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds and made a dot of dots. This dot is now hanging in our room and we broke out a fancy felt pen to have each of us sign our names around the outside.
Our first chapter book read aloud was the perfect pick for many children who have never listened to a chapter book read aloud. It is illustrated, it is full of kid humour and fun and it works a little bit like magic. As soon as I start reading it, these little bundles of energy and distractibility start to calm as they inch closer and closer to me to listen at the carpet. I think some of them even hold their breath as they listen. I feel little hands on my arm, on my shoe, on my leg as if touching me can bring them further into the book. When Dory explained about ketchup monster noises, there was a whisper, “So that’s what that noise is.” When Dory shot Mrs. Gobble Gracker in the butt with a sleeping dart, there was pure joy that their teacher said “in the butt” out loud! They laughed and giggled but they also shared knowing smiles that said, “How cool are we?” I hear them heading home at the end of the day debating whether Mary, the Monster is really a monster, really even real or some strange talking dog. :-) I will be forever in your debt Abby Hanlon for Dory Fantasmagory!
We started our first nonfiction read aloud: Guess What is Growing Inside this Egg by Mia Posada and the children love listening for “specific” words to add to our vocabulary list. Words like swamp, water-proof and instinct. Many of them were delighted when I explained to them that they could take their new knowledge home to share with their families. I am sure a lot of Moms and Dads and Grandmas heard about how alligators, despite all of their teeth actually don’t chew their food but swallow it whole. “I guess their teeth are just there to look scary,” suggested one child.
These children love books. They love stories. They love to be read to. They love to sit with a book that we have read together and in twos or threes retell or reread the story. I think I have heard Chris Haughton‘s Shh! We have a Plan about thirty times. I might have it memorized! Such an engaging fun book to read and feel successful.
“Ready one . . . ready two . . . Ready three . . . GO! “
And . . . (I am not going to write but) many children (more than half) in my new classroom are not reading even close to grade level “expectations.” This, I was not fully prepared for. Not to this extent, not so many children. Expectations, levels, proficiency are all descriptors that can officially name what is happening for these students. I am going to name it this way: they aren’t independent. (“Can you read this to me?” “I wish I could read this book.”) They desperately want to be. (“I really need to learn to read more words.”) They don’t identify as readers. (“I can’t read.” “I don’t know how.”) They can’t self select titles that correspond to their levels. (filling book boxes with chapter books because this is what they want to read when they can’t read 90% of the text on the page.) They need to be reading and they aren’t and this is not okay.
I feel a lot of things as I have discovered this. I feel angry and I am not going to elaborate on what I know has gone wrong. I feel worried. I feel little moments of desperate. This isn’t grade 1 where my task is to grow readers from non readers. This is grade 2 and 3 where I must now grow readers and play all kinds of catch up. I feel responsible. But most importantly, I feel urgent. And this is what I celebrate – the urgency of my task. The advocacy that needs to happen. My determination. It is fierce. My fear. It is motivating. My breath. It keeps me grounded. Somehow, someway, we are going to change things for these children.
I began sharing wordless titles in “tell aloud” experiences to make the point that we can read with or without words. That the pictures tell a story. That our own experiences and inferences fill in the missing pieces. That we have a sense of stories that is in us and we bring it to the books we read.
Friday afternoon, I packed up books from the classroom library into three rubbermaid bins. This wasn’t about taking books away. It was about removing titles that are currently not relevant and are actually, distracting. I left about 7/8 of the books still out. There are a lot of books. But now, we can focus on surrounding ourselves with books that we can read or might grow into in the near future. Some people thought this made me sad. Only very briefly. Until I thought about it: I love books because I love that they are read by readers. I adore the readers (and the readers to be) and these readers are my priority. These books will be back. When we’re ready.
I filled display shelves with titles we have read and loved together. We need to look around and see our reading experiences in our environment.
I went to the library and brought up bins of levelled readers and have them available not to start labelling a child with a number but to have titles to place into book boxes that match reading ability and a “ladder” to climb. I filled some other display shelves full of books that many of us can read with success. Displaying titles honours them. It screams, “Hey you! Read me!” It says these books are for us.
I celebrate that I must get my students reading. I acknowledge the fear and the worry. I accept the challenge. I celebrate the necessity, the urgency and the will.
From here . . . here we go.
Thank you to Ruth Ayres and the #celebratelu community! Happy 100 celebrations! I haven’t shared 100 times yet. But, in the future, I will get there. Every celebration gives me more.
Being part of a community that regularly shares gratitude and celebrations truly transforms my weeks. This week, knowing that I must celebrate allowed me to frame this challenge in the most positive way possible. Healthy for me, necessary for my students.