Getting down to the business of reading

Reading Groups started this week. Every morning I have the pleasure of working with a small group of eager Grade 2 students to help them develop their literacy skills: build reading fluency, learn new comprehension strategies, provide opportunities for meaningful responses to literature, learn how to navigate non-fiction texts, learn about genres, etc. That’s what I know I need to do. What did I tell these lovely, eager little students on our first meeting together? Not all of that! Nope. I explained that I was going to transform them into READING FANATICS! That they would be so excited about reading that they would choose books over candy, over chocolate cake, over roller coaster rides, over the latest movies. That they would eat, sleep and dream books. I went on for a while about this, trying to make sure my reading excitement was as contagious as those unblocked sneezes we all wince at. Their reaction? Fully in! “Can we have book parties?” “Can we take a book outside to read?” “Can we sometimes just sit and read and read and read?” My answers to all of these things? Yes. Yes. And yes!

In our first two days together, we got busy. We tackled some big questions: What do good readers do? What is difficult about reading? We read for “get into your book” chunks of time. I read to them . . . a book that celebrates the gift of reading (Jeremiah Learns to Read).

We are on the road to becoming passionate readers, of, I am hoping, the lifelong kind!

Peek into our room for a taste . . .

The first big question I asked: What do good readers do? We charted our answers: I particularly loved the excitement and thoughtfulness that was expressed trying to explain to me what the “right book” might be. (see below)

Also important to note is that the immediate answer to my question: “What do good readers do?” was an exuberant, “They read!” Exactly! So simple. My job? Making sure there is time in the day to do this. Every day.

The next day we read Jeremiah Learns to Read written by Jo Ellen Bogart and illustrated by Laura Fernandez and Rick Jacobson.  In this story, we meet Jeremiah an old man who can do many things. Amazing and beautifully useful things like tap a maple tree, build a split rail fence and grow a vegetable garden. But Jeremiah has never learned to read. The students found this concept startling. Their comments and questions revealed their worries and bewilderment.

 “He can’t read? But he’s old.” “Oh . . . that would be so horrible.” “What if his kids asked him to read them a book?” “I really wish he could read.” “Were there no schools when he was little?” 

Jeremiah decides to attend school with the children in his neighbourhood and learns to read and write. One of the most lovely moments of the story is when he reads a poem aloud to his wife.

I read this book as a reminder that reading is a great gift we need to treasure. It also helped us start talking about how reading is not always easy.

I posed this question to the students: “ What is difficult about reading?” I like to ask this because it helps me understand where the group is with their learning.  What struggles do they identify? Do their ideas centre on the decoding of text? Or, have they moved into comprehension issues?

I noted down their ideas on a chart as we explored this question. This group are solid primary readers who are still developing their ability to read more complex texts and who are unfamiliar with some strategies to decode some longer multi-syllabic words. So it was natural that many of their worries focused on the actual being able to read/pronounce the words on the page. There was the beginning of a discussion about meaning and again a focus on what is the “right” book. This helps me to realize that we will need lots of instruction on genre, book selection, introduction to new authors, etc. We will revisit this chart as we move through the year and add to it as necessary as we learn and grow as readers.

What I value most about getting student ideas and input like this is that while that chart paper is still blank, I just have no idea what ideas we will end up listing. We are directing and shaping our learning together.

As we get down to the important business of reading, I couldn’t be more excited. We have a busy and book filled year ahead!

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