Bear with me here, but I get pretty
excited when it comes to reading. This week, I assessed most of my students on
their reading levels (with help from my awesome Trent University Teacher Candidate), and I was absolutely thrilled to see the progress they’ve
made. (I’m sure I’m supposed to maintain a neutral expression as they read, but
if any child looked up he or she would have seen the silly grin on my face!)
Our school board uses the PM
Benchmark program, and what happens is that I sit with the child, give them an introduction to the
story, and they read it to me. I keep a running record of their errors, which
can be helpful when figuring out if they’re substituting words that look the
same (hat/hot), or mean the same (hat/cap), and what words they’re still having
trouble with. Then the child retells the story to me and orally answers a few
pre-set reading comprehension questions. Their percentage of accuracy, combined
with their comprehension, tells me what level they have reached in the program.
Some ideas I incorporate in my class
to support reading (this list is by all means not exhaustive; just a few highlights):
Self-selected reading: For 20 minutes a day, every day, the students are allowed to find a
cozy spot in the room to silently read material of their choosing. In September
we have to do a lot of work on how to choose a just-right book, so that the
time they spend reading each day can really help “grow their brains”. Regularly
choosing books that are too challenging, or way too easy, won’t be beneficial for
them.  I truly believe that the best way
to improve reading is to read. Crazy, I know, but compared to worksheets and
drills out of context, reading material that they’re interested in is so
motivational and authentic. For children who really struggle, especially those
with learning disabilities, there are some great direct instruction (rote
drill) type programs that are very successful (our school board uses Empower,
which is taught to small groups by the Special Education Resource Teacher), but
I always want to combine that with high-interest books as well. 

The kids love to read somewhere other than their desks!
An extensive classroom library: We do visit the school library once a week, but
in the classroom there are hundreds of books students can access as often as
necessary. Bins are labelled by genre or book series. I never label based on
reading level, which some educators might disagree with, but I also provide
each student with a handful of leveled books from our school “book room” to keep in their desks to supplement their own choices, so they always have material they can handle.
Points earned from Scholastic book orders really help to build the library, as
well as donations from families and thrift shop finds. I allow students to borrow books with no
sign-out system, and to take books home at will. I trust the families, and if a
couple of books go missing along the way by accident it’s still totally worth
it. (I’ve had many books returned months and even years later, when families
discover them at home!)
 “Featured Book” rack: This is where I place books we’ve read in class (it can be very helpful
for kids to reread books that they’ve heard as read-alouds) and titles that go
along with a subject of study (e.g. Black History Month, liquids and solids).
Grade 8 buddies: Once a week for half an hour we
meet up with our buddies from the Grade 8 room. Sometimes I visit the older
classroom first to talk about what strategy/skill  the Grade 2/3s are working on, and some days
there’s a writing component or I even switch it up and have them work 1 to 1 on
a math task, but usually it’s another solid chunk of reading time.
After school program: In January, I set up weekly after school program where a few of my
students stay for an hour and read with local high school students looking to
earn their volunteer requirements. I can really see the difference it’s making
for those kids.
At-home-reading:  No rules, no reading logs. (I’m a parent; I get it!) I find
students a short book, at the right level, from the book room, make a note in
my binder, and send it home. When the student can read it fluently (sometimes
this is the next day, sometimes weeks later), it gets returned and exchanged
for a new one. That’s it.
Before I wrap up, I want to make
sure I’m clear that there’s a whole lot more to reading than the scores: I can
see the kids’ interest levels have shot up, parents tell me they’re reading
more at home (and more willingly), the students can show their comprehension
and share their thoughts about reading material much more adeptly, they say “YES!” when I announce they have extra time to read – but there’s
also something to be said for cold, hard data, and seeing those numbers go up
really does give me a thrill. (By the way, I don’t share the actual levels with
the students, we just talk about their progress in descriptive terms, but I do
update parents with notes in the planners.)
A grandmother of one of my students stopped
me after Mass on the weekend to tell me how impressed she is with the gains her
grandson has made. While teaching kids to read is most definitely “my job”, it’s
certainly nice to get that acknowledgment. I’m also very aware that the
progress happens much more quickly when there’s support at home as well, so I’m
definitely not doing it alone!
So there you have it – the highlight
of my week! It might help the kids too that their teacher is a voracious
reader. On tap for the weekend: catching up on my favourite magazines on Next Issue,
and reading Funny Girl by Nick Hornby.
Can’t wait!

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