Knowing Our Readers by Franki Sibberson
It is October. And, I am ready to teach. Don’t get me wrong. I have been teaching lots of things. But during the first few weeks of school, I am teaching without knowing my children well. I am planning lessons and experiences that I hope are right for this group of children. And I’ve done a lot of watching and noticing. The question for me is never ‘Will every one of these children become readers?” I am confident that they will. But I know the route to becoming a reader may be a different one for each child. And that’s what makes teaching a joyful challenge. I enjoy planning for the first six weeks of school but I LOVE planning once the first six is past and I really know my students.
I’ve finished my fall assessments and entered the data into the district data collection systems. I’ve compiled the information for myself, looking closely at every reader’s strengths and needs. For every child, I’ve thought, “Where can I take this child next?” I’ve looked at class data to think about what kinds of lessons the whole class can benefit from—which ones are a priority. I’ve looked at which things require that I pull small groups of student together. I have lots to go on when I talk to kids individually about their reading. I know levels and numbers. I know fluency rates and the types of miscues students make. But I know so much more than that.
- I’ve figured out who is involved in the underground conversations going on about who is next in line for the newest Lunch Lady book.
- I have heard the ways in which each child is getting more comfortable talking about books during our read aloud time with Capture the Flag and The One and Only Ivan.
- I watched as some children get up during Reading Workshop because they haven’t found a book worth sticking with and I’ve watched those who are always glued to their book.
- I know who has a new book each day and who sticks with a book until the end.
- I know who likes to carry around big fat books and who is nervous about reading anything long.
- I’ve seen the look on the face of a child who discovered that favorite author Rick Riordin authored the first book in the 39 Clues series.
- I’ve watched kids discover new series and authors to love.
- I know who notices the new books I bring in before I actually take them out of my bag.
- I’ve heard from parents that some kids have been talking about books on their way to soccer practice after school.
- I have had honest conversations with a student who finds reading very hard and is trying to like it better.
- I have celebrated with a child who has finished her first book of the year after a long struggle to do so.
- I have shared in the excitement of our first Skype Author visit with Kate Messner.
- I have laughed at the first literary joke made in our new community.
It is clear to me that we are well on our way to becoming a community of readers–that there has already been huge growth and that reading is at the heart of our classroom community. But for me, a community is more than a group of people who love books. My work is to create an intellectual community around books. A learning community is at its best when the collaborative thinking is better than the thinking any one person could create on his or her own, a community that is constantly growing. But a strong community also means that each individual changes and grows too.
So, this is the time of year that I dig back into the curriculum, bring stacks of books home to revisit and think about how each might support this unique group of learners. My biggest challenge is to plan in a way that is grounded in all I know about teaching young children, in a way that wants more for my students than to pass a standardized test. It is in mid-October, when I have learned so much about each individual in the classroom, that I know that all of this is possible.
Franki Sibberson is an elementary teacher in Dublin, Ohio. She blogs with Mary Lee Hahn at A Year of Reading (http://readingyear.blogspot.com). You can find her on Twitter as @frankisibberson.