Our Class Loves to Read Books and Write by Andrea Hernandez
When I started a new job last year, teaching 4th/5th language arts, I had one big goal in mind: to build a community of readers, writers and thinkers. I knew that my greatest strength would be my own lifelong experience as a passionate and avid reader. I have always despised canned assignments that turn reading, a powerful connector of human beings and their stories, into boring school work. I vowed to be authentic and true, to connect my students to the joy of following their own reading purposes and interests.
It was messy for sure. There were still school-y things I was required to do, like giving grades, which make little sense when the goal is to expand habits of mind. But, overall, being the lead-reader in our little community has been a great joy.
When I surveyed my students, at the end of the year, asking what elements of our class had helped them most in their growth as readers, the top answers were time to read and read alouds. When I surveyed returning students at the beginning of the year, asking what they are most looking forward to learning/doing this year, many students said they are anticipating read-alouds. We love our read-alouds!
Here’s how I “do” read-alouds. I select a few books based on reviews and recommendations. I do not pre-read the book! I know many teachers will think this is odd, but I want to enjoy the unfolding story along with my students. I am confident in my ability to make my thinking transparent without pre-planning the lesson, due to my history as a reader. Sometimes I preview the books with the class, showing book trailers and reading reviews; other times I give the titles and let students do their own book-research. Then I share a Google form and students vote for their choice.
Choice builds excitement before we even open the book. I keep an ongoing list of possible to-reads, and our school librarian and my students suggest titles to add. If someone in the class has already read the book, we remove that title from the list. Not that there is anything wrong with rereading a good book, but there are always plenty of options that are new to everyone.
During the read aloud, I model thinking and comprehension strategies. We use the story as a springboard for writing, research and discussion. I am amazed at the myriad possibilities for authentic learning that arise from each and every book we read. After we finish reading, each child verbally rates the book, 1-5 stars, sharing their thoughts and feelings about the story. The students know that this is what my own book club does at the outset of each meeting. One child jots down the individual ratings and calculates the average class rating which is added to our “Good Read-Alouds” wall.
Time to Reflect
Our little community has developed many rituals, both formal and informal, for sharing our literate lives. As my students enter the classroom each day, they are bubbling over with book talk. I try to find time for weekly book sharing circles during which we share with the group just a bit about our current read.
At the end of last year, I had students take the time to reflect on their reading lives by creating and sharing infographics. The accompanying conversation was robust with memories of early reading favorites and challenges overcome.
The most meaningful moments are never scripted. They arise from the deep connections that are the true reason for literacy. As I reflect on my year, I think of a few favorite stories, proof that reading, even in school, is about so much more than any number or letter could ever convey.
I had recently finished reading Wonderstruck, by Brian Selznick, with 4th grade. This incredible story is told partly through illustrations and partly with words. Towards the end of the book, the characters in the two stories meet up and the words and illustrations combine to tell the rest of the story.
When we got to that picture, I stopped reading for the day.
I challenged students to use their iPads and what they knew from the story to see if they could find out where the characters were. Several of them figured out that the characters were at the Queens Museum.
A few days later, I flew to New York for a conference. As the plane was landing at LaGuardia, I looked out the window to see that we were directly over this sight! My seatmate must have thought I was crazy as I scrambled to find my phone so I could take this photo for my students.
Another favorite story was inspired by the class read-aloud of Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein. This fun book had my 4th graders begging for more read-aloud time and groaning in disappointment when I closed the book each day.
A few days after we finished the book, one of my students told me that she was checking out Chris Grabenstein’s website and discovered that he Skypes with classes for free. She asked if she could email him to set up a Skype call for our class. Of course, I was thrilled, but what I found most gratifying was the email she wrote. My teacher-eyes could not help but see her growth as both a reader and writer.
“Hello Mr. Chris Grabenstein. I’m a huge fan! Your book is fantastic! Our fourth grade class is hoping we could skype with you this school year or next school year. In class for read aloud our teacher read Mr. Lemoncello’s Library. Everyone in the class really enjoyed the book. Our class loves to read books and write. We only pick books that look really good that is why we chose Mr. Lemoncello’s Library. The fourth grade class would be honored to skype with you. We have a lot of good questions for you to answer. Please contact my teacher. This is her email _____. Again please skype us it would be amazing!”
This was written by a child who, at the beginning of the year, told me she did not really like to read. “Our class loves to read books and write.” I read that line again and again, inspired by the power of a good book shared by a community of readers.
Andrea Hernandez teaches 4th and 5th grade language arts at the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School in Jacksonville, FL. She loves sharing the magic of written language with her students. To read more of her thoughts about teaching, learning and literacy, please follow her blog http://edtechworkshop.blogspot.com or find her on Twitter @edtechworkshop