Buffets and Books: What Fills Me Up as a Reader? by Dana Kramaroff

Years ago when I set out to understand myself and my students better as readers, I had to think of my own reading life first. I must have had food on the brain, because I started making the connection of how choosing what I might read next is similar to when people visit a buffet. Some wander around for a long time, plate in hand, not sure what to add first.  Others, dive right in, piling favorite items quickly.  This is similar to my life as a reader.  Sometimes I wander around for a long time deciding what to read next and other times I pile on exactly what I want and do so right away.

Going to a buffet is overwhelming, just as going to a big wall of books can be.  Some avoid buffets and the wall of books because there are just too many choices and they don’t know what they want.  But, in a buffet, there is something for everyone. Seriously.  Everyone can find something to eat there, but you have to really know what you like, what you can consume, and how much.  The same goes for reading. We have to really know what we like, what we can consume, and how much.

This is how I pushed myself and my students to understand who we are as readers. We connected the ideas of buffets and book shopping so we could make a record on actual paper plates with all the parts that make up our reading identity.

The thing I have learned every year that I do this is that who I am as a reader, my reading identity, is always changing.  My current age, life experiences, and interests guide this identity and so my plate is always different and when I span them out in one space, I can see a record of what was important to me then, what is important to me still, and what is newly important to me now.

I was very pregnant when I created this first plate.  My identity was wrapped around all things MOM! Plus, I was a reader of mysteries and horror back then. The gold writing around the edge is completely symbolic of my teaching of second and third grade.

I was very pregnant when I created this first plate. My identity was wrapped around all things MOM! Plus, I was a reader of mysteries and horror back then. The gold writing around the edge is completely symbolic of my teaching of second and third grade.

 

My identity has moved from reading mysteries to reading “chick lit.” I see my identity also wrapped around my graduate work, my new job at that time, and the life of having a toddler.

My identity has moved from reading mysteries to reading “chick lit.” I see my identity also wrapped around my graduate work, my new job at that time, and the life of having a toddler.

 

I must have been pretty nostalgic because I chose to record books that were part of my reading identity from when I was little on this plate.  I also, listed many titles/series from teaching third grade. Harry Potter and Twilight also were represented on this one!  These were huge for me at this time in my life.

I must have been pretty nostalgic because I chose to record books that were part of my reading identity from when I was little on this plate. I also, listed many titles/series from teaching third grade. Harry Potter and Twilight also were represented on this one! These were huge for me at this time in my life.

 

My identity here definitely includes much more online reading.  I am noticing that the professional text go-tos have remained the same for years! My identity also reflects life with a five year old!

My identity here definitely includes much more online reading. I am noticing that the professional text go-tos have remained the same for years! My identity also reflects life with a five year old!

 

I recently created this one!  It seems like so much of my reading identity, in fact the majority of it, comes from online. I read much less picture books and have spent a lot of time in middle grade fiction of late.  This plate reflects all three of my children. My professional text go-tos are definitely different. Blogs about reading and writing are a big part of my reading life now.

I recently created this one! It seems like so much of my reading identity, in fact the majority of it, comes from online. I read much less picture books and have spent a lot of time in middle grade fiction of late. This plate reflects all three of my children. My professional text go-tos are definitely different. Blogs about reading and writing are a big part of my reading life now.

I want students to tell what they noticed about my plates when I talk about them. They see the changes within my identity. They also notice what I have included authors, book titles, series, and genres.  But, my aim is to help them define reading as more than just books to include: magazines, catalogs, Lego manuals, Minecraft text, the reading we do on Twitter, blogs, Facebook, and more.  I want to show them the possibilities, to open their minds to see that reading identities are built on more than picture books and novels.

After sharing my plates, the students notice the kinds of things I have included on mine as they prepare to start their own.

After sharing my plates, the students notice the kinds of things I have included on mine as they prepare to start their own.

 

On the back of his plate, a fifth grade student reflects on the big ideas he has developed after filling the front of his plate.

On the back of his plate, a fifth grade student reflects on the big ideas he has developed after filling the front of his plate.

I am always amazed at how differently students fill their plates.  Here are a few examples.

I am always amazed at how differently students fill their plates. Here are a few examples.

While students are working on their own plates, I confer with my plate in hand.  This is my chance to really learn about who my students are as readers and they are so surprised with how much is part of their reading identity.

Together, we develop an understanding of ourselves and of each other and from the creation of our plates find we have a lot in common, can make suggestions for things to try next from the “book buffet,” and begin to “get” each other better.

Trying a new food at a buffet and loving it feels so good.  You are proud of yourself for stretching out of your comfort zone and the rewards are many – you feel filled up inside. So, later in the year, sharing how I have revisited my plate and added on to it inspires students to do the same and keeps me in tune with my own reading life. This is why we tuck our plates into our book boxes or pin them to the wall – for easy access and movability – as you can imagine, plates have been known to travel to the library or around the classroom on many occasions.

My goal for myself and for my students is to grasp who we are, as readers, right here, right now. For each of us to be able to look at our plates and have some big ideas about our reading identity is powerful and leads to better reflection, and when it comes down to it – more reading.  I want my students to feel ravenous for the things that are part of their reading identity, just as much as I am about mine.

So, start here…grab a paper plate of your own and some colorful pens or markers. Once you have made a record of your own reading identity then share a bit of you with the world, your students. Invite them to notice, learn about who you are, and then to create their own.

If you or your students try this out, please share them with me on Twitter @LitCoachDanaK so we can know each other better, as readers, and celebrate our unique reading identities.

 

Dana Kramaroff is a K-6 Elementary Instructional Coach in Pennsylvania and a former classroom teacher of grades 2, 3, and 6. She has been a fellow of the National Writing Project since 2004. She is a reader and a writer and proud member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.  You can read her mind by visiting her blog: www.lettersfromcoachk.wordpress.com .