What Are the REST of My Kids Doing? Fostering Independence in the K-2 Reading Workshop by Lindsey Moses & Meridith Ogden
My (Lindsey) 2-year-old niece regularly calls me on FaceTime and before even saying hello, she says, “Aunty Lindsey, will you read a book?” Of course, I say yes and head over to the bookshelf to select books I think she will like. One of my favorite parts of this ritual is when she adamantly says, “No!” with each book until I hold one up that she really wants to read. When it is a book she wants, she claps her hands with glee and shouts “YES, YES, Aunty, that one!” This last week she chose “Are you my mother?”- we have read it together many times, but this time she grabs the iPad and I feel like I am on Blair Witch Project as she takes me running down the hall and she grabs her own copy. She says, “I read it.” She proceeded to provide me with a beautiful approximated reading. This “independent reading” experience was grounded in a social context (our relationship and talk surrounding reading), choice (her rejection and choice of text), and engagement (enjoying and engaging with a familiar story).
This connection to reading life, identity, and independence should be at the forefront of young children’s experiences in primary classrooms. In Meridith’s first-grade classroom, it is. We first started working together on a yearlong research project where we set goals related to literacy. Meridith’s goals for enhancing her instruction included developing a love of reading and fostering interpretive talk about text among her young readers. We wanted them to take ownership of their reading lives so that they were having purposeful learning experiences while we were pulling small groups or conferring with students. We knew it wasn’t as easy as asking 29 first graders to read independently and participate in meaningful conversations about text without teacher support. We knew we needed to support our readers, so we spent a year documenting our process with video recordings and informal assessments. Then, we started writing the book while moving into our second year of this research and refining our assessment, instruction, and interactions.
We named the book, “What Are the Rest of My Kids Doing?” based on the most common question Lindsey was hearing while providing professional development. We set out to make transparent all of our challenges and successes while supporting young readers’ meaningful independence. In many professional books, we read short portions of chapters that talked briefly about readers’ successful independence with everything from independent reading to literature discussion groups. We initially felt a little discouraged when our first graders were not initially reading, responding and discussing books in meaningful ways. We found that it required more initial support with many opportunities for choice and authentic reading and talking experiences. Meridith shares a little window into one of our initial attempts of independently run discussion groups.
The day had finally come; my (Meridith) first graders were ready to run their own discussion groups. I was going to step back and just be a fly on the wall. I had it all planned out. I would casually walk by, listen in for a moment, jot down a few notes, move on and confer with a child near by. It was going to be great. Well, it wasn’t great. I am not even sure we could classify it as good. When I “casually” strolled by my students were barely talking. They were nervously flipping through their books wondering which sticky to share. I gave them a little more time, but that led to arguing about who should go first. Finally, I heard Lorainna sigh, “This is really hard without Mrs. Ogden”. I realized at that moment I had jumped shipped too quickly. I was so excited for them to run their own groups that I forgot about that old gradual release model. It wasn’t that they didn’t have great thoughts to share. The problem was they did not know how to share their thoughts without my conversational support. Running their own discussion groups was going to take time, but I knew they could do it with proper scaffolding.
As we planned, implemented, and reflected, we found it typically included a six-stage process of pre-assessing, teaching, scaffolding, monitoring and refining, extending, and assessing. In each chapter of the book, we walk readers through the experience with instructional ideas, quick assessments (like 90-second checklists, observational note-taking guides, and discussion group conversation analysis guides), anchor charts, classroom stories, student work and responses, and real-world experiences and outcomes. None of it is perfect- it is messy and fun and a work in progress- just like first grade.
We start with our environment. We reflected on how we could make spaces that supported independence and choice. We also believe the library is the heart of our environment, and students need choice in the texts they are reading. We discuss routines for supporting independence related to independent reading and book shopping.
All of the work on independence builds into a greater context that includes choice, talk, and engagement with a community of readers. We introduce the evolution of strategies to deepen reading experiences, but also to document thinking, and prepare for conversations with partner, small groups, and the whole class. We include examples of anchor charts/lessons and student responses.
The documentation of strategies becomes part of their reading responses, so students aren’t completing busy work or repeating their thinking. These evolve over time, and we explain how they move from initial strategy documentation to more critical analysis of deeper thinking to inquiry-based projects and persuasive writing to nominate books for our book awards show.
Finally, we discuss how we foster collaborative independence with partner and small-group opportunities. Reading is social, and it matters. We found the value of talk and engaging with others about books were essential in creating our own version of a first-grade nerdy book club.
These experiences are initially supported by instruction, observation, and support, but the ultimate goal is always independence. This looks different every year with a new group of readers, but we’ll leave you with a quick peak of what Meridith’s classroom looked like after we worked through the stages of supporting independence.
Over time with proper scaffolding and a lot of talk about books, my (Meridith) students were able to run their own discussion groups. In fact, they got so good at it they initiated self-selected books clubs. It organically happened on a Friday during book shopping. I noticed Adan was buzzing around our classroom library with a stack of books in his hand asking friends if they would like to join his “Little Red Hen” book club. Friends joyfully accepted his invitation and added the book to their book box. The following week, Adan gathered his friends to discuss the book. As I strolled by they were artfully discussing the author’s message, critiquing the characters’ actions, and making meaningful connections. This moment felt like a victory. They were independently engaged in a meaningful discussion about a book of their choice.
You can find our book, a sample chapter, the assessments, note-taking guides, and organizational supports at http://www.heinemann.com/products/E08775.aspx.
Lindsey Moses is an assistant professor of literacy education at Arizona State University. She does research and provides professional development on literacy education across the country. A former elementary teacher, Lindsey is the author of Supporting English Learners in the Reading Workshop, which provides ideas that facilitate success for diverse learners. She is also coauthor with Mike Opitz of Comprehension and English Language Learners.
Meridith Ogden has worked as a first- and second-grade classroom teacher in the greater Phoenix area for the past twelve years. She is currently working as a first-grade demonstration teacher in the Paradise Valley Unified School District, where she shares her passion for reading workshop with other teachers. Visit her on Twitter @meridith_ogden or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.