September 02

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Letting Go by Kim Hole

Reinventing Intervention. This statement described my goal this past school year. After 7 years as a K-6 reading specialist I knew things had to change. I had just sent 6th graders off that started with me in kindergarten, those student who for various reasons needed on-going reading support. In 7 years those students’ views of reading, the value it held in their lives and the way they saw themselves as readers had not changed. The negative view they had towards reading was an enormous barrier to their growth and I realized removing that barrier had to be my highest priority, before we could get to the mechanics of reading. I knew what I had to do, but the big question left was HOW?

I started simple, I let go. I said goodbye to our reading calendars. When I started this role I firmly believed that in order to ensure that my students were reading at home each night I needed to see an adult’s signature to prove it. I created a lovely monthly reading calendar and began sending them home. It made sense, right? After all they may not have read outside of school if there was no verification needed, no looming threat of consequences. Except I soon realized some students didn’t care, some parents didn’t care and many students got their calendar signed every night, but had obviously not read. My frustration grew as I saw the heartbreak on faces each day of students who had read, but realized no one had signed, they knew they had no proof.

As my frustration peaked at school I stood alongside my two oldest children who brought home calendars and book logs of their own. My children already read every night because it is a part of our family culture, it’s something they love and something that has never needed external motivation or accountability. Yet there it was staring me in the face every night. After snuggling up with a well worn, well loved book I had to remember to write down the title or sign the sheet. I quickly began to resent that extra step that seemed to hone in on our cozy bedtime routine.

Letting go of the calendars was one of the easiest goodbyes I’ve ever had to say and I don’t think a single one of my students or parents shed a tear. I knew I wanted that time back at the beginning of each group to talk about what they were reading, not whether their calendar was signed or not. I needed to show them that I trusted them. I needed my students to know that even if no one at home valued reading that they still could and they didn’t have to depend on anyone else to prove they were readers.

It was a leap of faith. My greatest fear was that unless there was already a strong culture and value for reading in the home (often a rarity for my students) they would not choose to read outside of school. That very easily could have happened, but I worked hard to lay a foundation at the beginning of the year that would build trust and support students in carrying a desire to read into their homes.

I started by creating a reader’s contract that each student signed (as well as myself and a parent) on the first day our groups met. It focused on what each person’s role was in helping the reader to grow. We spent time talking about what a contract is and what their signature meant about their commitment and how others would support them. I asked each child to sign and if a parent didn’t sign it I met with that child to brainstorm how I could support their reading at home. It was then taped inside their work folders and seen every day.

I also did whatever I could to get my hands on new texts across all levels to give students much greater access to current, high interest, diverse literature. I used donations, Scholastic points, consignment sales and retiring teachers’ libraries. The key was that every text I brought in had to be high interest. In the past students in my intervention groups took home the books we had used during instruction to reread for fluency, but this year every student from kindergarten to sixth got to pick the books they took home to read each night. That choice was powerful.

One of the most important things I did was to set aside time for students to talk about their reading each day. Our first few minutes together were no longer spent checking calendars but instead I asked how the book they took home was going. I asked if a character got out of a situation. I asked them to sell me on a book they were reading that I hadn’t gotten to yet. I asked if they saw that I had the next book in the series for when they were ready. And I trusted. I trusted that they were reading. I trusted that if they said they had their own book they were into at home and didn’t need to take one that it was true and I asked about it. I trusted that they were holding up their end of the bargain and I showed them that I was. And it worked! I had waiting lists for books that hadn’t seen my classroom shelves in months, I had students rushing in my room to tell me about what had happened in their story the night before, I had students begging to take home a favorite story for the second or third time. It worked and I am so glad I let go.

Kim Hole is a K-6 Reading Specialist with 14 years in education who is lucky enough to spend every day helping students unlock their individual barriers to reading growth and find the love of a good book. She also loves working with teachers to help them build strong cultures of reading within their classrooms, schools and beyond. In her other life she and her husband are enjoying the adventures of raising four readers of their own and she nurtures her other passion, photography, striving to capture the noisy, messy, beautiful moments of their lives. She’s excited to have just started sharing her stories both from within the classroom and at home on her blog at https://readlearnlive.wordpress.com/ and you can follow her on twitter @Khole81.