Keeping Reading Magic in Middle School (or How We Reorganized our Middle School to Improve Reading) by Tara McCabe
When you build a reading community in your classroom, it’s magical.
We work all year to make magic happen in sixth grade. My partner teacher and I are both joyful readers who are obsessed with instilling a love of reading in our students. We have extensive classroom libraries and read novels aloud daily. We do book talks, book clubs, and book projects. We confer with our students individually and have at least 30 minutes of silent reading time each day. We’ve read plenty of books about teaching reading and have over thirty years between us of teaching middle school. We are also moms who have raised children who love to read.
By June, the vast majority of our students are readers. Before summer, we distribute lists of book suggestions from teachers or classmates and feel good about the reading communities we saw flourishing all year. We believe our students know how to select books and have found joy in reading. Our year is over, but we’ve prepared our readers to continue on.
Then seventh grade would roll around and the magic evaporates.
We had a hard time figuring out what was happening. Our former students weren’t reading when given the chance! During the rare free read times, students were fake reading, asking to go to the bathroom, and whispering to friends.
Our principal hired substitute teachers for a day so our 6th-8th grade team could brainstorm our vision for middle school. We had some other challenges to tackle, but one of our priorities was the reading issue.
During our team day, we noticed that our 7-8th grade English teacher only had 50 minutes for reading and writing. In prior years, almost two hours was devoted to ELA, despite writing and reading demands becoming increasingly more time intensive as students get older. Also, students weren’t getting consistent silent reading time. When they did get time to read, the teacher in the room was usually busy doing something else.
We decided to reorganize so that 7-8th graders would have a reading class in addition to English class. The reading class would be focusedon keeping the magic in reading with read-alouds, silent reading time, teacher-reader conferences, comprehension strategies, and book talks. More importantly, all teachers in our middle school team acknowledged the importance of reading and their role in it.
We are in our third year of the reorganized middle school. Our students are reading more, with all carrying free read books around during the day (and actually reading them!). All of our teachers are incorporating comprehension strategies taught in reading classes into their content areas (Nonfiction Notice and Note by Kylene Beers and Bob Probst) and meet once each month to share how they are doing this. They expect all students in their classrooms to have a free read book to read if work is done. They take silent reading time in their classrooms seriously and have included reading corners and books in their classrooms. They use the reading signposts in reading and writing assignments.
On surveys, students have overwhelmingly said they like to read but don’t have time outside school. They are too busy with sports, activities, and homework. After the first year of reading classes, they said they appreciated time in school to read but still wanted more time! They have also said reading is fun if they have the right book. With the reading classes, they are still able to discuss and share books with their peers, get ideas from teachers, and access our classroom libraries. On the end of the year class evaluations, our seventh and eighth graders overwhelmingly expressed positive feelings about reading, and all of our team agreed our students were engaged in books whenever there was time to read.
Our middle school team and principal ALL believe one of the most important things we can do is to create lifelong readers and know the ability to read well is crucial to success in high school and beyond. With everyone’s support, we have been able to keep the magic in reading throughout all three years of middle school.
Tara McCabe teaches sixth grade English and social studies, and 7-8th grade reading in Davenport, Iowa. She has always loved to read and has fun at school discussing books with her students. Her favorite book is Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. She shares book ideas (and occasionally her new puppy) on Instagram at irishteacher6 and would be happy to get more followers!