I am embracing the idea put forth by Lucy Calkins in The Art of Teaching Reading regarding independent reading-(Oops-you can tell I got distracted during writing. The reference to Calkins’ Chapter 17-September in a 2-8 Grade Reading Workshop: Reading with Stamina and Comprehension)-One of the sections is titled “Reading Easy Books with Understanding”. Calkins recommends that “every teacher of reading starts the year by steadfastly directing children toward reading a lot of easy book, and reading these books fluently and smoothly, with clear comprehension, and at a good pace” (p. 339). Calkins states that this is a TEMPORARY goal-I loved this section! It so clearly puts in words what I have known about students, but had a hard time explaining to parents who fret about their fourth grader loving Babymouse or insisting that they are ready to reading Twilight at the beginning of fourth grade. Often parents’ sense of self is so tied to their child being a good reader that they have a hard time seeing the trees in the forest. This has continued to be a big issue every year I taught fourth grade.
Calkins also has a great section in this chapter about how often students use their desire to be a good reader by picking books to “read” that showcase their future selves, rather than their current reading selves. “Teaching children to read books they can understand with ease will have dramatic payoffs, so this is an especially effective lesson for the September of a reading workshop”. September also is when teachers should do everything possible to make sure that students are reading for “longer and longer stretches of time each day, and that they are making time for reading, and they begin, continue through, and complete books at a good pace. These are not small goals“.
Other really smart subsections of this chapter are:
Reading a Lot of Books with Stamina
Reading with Fluency
Reading with Friends
Reading in a Way That Allows Us to Retell
Holding Readers Accountable to the Text
The last couple years teaching fourth grade I started the year with a read-aloud of The Field Journal (The Spiderwick Chronicles Book #1) by Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi. It was always a huge hit and has always gotten everyone from my most reluctant reader to the gifted students and everyone in between hooked on the series. For some it is the first book they have been excited about reading, for others they can read the whole series of five in a week. The common thread-all students were excited about reading, reading with stamina, and reading with friends (I must have been channeling Lucy Calkins without knowing it :) ) . My classroom library collection included four copies of the first three books in the series and two or three of the other three. (It was tough springing for the same book, but I did find used copies very inexpensively on E-bay that I supplemented my collection).
These two reasons are why I picked collections of “easy” books for classroom libraries that I knew did not already have Babymouse, 39 Clues, Diary of Wimpy Kid, and books that tie into a series such as Warriors or Septimus Heap.
When I visited schools is New York City during my Spring Break, one of the principals had a “Book Club” where he would personally deliver a copy of a selected book to every classroom in the building, do a little book talk, and invite students to read the book and join him for a celebration. I’m sure you can guess how popular the program was! Students waited eagerly for their chance to read the principal’s book club book. He also did a GREAT job of selecting books that were hot off the presses or were part of a series. This is an idea worth emulating!