Sunday, August 10, 2008

Read-A-Thon Musings

Yesterday and today, next to a cool blue pool in sunny California, three friends and I have been reading The Brothers K, my all-time favorite novel. We planned this read-a-thon event months ago, and it is kinda like a dream come true. Reading my favorite book, along side a handful of thoughtful readers, interrupted only to enjoy a dip in the pool, a fruity drink, or a delicious meal--I honestly couldn't dream anything better.

A couple observations---we're all "good" readers. Duh. But we read at very different paces. The big range in our reading speeds has become quite pronounced as we've all 4 been reading the same book. There comes a point, between 3rd and 6th grade, me thinks, when the darn DIBELS booklets ought to be flushed down the toilet. Perhaps they have a very limited utility, but PUH-LEEZE. They are even better than AR tests at obliterating thoughtful reading and beneficial teaching.

I was imagining a lot of rich and exciting discussions between the 4 poolside readers, but I have realized that the joy of shoulder to shoulder reading is more about the companionship of carrying on 4 separate but simultaneous conversations between each reader and David James Duncan. Yeh--it's cool, of course, to read funny lines and nod in agreement at well crafted scenes. But this kinda talk has been about ten minutes of our sixteen hour read-a-thon. The joy of doing it together is just in knowing these characters and this story are dwelling not just in my imagination at this instant, but in Julie's, Lisa's, and Connie's as well. And eventually, I'm sure, we'll feel comforted in sharing the grief of a sad story, and the final joy of a triumphant story--but sharing that sadness and joy doesn't take a whole lot of talk. It's more about sympathetic head nodding and back patting. When we're all finished I'm sure we'll all have some thoughts to exchange. But the true beauty of this experience has been rather simple--reading a good book right next to a friend or two who are reading the same good book.

I know we're expert readers here in California today and what I'm extracting from this as far as classroom teaching goes isn't so much that we don't need small reading groups or literature study. But the focus of these groups and of most of our reading mini-lessons ought to primarily be about how to have that rich conversation and experience with the author and the text. For many books, it's not great use of reading time or that interesting or instructive to have belabored discussions with peers. (Maybe??)

I'm still figuring out how to balance independent, choice reading and individual conferences with small group work. I had a great year, last year, putting into practice Nancie Atwell's Reading Zone model. But I do believe there's a value to small group instruction and I want to get that part of reading workshop down this year. I'm still not sure how I'm going to do it though, probably with lots of short stories and shortish novels that the students read in their entirety before we all get together to talk.

8 comments:

Mrs. V said...

This sounds like the perfect way to end your summer vacation! (I'm assuming that you are still on vacation) It is always great to be mindful about considering whether or not the classroom reading environment reflects what real readers do. I also enjoyed Atwell's The Reading Zone. I am going to try out some of the ideas this year.

debrennersmith said...

Teaching our students to just sit around and chat about books - wow, what a wonderful world it would be. www.debrennersmith.com

Anonymous said...

I'm a fifth grade teacher from Georgia and implemented one-on-one reading conferences last year after reading In the Zone. I loved them. I started doing them with just my higher readers and felt they were much more productive then pulling them for small groups. I continued to implement guided reading with my lower kids but I also pumped up my 30 minute oral read time by bringing in more strategy instruction. On hectic days where I couldn't fit in a guided reading group, I conferenced with those low kids. My students write me a letter each week discussing/reflecting on what they are reading, so I can often find time throughout the day to have impromtu conferences. Now I have to convince my other teammates to stop assigning the same novel to everyone and get on board with free choice! ARRGH!

AMY S. said...

anonymous--thanks for the very thoughtful and validating comment. we've got a new basal and had a training on it this week and, well, i'm just heartened to hear other teachers who've had success w/ a model similar to The Reading Zone, and you've strangely (cuz i don't even know ya) given me permission to trust my instincts on my way forward in reading instruction.

anne said...

It is funny you mention this...the second half of last year I did silent reading at the start of every period. I spent a week prior to beginning silent reading on how to select a book, and then spent the next week making sure kids had good books. It was rough in the beginning, but in the end it turned into a very communal experience for us. I always read with them, and I think this helped. I also have a few aids in my class, and they always read along. This started as a management technique. When the kids began to talk, I would ask them to stop so I could read. Soon, I really began to enjoy my reading with the kids, and, from this more organic conversations began. Sometimes kids would yell out when exciting things happened in their books, and other times, when we got done reading, kids would want to ask questions about stuff that related to their books. It was funny, when I tried to get them to speak deeply about their books in a more formal way, they really resisted.

I have to admit, I am immediately turned off by Atwell. She is pushed on urban teachers as the panacea to all reading problems -- along with the reading and writing workshop. Everything has its place, but we are forced into this without any regard for what our kids need. For instance, many of my students need phonics, and this gets sacrifice for the workshops. But I just googled Atwell's book and read a synopsis. This is exactly what I believe, and this is exactly what I did. My preliminary results were good, and I plan to continue down this path.

I do something else that my administration would hate if I told them. I don't assign reading for homework. Instead, I focus on getting the kids to love their books so much that they read them at home. I just sort of act like they should be reading, and when ends up happening is that higher achieving students come in chatting with me about their books. Then, it sort of becomes part of the culture. Some of the lower achieving kids start reading their books at night. Probably more than if I assigned it.

AMY S. said...

anne-

after talking to you about some of this kinda stuff before, and also after reading some serious and solid critiques of the Lucy Calkins books by NYC teachers, I've come to believe that it's not so much the principles of reading and writing workshops that are so frustrating and bad, but the fact that they are The BEST PRACTICE DOGMA in some places, particularly in NYC. If any model is used to "teacher-safe" the curriculum or is shoved down teacher's throats, if administrators or district mandates try to eliminate the space for you to mediate the model for your kids--well, it's not only going to fail, it's going to make you (not you, generic hypothetical you/me) hate the particular model. one of the great thing in the SLC district, the thing i hope never changes, is how much trust is given to teachers to mold the model to fit their own teaching methods and their own students. although it may not actually be trust, but hard won contract rights...

anyway. do check out The Reading Zone and don't hate the messages of NA just cuz of some really stupid messengers.

anne said...

I bought the Atwell book. And I am now in a school where I can pretty well teach what I want, so I hate these things less and less all the time.

sexy said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.