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.