In school this week I've worked hard to get kids working on independent reading, just like I do every fall. I'm glad that I wrote these lesson plans several years ago--I still print them and follow them each year! The start of the school year is overwhelming enough without starting from scratch.
The path to independent reading starts with read alouds. During read aloud, I can model the kinds of thinking that I'm expecting of students during independent reading. Over the course of this week, students slowly took over the task of thinking about our shared texts.
Tuesday: Students shared their thinking with a partner. I generalized the kind of thinking from what they shared ("You shared a question. Questioning is a kind of thinking that readers do.") and made a chart.
Wednesday: Students wrote their thinking on two sticky notes when I stopped at two points in the text. They shared their thinking with a partner, and we tried to categorize their thinking. ("When you make a guess about how a character is feeling, that's a kind of thinking called inferring.")
Thursday: Students wrote their thinking on two sticky notes about our read aloud, and then two sticky notes from independent reading. They tried to categorize their thinking and wrote symbols like question marks, exclamation points, or stars to represent different kinds of thinking.
Friday: Students graduated to putting their thinking on a chart that they will use over the next few weeks.
But what books do I choose to start the year? I like to change things up. One thing that I wanted to do this year was give kids a taste of books that are not easy, and that do not yield their secrets quickly. But this is not always successful when kids are hot and sweaty. So I had to be very careful in my book picks, probably more careful than those lucky teachers in chilly buildings.
Instructions by Neil Gaiman turned out to be a good choice. I spent most of last summer devouring Neil Gaiman's books for adults, so when I ran into this in a beachside bookstore I knew I had to have it. It's interesting enough to keep kids entranced, and short enough to read in just a few moments. But it leaves a reader with more questions than answers. In case you haven't read it, the book is a poetic set of instructions for a quest, shown acted out by a fox. It looks like a fairy tale, reads like procedural text, and leaves you thinking.
Previously by Allan Ahlberg turned out to be loved by some, hated by others. Perfect for teaching about reading ratings! (Hm, can you tell that I read a lot of British fantasy over the summer? Like dark chocolate, it's left a taste in my mouth.) This story upends fairy tales by telling what happened--well, previously. Never before have I thought that the Jack who fought the giant was the same Jack that fell down the hill! The students liked the illustrations, especially the endpiece that shows the characters as babies.
Heckedy Peg, a used bookstore find, as a read aloud. I first met this book when I was teaching a 4 year-old preschool class long ago. The center director was a fabulous teacher who sometimes read this book to the students before naptime while I cleaned up from lunch and set out cots. While some might not want to share a book with a scary witch in it with young children, this director knew that kids need fairy tales and an element of danger. Besides, Heckedy Peg stars a wonderful mother who bravely and cleverly gets her children back. It was a big naptime hit.
Would fourth graders enjoy this as much as preschoolers? Absolutely! They all wanted to read it again during independent reading time. One boy asked to take it home for the weekend to read to his mother. From a teaching standpoint, I love how an event in the beginning of the book (what the children want their mother to bring home from the market) leads to the resolution of the conflict at the end of the book. Many traditional fairy tales just don't hang together this well.
I have written about Crab Moon before. I love the paintings in this book. For teaching about narrative and informational text, this book is a must. It has information in it, but is still definitely a narrative. This leads to a great discussion with students about the differences between narrative and informational text.
So it's been a productive week. In between reading times we have done tons of screening assessments. While these numbers are useful, I really think that the time we share in read aloud tells me just as much about what this year's classes will be like. I'm looking forward to getting to know all of the readers even better!