Friday, March 20, 2015

Back from my hiatus.. and how I explain reading to parents (and students!)

Well hello! I've been absent for about 9 months now because..
I had a little baby! Leo is now two months old (how!?) and I'm currently on my maternity leave. It is very different than being at school. I am loving having this time with my sweet baby! I'll blame my lack of blogging on the fact that I had a very difficult year... we experienced some devastating losses, beginning with a miscarriage and then my father passed very suddenly almost one year ago to the day of the birth of my baby boy in January. It has been a very bittersweet time. So much of my time has been focused on myself and my family, and not as much on my blogging life. We are finally in a little "routine" (ha! "Routine"!) and he is bringing us so much joy!

Before I left for my leave, I spent a lot of time (as I'm sure you all are) on reading comprehension skills. I often am asked told in a conference or meeting, "my child can already read all of the words in these (easy) books and need harder ones!" I'm guessing many of you have been told the same. This is something I've struggled with as a teacher - helping parents understand that reading is much more than just reading the text! I've spent a lot of time this school year working with parents AND the students (because they are accountable for their learning!) on all of the elements of being a great reader.

Here's what I tell my families:

Reading is not just reading words; reading is thinking! Currently, we are instructing students on how to retell a story using key words such as first, next, then, after that and finally, how to make meaningful predictions and thoughtful connections (to self, to another text, and to the world around them). Thoughtful readers are able to summarize the texts they read, are able to make inferences and think about the deeper meaning of the text, including characters' feelings, the setting, the problem and solution, as well as to determine the important parts of the story. The assessments we use in first grade not only look at the accuracy of the reader, but also at their fluency and comprehension. When a child can do all three of these things at a given level, then they are ready to move to a more challenging text. I tell my first graders the same thing - reading is more than just reading the words - reading is thinking! They know that I have high expectations and that a book is not "too easy" unless they sound smooth (no robots!) and can do some good thinking about the books that they read.

Here's how my "book shopping" works:

In my classroom, we shop for new books on Fridays during our reader's workshop time period.
On Fridays in our classroom, readers take the time to shop for good fit books. Within our book baskets, there is a range of text levels. I organized my books in my shopping library in color bins (I can't find my picture of it!) - white is levels 1-4, yellow is 4-8, green is 8-14, blue is 14-18, and red is 18+. One of our goals in first grade is for students to be able to independently determine if a book is a good fit - not only thinking about the words, but also their fluency (do I sound like a robot or does my reading sound smooth?), as well as their comprehension (can I retell the story? Can I make predictions/connections? Can I ask and answer questions?). Some good fit books may appear easy, however, the goals of first grade reading are to be able to decode, read with fluency and expression, and comprehend on all levels. 

Each student shops from a shopping list that they keep in their own book bags in the classroom. These are kept private. Each student chooses five "entrees" and two "desserts". My shopping library contains the entrees (the colored bins), while my regular library is organized by genre, author, book type, etc. Here's my regular library: another small one in front of my whiteboard. 

My students have their own plastic folders that they take home each week that we call their reading bags.When a child brings home their reading bags on Mondays, this includes three books that they are excited to "show off" their reading skills with. These books are from their reading bags that we use within the classroom. They are appropriate for that specific first grade reader. The student has practiced these texts all week long, reading them over and over to check for accuracy, fluency and comprehension skills. These books should be easy for the students! They are not necessarily memorized. Also, during our 1:1 conferences as well as our reading groups, we are addressing all of the first grade common core literacy standards! Reading bags return to school on Fridays so that students have a chance to practice and show off all week long.

I also tell parents who mention their child enjoying books such as Magic Tree House or Rainbow Magic Fairies (but aren't quite ready for them!) the following:
If you and your child are enjoying other books at home, please continue to do so! Continue to have conversations with your child about these books. Begin asking them about some of the comprehension components as you and your child read together. The number one goal of reading in first grade is for each child to develop a love of reading!