Teaching Opinion

Response: Reading Is a ‘Means to Bigger and Better Things’

By Larry Ferlazzo — February 19, 2014 8 min read
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(This is the second post in a three-part series on this topic. You can see Part One here)

Emily Norton asked:

I am a college student currently in a children’s literature class so my question is...How will I get my early elementary students engaged in reading? What strategies can I use to make sure they will fully understand the books we read? How can I ensure that I will create life-long readers?

Part One in this series included response from Donalyn Miller, Mark Barnes and Christopher Lehman. Today, educators Kristi Mraz, Marjorie Martinelli, Kathy Barclay and Cindi Rigsbee contribute their thoughts.

I’ll be including one more guest post in Part Three of this series in a few days, along with many comments from readers.

Response From Kristi Mraz & Marjorie Martinelli

Kristi Mraz is an author, consultant, and kindergarten teacher. She and Marjorie Martinelli are the authors of Smarter Charts, as well as their blog. You can keep up with Kristi on twitter @MrazKristine

Kudos! You have already taken the first step in assuring all of these elements (engagement, deep understanding of texts, and lifelong readership) will exist in your classroom by placing them at the top of the list of things you value. There is an incredible amount of impact a teacher can have on children’s reading engagement.

In our own classrooms, we talk about reading as a means to bigger and better things. We read to learn more about the world and ourselves, we read to lose ourselves in pleasure and suspense, we read to support our beliefs and challenge them. Through reading we become a community of shared experience, we are people who outgrow ourselves with every turn of the page, and we value the voice of texts and refer back to them often, as friends and experts.

This summer, Kristi ran into a student she taught last year in kindergarten. As she bent down to say hi, he said, somewhat breathlessly, “Kristi, Kristi! I have been looking at all the books in camp and think I finally know what breed of chicks we had this year!!” His mom nodded in confirmation, adding, “It’s a sports camp and he loves it, but he skips the movie portion to look at books.” This was a child Kristi had started the year worried about. He had entered the youngest in the class, and was content to go through the day making Spiderman web hands and napping when the mood struck. Kristi made him Spiderman books and tried to hook his every interest, but it wasn’t until the arrival of the chicks that his reading life found purpose, a purpose that has driven him throughout the summer and to a new understanding of why people read. There is no “one size fits all” answer to your question, rather a few guiding principles that help you reach every child, including the ones making Spiderman web hands:

* Read aloud diverse texts that represent every child’s experience and have them available for children to take home and linger over again and again. Publishers like Lee & Low’s Bebop books can help you locate texts about specific cultures.

* Investigate children’s interests and provide texts that match those interests (especially if you don’t share them!) If you can’t find a book to match the child’s interest, make one! Clip art, Google images, and good old-fashioned photographs can make highly engaging and personalized texts.

* Constantly assess and build on children’s reading identities and provide opportunities for children to talk about who they are as readers.

* Model engaged reading and invite children to engage with you, and then on their own in just right texts they have chosen.

* Remember you are not alone in this goal! Have class-wide book clubs, conversations with parents about books, and opportunities for parents and children to share a love of books.

We hope these guidelines give you some support as you find your way. There is magic in the moment when a child falls in love with a book, or with reading, and we wish you many of these moments in your upcoming years as a teacher.

Response From Kathy Barclay

Kathy Barclay is a professor of reading at Western Illinois University. A former classroom teacher, Title I Reading specialist, and supervisor of Reading for the Louisiana State Department of Education, Kathy is the editor for the Illinois Reading Council Journal. Kathy’s newest book, co-authored with Laura Stewart and Debbie Lee, is The Everything Guide to Informational Texts, K-2:

In the early elementary grades literacy development includes teaching the foundational skills necessary for decoding text. At the same time, story knowledge and comprehension--two areas included in your question--are critical. Through read aloud experiences, young students learn that good readers make predictions; use prior knowledge; connect texts to their own lives; compare and contrast story elements; retell stories from beginning to end; and more. Most importantly, they learn that books are enjoyable and informative, and that reading is a desirable and pleasurable activity.

Here are three suggestions for getting younger students engaged in reading for meaning.

Develop good read-aloud habits. Practice reading aloud with good expression and pausing periodically in your reading for students to comment on the pictures, ask questions, discuss the story, and make predictions about what might happen next. This type of interactive reading is important for building understanding and language. After reading, return to particularly interesting parts of the text, or to a new word that appeared in the story. Discuss these in greater depth to help your students make connections from the book to real life.

Choose books with “kid appeal.” Take time to explore a wide variety of books on topics of universal interest to young children. This age group particularly likes books about animals, families, friends, and other children doing the kinds of things they like to do. Don’t limit yourself to fiction; there are an increasing number of informational books available for younger students. Look for ones that are visually appealing, contain engaging writing and expressive language that is pleasurable to both readers and listeners, and have interesting pictures that serve to help the text come alive.

Intentionally model and provide opportunities for students to practice strategies for comprehending text. Proficient readers engage in a number of related mental processes as they infer, including but not limited to: predicting, drawing conclusions, detecting cause and effects relationships, and interpreting and critically evaluating the text to construct meaning. As we model our own thought processes for inferring during reading, we can purposefully and directly demonstrate activities that support inferring, and how inferring enhances comprehension. Similarly, we can model and teach children to develop mind pictures (visualization), to ask themselves questions before, during, and after reading, to listen for key words and sentences that provide clues to the main ideas and details, and to locate and use information from features commonly found in texts.

Response From Cindi Rigsbee

Cindi Rigsbee is a National Board Certified Teacher currently serving as a Regional Education Facilitator in North Carolina and working on recruitment and retention initiatives. A finalist for National Teacher of the Year in 2009, Cindi is the author of Finding Mrs. Warnecke: The Difference Teachers Make

The first step is to really get to know your students and their interests. You can administer an “interest inventory” to find out what they like and therefore what types of books they’d want to read.

Next it’s important that students never be expected to read above their level. Reading difficult texts will frustrate students and turn them against reading in general but especially for enjoyment. Be sure to use whatever assessments your school has in place to determine reading levels for your students, and have plenty of high interest books available for them to read on those levels.

As far as comprehension, students need to have strategies modeled for them that will enable them to connect to texts. Visualizing is an important way for students to make the book “move” for them. I tell my students to watch “the movie in their heads” while they’re reading. Also, I model “thinking aloud” when I read to the class. I talk out loud to myself, asking questions about what I’m reading or making comments about the text. For example, if the first line reads, “Once there was a gray cat” then I’ll interrupt my reading and say out loud, “I had a gray cat once. Her name was Missy.” This teaches students to make reading interactive by using the “voices in their heads” when they read.

Also, it’s important that students are given plenty of time to read on their own. I love it when a class starts with silent reading time. It sets the tone that reading is valuable and fun, and it helps instill a habit that hopefully will last a lifetime.

Thanks to Kristi, Marjorie, and Cindi for their contributions!

Please feel free to leave a comment your reactions to the topic or directly to anything that has been said in this post. I’ll be publishing comments from readers next week.

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Education Week has published a collection of posts from blog -- along with new material -- in an ebook form. It’s titled Classroom Management Q&As: Expert Strategies for Teaching.

Last, but not least, I’ve recently begun recording a weekly eight-minute BAM! Radio podcast with educators who provide guest responses to questions. You can listen and/or download them here.

Look for Part Three in a few days....

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The opinions expressed in Classroom Q&A With Larry Ferlazzo are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.