Saturday, February 21, 2009

Small Successes

I have been thinking a lot lately about my students as readers. Their strengths and needs as learners of course, but also their level of engagement. I remember clearly Nancie Atwell's message: put wonderful books in kids' hands. Make those books impossible to resist. Children learn best when they are engaged (duh!), and our first and greatest challenge is to get struggling readers to fall in love with books.

I observed my students a lot during the last couple of weeks, looking for ways I can engage them further as readers. Finally this week I conducted a 'reading engagement' survey, which Carol sent to me after I read her post about nurturing kids' reading hearts.

It was interesting to look through the completed surveys this morning. Most of my students feel pretty connected with reading, and most of their responses were positive. I was pleasantly surprised by the number of students who feel that they are able to talk about their favorite books, genres, authors. They confirmed my assumption that they love read aloud time. And of course I found some opportunities for improvement.
The biggest one is their sense of a reading 'future' - most of my students responded that they do not have any sort of wait list for books. I thought about myself as a reader - I have an entire book case full of "someday" books, and an extensive list of books I plan to buy or check out from the library. Why have I never shared that with my students? Why have I never explicitly modeled this very important habit - beyond showing sneak previews of our 'next' read aloud book?

That aside, I know we have something to celebrate. I remember in August I felt so sad about my afternoon group. The first weeks of school, they were so apathetic toward books, toward read aloud time, toward reading in general. I read so many books to them, and conducted so many book talks - I was enthusiastic almost to the point of exhaustion. My goodness, I even broke out lyrics and sang with them to get them reading! It took months to get them to read independently, to get books in their hands that they truly enjoyed. One student finally began reading (and loving!) a book last week. As I read through their surveys, it dawned on me that we have come so far. This class revealed that they don't want to quit when reading time is over, that they feel proud of themselves for reading for longer periods of time, they have favorite authors and series of books now. They look forward to read aloud time. (In fact, they stop me at 3:15 and make sure we don't miss read-aloud time!) Back in August, I couldn't even imagine this group of students saying they loved to read.

We have a long way to go. But I can't discount the small successes they shared with me this week.

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