Sunday, February 11, 2018

Tips for Reading a Class Novel

In a reading class, we want to give our kids lots of different kinds of reading experiences. That includes read alouds, shared readings, and independent reading of self-selected material.

We want to expose them to different genres of texts and different levels of complexity.

So every day might look different, which isn't a bad thing!

But there are some practices we might want to avoid. Two of the biggest ones? Round-robin and popcorn reading.

It's been accepted for a quite a while now that those practices aren't effective when it comes to a shared reading experience. But we still see them in classrooms, very frequently. Why do you think that is?

I think it's a comfortable practice that requires little to no preparation.

I think it's what happens to many of us teachers: we revert to the way we were taught when we're not sure what else to do. Many people have reasons that they use these practices, but I haven't ever seen the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.

I won't spend time getting into what those are in this post - maybe at a later date, I will! But in the meantime, I thought I might share some ideas with you that you can use instead of those practices. These are some tips for rolling out a class novel!

Why Read Class Novels?
Again, this is a debated practice. I wouldn't take up independent reading time to read a class novel. The most precious time of day is when kids are engaged in reading independently in a book or text of their own choosing, and nothing else can replace that.

But class novels can serve many purposes!
1. A shared reading experience is great for creating anchor lessons and experiences.
2. Shared reading experiences are excellent opportunities to have kids speak and share their thinking about a text.
3. As students move into reading novels, they often have to be taught how to read them. That sounds silly, but I've had kids who think you read a chapter each day and then just stop. They don't realize you can continue reading until you want to stop.
4. The gradual release model fits into a class novel really well - and then you can extend the You Do into independent reading.

Tip #1 Choose Wisely
My first year of teaching, I remember thinking that I could kill two birds with one stone by finding a class novel to read that would cover some of my social studies content as well. I remember choosing a book that was a little too challenging, and a lot too dry. My kids weren't engaged and we just kept trying to "get through it". It wasn't a good choice. I hadn't chosen a text with my kids' reading abilities or interests in mind. 

As you're choosing a class novel, there are a few things you'll want to think about. 
1. Student reading abilities. You'll be supporting the reading, so it can be a text that challenges students a little, but you don't want it to be too far out of their range. They'll need to read sections on their own and comprehend to participate. 

2. Student interests. If you choose a book you love that no one else seems to enjoy, you'll be the only one learning during this time. 

3. Teaching opportunities. Some books are fun, but what will you teach with them? Class novels are a great way to introduce the elements of fiction and the way readers read fiction authentically, along with all of your other standards for fiction. Choose a text that helps you accomplish those goals. 

4. Accessibility. Do you have a copy for each child? I think that, when it comes to reading a novel, you're either doing a read aloud (you have a copy, and maybe a couple of students who benefit from having the visual aid), or a shared reading (every student has a copy). If you are going to have to have students "share", it's not worth it. I'd recommend choosing something else.

Tip #2 Make Predictions
For students to comprehend to the best of their abilities, they'll need some support. One way to do this is to have conversations using the book itself to make some very thorough predictions. 
Preview the cover, but don't stop there. Read the blurb on the back, preview chapter titles, and examine anything else the author gives you before you start reading. Have kids write predictions that are thorough. Later, you can go back and evaluate them to see if they happened.

Tip #3 Set Up a Reader's Notebook
If you don't already have a reader's notebook, now's the time. It doesn't have to be fancy. If you're looking for some tools to help you get started, you can check out my Reader's Workshop Resource here, but you can start with a simple spiral or composition book for each child. 

It's a great place to keep your minilessons, but it also serves a bigger purpose in my opinion: having kids write about their thinking as you read the novel.

Tip #4 The Teacher is the Main Read-Aloud-er
This is where the trouble sometimes starts. There are a few problems with kids serving as the main reader-aloud-ers of the novel. One of these is that they are not necessarily great models of reading. The teacher, hopefully, is! Another is that, when kids are reading, they won't pause to talk. When the teacher is reading aloud, he or she can pause where she/he wants in order to have great conversations. Kid readers don't encourage conversations. They are more focused on decoding, of course.

Tip #5 Be Planned & Purposeful
Don't just start reading and hope for the best. Before you read with kids, you'll want to have a few
things planned out:

1. What is your purpose for reading (what strategy or skill will you help kids grow with that part of the text)?
2. What sections of text will you have kids read or reread to practice the strategy or skill?
3. How will students apply the strategy or skill - in speaking or writing?

 Next week, read all about what a shared reading lesson might look like!

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