Five Super Reader Commitments to Make the School Year Unforgettable

Earlier this month, Larry Ferlazzo of Education Week's Classroom Q&A asked: what are the best ways to start a new school year? 

Education experts weighed in, including Pam Allyn, Executive Director and Founder of Litworld, and author of Every Child a Super Reader: 7 Strengths to Open a World of Possible. Below is her take on five ways to not only start the school year right, but to make the entire year unforgettable. 

The time is now to make a commitment to turn every child into a "super reader," to give them a sure way to become truly ready for the 21st century world and to experience the joy, pleasure and exaltation of an empowered reading life.

We can do this, first, by depathologizing the reading experience. We have "medicalized" reading instruction so that we are in a constant state of diagnosing children: leveling them, intervening with them, "pushing in" or "pulling out." The language we use to describe how we teach reading can be negative for children, and our methods for instruction can feel more like treating a disease than raising readers. At LitWord, I work with children across the United States and the world, and see children yearning for a positive reading experience, longing to join the literacy "club," and striving to become better at something they know will change their lives. The negative language of low expectations and intervention is inhibitive. It has prevented them from seeing themselves as super readers, from becoming aspirational in their reading goals, and from being bold and fearless in taking risks as readers. It has denied them a place at the reading table.

I'm recommending five commitments we can all make, as teachers, families and administrators to create a Super Reader Community Zone—a  place where all children have the opportunity of a lifetime: to see reading as a fundamental, joyful part of their everyday lives.

1. Use a strength-based approach to reading instruction.

My most recent work, which culminated in Every Child a Super Reader, a book I co-authored with Dr. Ernest Morrell, focuses on creating a positive foundation to build capacity in every reader through what we call the 7 Strengths. From belonging to courage, from confidence to hope, the 7 Strengths provide an escalating framework that helps bolster a child's authentic learning muscles. The strengths are designed to build resilience in our readers, for them to flourish in a community where their natural strengths are valued, and where they can practice taking risks as readers in a safe way. Use the 7 Strengths to build a supportive reading culture, to help children become "Reading Friends," and to foster a community of goal-setting, where children get in the habit of saying, "I am the kind of reader who..." or, "I am becoming the kind of reader who..." Starting off the year, the 7 Strengths can build capacity in your students for the "soft" skills that will make them stronger readers each week.

2. Affirm small steps of progress.

Don't wait until later in the year to reward and affirm reading progress. Take time each day to honor those small steps. "Today I loved how Pedro read for nine minutes; yesterday he read for seven!" Or, "I appreciate how Sarah took time today to help Janelle select a new book in the library." Help your children discover strength-based language too, so that they can also praise each other's small steps as readers. Post on- and off-line the strength steps your students take each day as readers, from how they build stamina to how they stretch to try new genres.

3. Every day, hold 20 minutes of Structured Independent Reading.

I can't stress this one enough! Twenty minutes a day of Structured Independent Reading will change your kids' lives. While we know from the Scholastic Kids & Family Reading Report that one-third of children ages 6-17 (33%) say their class has a designated time during the school day to read a book of choice independently, only 17% do this every or almost every school day. Giving students opportunity to make choices about what they read and to provide them with book boxes (or a personalized file online) for their curated reading experiences helps them to see themselves as dynamic and ever-growing readers. No one should feel stuck in any one level at any time, though plenty of our students do. While I think leveling has a place for instruction, it is not a natural way to read. Every day I read above, below and at my level; and even as an adult, I am always learning how to be a stronger reader.  Structured Independent Reading time helps our kids explore options across a wide variety of texts and build engagement and motivation.

4. Read aloud every day.

There are several important studies showing the many benefits of reading aloud to your students, including the development of vocabulary skills, grammatical understanding, and genuine connection to texts. It is hard to believe how rich its benefits actually are sometimes because reading aloud is so much fun. Kids should be read a wide variety of topics and genres based on their interests and passions. There are enormous benefits to reading both simpler and complex texts aloud to children. The benefits of the simpler texts include how we value the act of rereading books we love, being able to talk about the text in higher-level ways, and modeling the pure joy of reading. The benefits of reading complex texts are the immersion in advanced vocabulary and grammar, and complex ideas, and introducing children to the idea that no text should be one to fear.

5. Forge new literacy connections with families.

This is a new era for relationships as a whole. No longer should we be using Back to School Night as the main way to connect with families. Technology gives us many ways to be in touch with our kids' families, to honor them as full partners along this journey of raising super readers. We can create weekly messages for our families, complimenting student growth as readers. We can set up class blogs and sharing sites to showcase students' work as readers. We can invite parents to virtually experience a reading celebration, or to join a read aloud using Skype or Facebook Live. We can invite parents and caregivers to share their family stories in the same kinds of ways.

Let's make the 5 Super Reader Commitments to make this year one we will never forget. Our children deserve it. And the time is now.

To read the full post, visit Classroom Q&A with Larry Ferlazzo.