Reading Workshop: Thinking, Talking, & Learning

I’m fortunate to be in a book club with a group of longtime friends, many of whom are retired teachers. On my drive home the other night, I was brimming with energy after spending the evening thinking and talking about our most recent selection, A Man Called Ove (Fredrik Backman, 2015). I thought about how my book club is a meeting of people who love to read, and who want to share that love with friends, thereby supporting each other cultivating our lives as readers. I pondered the parallels between the flow of our book club meetings and the routines of reading workshop with my students. I have found that the way we support each other as readers during my book club is very similar to the most effective support that teachers can provide readers in the classroom, in which we invite students to share in conversations that will boost their energy, engagement, and learning. 

Begin with a Shared Book Experience—Read Aloud

In our book club, we all have something to say because we’ve read the same book. If you eavesdropped on our conversations, you would hear responses like, “Hmm!” or “Really?” as members share their insights. In our classrooms, there’s nothing like a well-chosen read aloud to spark a shared response. At a recent conference, MaryEllen Vogt, co-author of the SIOP book series, was in the middle of reading and talking about a text when the audience exclaimed, “AAAAAAH!” MaryEllen wisely replied, “I hear the sounds of comprehension!” What a smart way to label thinking for students! Kids can’t help but gasp when you turn the page in Alan’s Big, Scary Teeth (Jarvis, 2016) and—spoiler alert!—readers discover his teeth are fake. That gasp is important! Now I take a moment to note the sounds students make while listening to a read aloud, which tell me that they understand the text. The next time you do a read aloud, listen for the sounds of comprehension!

Foster Thoughtful Listening 

Why do we listen to each other during book club? We listen because we care about and respect each other. We want to hear what our fellow members think because it deepens our own comprehension. How do we help children better understand the reasons to listen thoughtfully during classroom conversations? I think that sometimes we are so focused on teaching children how to listen that we forget to explain why it is important. A few years ago, our school social worker introduced us to the concept of whole body listening (Truesdale, 1990). Whole body listening is an approach to teaching listening that makes the abstract concept of listening more concrete for children. It does this by explaining all the different body parts listeners use along with how active (or inactive) listening makes the speaker feel. For example, whole body listeners use their brains as they think about the speaker is saying and use their hearts because they care about the speaker. Teaching students to listen with their brains and hearts has helped them to better understand what it means to be an active participant in our collaborative conversations. When we can cultivate conversations that mirror a book club discussion, everyone’s thinking is elevated.

Teach and Demonstrate Useful Strategies 

During book club discussions, it is always interesting to notice the different strategies my book club members use to increase their comprehension. Some members put sticky notes in their books, others create character webs. I happen to do a lot of writing in the margins of my book.

As we think about the strategies that we teach, we want to target the ones that will support learners long after they leave our classrooms, when they are in book clubs of their own. Early in the school year, my students and I read wordless books together. I demonstrate to my class how I infer and predict as I try to figure out what is happening in the story.

To cement this demonstration and support students as I release responsibility, I use an anchor chart. You’ll notice this chart allows me to differentiate based on the needs of my students, because I know that not every strategy will work for every child. We build on this foundation throughout the year, continually adding to students’ repertoire of strategies to use during independent reading.

Support Independent Reading 

As longtime friends and colleagues, all book club members know each other’s reading preferences and are on the lookout for titles to recommend to each other. Thus, we end each meeting by sharing book suggestions and creating a shared “Someday” list in our book club journal. As educators, most of us only have one year to get to know our students’ interests and book preferences, so it is wise to begin the year with a reading interest survey like the one found in Scholastic’s Next Step Guided Reading Assessment Once we know students’ interests, we can match them to books and help them create their own “Someday” lists. Of course, in order have enough books to do this for a year, a robust school and classroom library is a must. In book club we support each other in finding, reading, and understanding books. The same holds true for independent reading in our classrooms.

Celebrate!

Celebration is essential both in our personal lives and in our classrooms. We begin each book club by chatting and catching up on each other’s lives, and we’ve celebrated many milestones like newborn grandchildren and retirements. In my classroom, I celebrate students’ approximations and strategy use. As I’m sitting beside a reader, I might say, “I noticed you used the picture clue to help you figure out that word! That’s what readers do!” Regie Routman defines celebration as, “affirming, congratulating, showcasing, noticing, and making public the positive and specific actions and work learners have done or are attempting to do” (Teaching Essentials, 2008, p. 29). Whether you’re reading this post near the end of the school year or during summer, I’m guessing you’ve had the the “I’m going to be better at ______ next year reflections.” Instead of looking ahead, let’s reflect and share some celebrations! How have you helped your readers think and talk about books this year?