Saturday, January 26, 2013

Supporting Adolescent Readers: Small Victories Keep Us Moving Forward

     As a reader, I understand the importance of the lessons learned from books.  I read to learn about life and to travel the world.  I read to improve my craft in whatever area I am currently interested in.  I read in Spanish to keep up my fluency in Spanish.  I get a lot from books and I work very hard to share that with my students.

    As an 8th grade teacher, I work to set up a workshop approach in my classroom.  I advocate for what I know to be the best support for my students in reading---time to READ.  Every year, I work to establish our independent reading time and to make my students understand that reading is power and they need to read.  I work hard and think of myself as a book dealer, because I am always pushing books into the hands of my students.  I watch and notice and talk to students and can tell you the exact moment that a student loses interest in a book.  I cajole and book talk and wax poetic about the virtues of the awesome books we have in the class library. Sometimes it gets frustrating because I have to work so hard to get these kids to read, but then I take a step back and remember to celebrate the small steps and feel better.

Some recent small victories that I have had include:

    "I didn't understand it so I am reading this book now."  This simple sentence started a party in my head the other day.  The student who spoke these words was one who I have been coaching since the beginning of the year.  He consistently has been choosing books that are too hard for him.  He gets about twenty pages in and he decides the book is "boring" and abandons it.  I have had numerous conversations with him about his book choices and why he thinks he starts to get bored with so many books.  We have talked about monitoring comprehension and he always comes away from the conference determined to keep track of his thinking, but pretty soon I see the book set aside and a new book in his hands.  The only books that he has finished this year are graphic novels.   This is fine with me, but he continues to want to read other books that are too hard for him.  So now, in January, I was ecstatic to hear him admit to me that he did not understand a book.  I see this as a huge step in the right direction for him.  Slowly but surely he is learning to monitor his comprehension so that he knows when he understands. This is a dormant reader learning to enjoy reading instead of going through the motions but always missing the boat.

    Another student came back to school after winter break and told me she had bought books with her iTunes gift cards over the holidays.  This student had only finished graphic novels so far this year and had abandoned every other book she picked up.  Now, in January, she has finished 2 novels on her iPod.  I was thrilled with the accomplishment and we celebrated together when she finished each one.  The decision that this student made to buy books when she could have bought music or movies showed me that her mindset has changed and she is becoming a reader.

     "I have read 5 books this year.  Before I had never finished a book.  I didn't used to like reading but now I am coming around to reading more." These are lines from a letter to me about reading from a student who did everything in his power to avoid reading at the beginning of the year.  This is powerful stuff.  Maybe he won't finish the 40 book challenge this year, but he is becoming a reader who is making plans for his next book and learning his book preferences.

    And then there are the three girls that have this determination to meet the goal of reading 40 books this year.  Two of the three have learning disabilities and IEP goals in the area of reading.  All three are devouring books this year and sharing with each other.  We have had conversations about how overwhelmed we all feel with all the great books that we want to read.  I have watched as the books they are reading have started to get thicker and a little harder.  They recommend books to each other and to the class.  They all have siblings that they are starting to influence to read more also.  They eagerly discuss the books they are reading with me and rate their books as they go.  These are three voracious readers that will continue these habits into their adult lives because they have figured out that there is magic in reading.

All in all, I have a class of 28 urban 8th graders of whom 2 were avid readers when the year started.  Now, there are 4 that are still waking up from being dormant readers and 24 who are avid readers.  I will celebrate the success and continue to work to find the book that will wake up the few that remain.

What small victories have you had lately? Don't forget to celebrate the small steps so that you won't be bogged down with what there is left to do.


  1. I just read a Darby Creek book about a girl who plays soccer and has a lot of challenges in her life-- Offside. It might appeal to reluctant readers. Interesting, short and relevant to many of their lives.

    1. Thanks! I will definitely check it out.

  2. This post makes me so happy!! Yay partner :)