This trimester I’ve been fortunate to be able to continue working at the high school level alongside a ninth grade English teacher. Although my passion lies in implementing writing workshop throughout all grades, I’m wired to adore adolescents and find it a sweet treat when I get to work with them.
Recently we moved from a writing workshop unit into a reading workshop with a focus on metacognition and comprehension strategies. This week we launched literature circles. Yesterday, after a lesson on reading with a purpose (courtesy of Cris Tovani in I Read It But I Don’t Get It: Comprehension Strategies for Adolescent Readers) we moved into a time of independent reading. Just like all of the rest of the independent reading times, many didn’t read. Even worse, they distracted others. My frustration with this fact grew as I watched their indifference to their books and their lack of reading. Even worse, I couldn’t bring myself to “get out there and confer.”
The long and the short — reading time failed yesterday.
Today I talked to our reading coach. As we talked I realize the problem — they weren’t entering THE READING ZONE. So today we started with a quick write about a time they are in a zone. They wrote about drawing and computer games and writing and soccer and listening to music. One mentioned reading. I talked to them about the way I go into a reading zone when I read and that we need to train ourselves to enter the reading zone rather quickly. Then we made a t-chart titled, Getting In THE READING ZONE, with helpful tips on one side and hindrances on the other. Then I sent them off to read for thirty minutes with the challenge to enter the reading zone.
Although I was hesitant to confer . . . the previous reading times had put a bad taste in my mouth and sucked the joy right out of conferring as I felt more like a gestapo than a reading teacher . . . I jumped back in (mainly because of the encouragement chastisement of the reading coach). You know the power and importance of conferring, Ruth, she said, Not to mention you’re there as a model for the teacher.
I’m glad to report that reading time went well and conferring was successful. It was even, dare I say it, fun. The report back during sharing confirmed that the students felt empowered and successful as well. Ahh, the way things are suppose to go.
Here’s what I learned:
- Sometimes it is the most basic of lessons that are the most needed. Who would have thought fifteen year old honor students would need a lesson about THE READING ZONE? (By the way, have you read Nancie Atwell’s book called The Reading Zone? If not, it’s worth the read — she portrays a very pure form of Reading Workshop.)
- Even if kids act like they don’t want to talk to you, it’s important to confer anyway. The only way students will become comfortable with conferring is by doing it again and again and again. At this point each student has had a few conferences with me. They know what to expect. They know it’s useful. Today they finally responded in a natural way.
- Conferring is powerful. I can think of no teaching that can better than meet a student’s need than to teach her while in the midst of the process. My teaching points were solid today. I can honestly sit here and say, “I helped kids become better readers — for-the-rest-of-their-lives today.”
- Trust is a key to conferring. I found myself having to trust the process of conferring. Conferring about writing is second nature to me . . . not so with reading. It was good to be in a position of truly trusting the process — not because I’ve already been faced with a certain conference or issue, but because I believe in the power of conferring.
- I love (and I mean love love love) being able to meet students at their points of need. This is why I believe in the power of workshop — it makes a difference in learning.
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