Remember that READING is just a tool for providing a comprehensible platform to facilitate various interpersonal exchanges. For students to acquire language, you have to be in the language, and to sustain interaction, you need an interesting topic and comprehensible language. That’s what Fluency Matters comprehension-based readers do–They provide many interesting topics and events in a highly comprehensible way. The real point of a reader is not necessarily the READING, but rather the interpersonal exchanges that are inspired as a result.
Comprehension-based readers are not the only source to inspire a great discussion or the only way you can frame a comprehensible discussion. However, readers provide a low-stress, low-prep, highly-engaging platform to naturally, efficiently and enjoyably facilitate acquisition.
Often, students come to our classes as reluctant readers. Many students don’t read on their own, do not see their parents reading, and may have had some negative reading experiences in school. Students need to do LOTS of reading in order to become readers, but it can be a delicate balance between getting students to actually read and not overkilling with too many “schooly activities.” Reluctant readers need to read things that are comprehensible and don’t require hard work for the payoff that comes with engagement. Teachers have the task of matching students with “comfortable” reading material as well as ensuring that the student is reaping the benefits of engagement with the text. When dealing with non-literate students, weak readers and reluctant learners in general, using a whole-class reader is a highly effective strategy for:
- Deepening comprehension
- Helping students visualize the story with rich mental imagery
- Piquing student interest in previously unknown topics/content
- Giving students the tools they need to continue learning/acquiring independently
- Camouflaging repeated exposure
- Providing CI through multiple contexts based on narrow reading-related topics
There is one more critical point to consider when providing reading materials for students and/or selecting a whole-class reader: Teachers need to worry much less about forcing students to read at their level or the highest level possible. Adults RARELY read at or above their level, and when we do, it may not always be pleasant. Reading above one’s level is tedious and exhausting and does not instill a love for reading. Reading “easy books” is not a waste! If you were to analyze the language development of most students, it is generally shallow learning. Students remember what words mean when they see and/or read them, but they can not recall them to initiate or sustain a conversation. That is because they have developed surface knowledge, the lowest level of learning in Bloom’s Taxonomy and not deep enough for full acquisition to occur. Word knowledge can only be developed into fully acquired language through sufficient repeated exposure. Reading and discussing highly comprehensible books–even very easy books–provides the rich repeated exposure of various words and structures that is necessary to bring about full acquisition, which is the key to FLUENCY.
In this age of constant vivid media, brilliant graphics, spellbinding animations, etc., getting students to love reading is no easy feat. “Just reading” is generally not enough to inspire “non-readers.” If you’ve not read the book, You Gotta BE the Book by Jeffrey D. Wilhelm, I highly recommend it. In it, he talks about helping students learn to love reading and gives some easy strategies to accomplish it. Some of the activities mentioned below were inspired by him and others by colleagues like Kristy Placido, Carrie Toth, Martina Bex, Sharon Birch, Cindy Hitz, Nelly Hughes, and countless others. This blog post itself was actually inspired by a question we received in our Facebook group. The question was: Sometimes my class gets tired of reading for a long time. Do you have any tips for reading a long chapter? Why, yes, I do! Here goes:
The first tip is this: Don’t finish the chapter! Why do we feel obligated to finish a chapter and guilty when we don’t? It doesn’t matter if we are reading a book for pleasure or reading one with our classes, we always feel pressure to finish a chapter. Stop that! Feeling pressure to finish removes the PLEASURE from engaging in a text. Students sit, read and study all day long! It’s only natural that they will only tolerate a certain amount of sedentary activities, such as reading, for a limited length of time.
Sustain engagement by breaking the reading into chunks with logical stopping points. The following are just a few strategies for determining the length of a text and/or the length to devote to reading it:
- Set a timer for 3-5 minutes and tell students that when the timer sounds, everyone must stop reading and put the book down. Read aloud to the students, (using the usual guided reading techniques to keep the text comprehensible). What generally happens is that we just happen to stop reading at a suspenseful or interesting part of the story, and students do not want to stop. (Mission almost accomplished!) Choose one of the following options before you agree to continue:
- A) Re-enact (Reader’s Theater), Freeze Frame, or Summary Charades what just happened.
- B) Play prediction games about what is about to happen next.
- C) Give in and tell them you can only read for X min. longer, usually 2-3.
- Read with a partner. Read to a logical stopping point. (All of my personal teacher copies of books are marked throughout with highlight across pages to remind me of logical stopping points.) As students have reached the stopping point in the story, they write questions about the reading UNTIL all students are finished reading. (They will read more slowly knowing they have a follow-up task.) Once all students have finished, use the students’ questions to discuss the reading as a class. There is no pressure to submit questions, only an expectation that students finish reading to the designated point in the text.
- Read with students and pause silently for the “Word or Phrase of the Day.” Students must fill in the word/phrase (verbally) each time you come to it. I (loosely) keep track of the number of times they fill in the word/phrase and give “points” (similar to Annabelle Allen’s classroom management strategies) for each utterance. Enthusiastic fill-ins earn 2 points, and if students don’t miss any, I double their points.
- Gallery Walk (shared with me by Kristy Placido)
PREP: Post butcher paper, static paper or wall post-its, and use available whiteboard space.
- Have students read silently with partner or individually to a logical stopping point.
- Once finished reading, faster readers jot down 3 of the most important points of the text (with paper and pencil), while other students continue to read. If I want to extend reading time for slower readers, I have them jot down 5 points, keeping in mind the 3 they think are the best choices.
- Once they have 3-5 items jotted down, stop everyone. Group students into color groups. Set timer for 2 minutes: Group leaders first ask if anyone did not finish the reading. S/he must give a recap of the read to students who haven’t quite finished the read. Set time for 2 minutes: Leaders share their 3-5 items, and groups discuss / finalize 3 most important points written on the paper. Set timer for 2 minutes: Groups go to assigned wall area and post their 3 items on the wall.
- Each group travels around the room, evaluating the other groups’ items. For every point they agreed with, they put a star next to it using their COLORED marker (marker corresponds to the color of their group’s paper). To keep groups moving, repeatedly set your time for 1-2 minutes to allow just enough time for students to read 3 points, check them off and move to the next post.
- Once students have traveled around the room to each posting, you tally the number of stars each paper had. Facilitate whole-group discussion about most popular points and compare to points that were not selected. Ask if those points were important to a PAST event, or if you think they will be important for a FUTURE event. I get them thinking about the implications of what they read and pique their interest to want to read more.
- Play the audio book and withhold the written text from students. Tell them they may only listen to the native speaker reading the text. (Fluency Matters audio books are professionally produced in a studio in New York City and recorded by native-speaking actors. The music, sound effects and narrative inflection make them even more emotionally engaging.) Play the audio for 2-3 minutes, and gauge student comprehension. Give them the following options (based on their comprehension):
- Continue listening only, no text.*
- Continue listening while seeing the text.
- Read only, without listening.
- Listen up to stopping point and then re-read/discuss with a partner.
*IF students choose listen only, I always find a post-listening text-driven activity, such as sequencing, Who Would Say?, Possible vs. Probable with evidence from text to support your answer, etc.