As students return to classrooms this fall, no doubt, they will be in different places in terms of reading. While some can be enthusiastic, others will easily be distressed after the lack of engaged learning over the summer. Working as a K-4 teacher for 12 years, I know how summer enrichment programs are essential, but not all students have the opportunity or access to such programs and they need additional supports to fill the gaps to become academically successful.
Now that I’ve stepped outside of the classroom to become a Content Leader, I have a new perspective, and with that, I hope to craft solutions to focus on K-4 curriculum and better understand “vertical progression” in the standards. Here are three ways to ignite your students’ love for literacy and fuel their development in years to come.
#1 Help them form their own reading identity
Realistically, we should all anticipate that some students may have become disconnected from reading over the summer. That is why before you set out to start your instruction, it is important that you tap into your feelings as an adult reader and start figuring out how and if those feelings exist in your students. That means getting to know your students and what they gravitate towards. It is about capturing their interest and empowering them to seek out text on their own. With that, you then have the opportunity to build community around those moments.
Reading has become drudgery because we don’t think about the student’s experience, instead we focus more on standards. I would say it’s almost like parents force-feeding you vegetables instead of figuring out what other foods you like that are just as healthy. To avoid early frustrations, I used to start my class off with “Stories that Julian Tells,” collection of short stories about family members playing tricks on one another. I asked the students, “have you ever tricked somebody before?” and got them to share and think about how characters in the story are deceptive, building excitement around that common human condition and bringing it back to the text to help them understand the bigger meaning. We must start by making reading an experience and hook them with books they can see themselves in and have an emotional connection with. This is true not only at the beginning of the year, but all along a student’s life.
#2 Put the text at the center of the lesson
Authentic reading is more about learning about yourself and the world through books and using the standards to realize how you can place supports and scaffolds for students who are behind. It is about centering the text and thinking about the opportunities the books afford the students. This is something I learned over the years and though my mindset was standards-aligned, my practice needed to be anchored in the grade level complex text. This showed when students were still struggling to meet or exceed standards demonstrating readiness for the next grade.
The hardest part has been shifting my thinking in the idea of the importance of having the text and books at the center of reading instruction opposed to the standards. I used to look through the lens of the standards and now I have learned and adapted a new process in which I collaborate and analyze text with other teachers. During this stage, we work to understand what the text affords and what demands we can put on the students while engaging with it. After identifying an opportunity and central message in text, you can then bring in standards that help students piece together and unveil the meaning of the text.
#3 Ensure vertical progression
The standards exist to ensure an equitable academic experience for all students. We will not be able to motivate or improve the reading skills of our students who are behind if our practice is not impactful, intentional, and collaborative. We must fully believe that each of our students can become a strong reader to increase our impact and to get them ready for the next year.
Helping all students become motivated, competent readers is a knot with multiple components, some being within and others outside of our locus of control. Lowering the limitless potential of my students is a trap I’ve fallen into before because of assumptions I’ve made about a student based on their particular situation – a single parent family, a student’s homelessness, a history of defiant behavior at school; the challenges some of our students face seem to be endless. Though these circumstances may lie outside of my realm of control, maintaining the expectation that all students can exceed the demands of the grade is in my power.
Setting high expectations for students has been partly guided by knowing the text-based demands and standards that come before the grade I teach, so that I can intentionally build on top of knowledge and skills that were learned and practiced the year before. Being familiar with the text-based demands and standards that students will encounter in the grades to come helps me understand an academic progression of skills and knowledge. A lack of motivation or skill gaps don’t limit the capacity of students as much as it punctuates the urgency with which we as educators must deeply understand the learning trajectory we are guiding our students through in our grade, and also in the trajectory of any grade band, so that we can deliver on the promise we make to students, guardians, and our communities each day when students enter our classroom.