The Reading Strategies Book: The Ultimate Teacher Toolkit

9780325074337Every once in a very long while, a professional book comes along that generates genuine excitement from all who hold it. It just may be that it happens so infrequently that in my first 15 years of teaching, I had yet to experience this phenomenon. This year is different. This year is exciting. This year, Jennifer Serravallo’s The Reading Strategies Book: Your Everything Guide to Developing Skilled Readers has penetrated our school and our teaching.

Number 6 on The New York Times Education Best Seller List, this book is jam-packed with actionable and intentional teaching moves that one can use with minimal preparation. Jen organized the book into 13 chapters. Each chapter is a specific goal. They range from Goal 1: “Supporting Pre-Emergent and Emergent Readers” to Goal 7: “Supporting Comprehension in Fiction: Understanding Themes and Ideas”. Within each chapter / goal lies a series of strategies that you could teach children who need work in that particular area. This series of strategies operates almost like a menu. You can choose the strategies that seem most relevant for the particular child(ren) with whom you are working. The strategies are described on a single page and include a description of the strategy, some prompts you might use to support children, examples of visual aids or children’s work, and a “Who is this for?” tab that includes appropriate text levels, genres / text types, and the skills that are addressed. Jen offers enough information so that you can begin to imagine how a particular strategy lesson might be taught, but not so much that you feel inclined to follow a script and use someone else’s words. She inspires us to think of these strategies in the context of our own students, making the lessons our own. (For more on the beauty and practicality of this book’s content and organization, check out Betsy Hubbard’s post on the Two Writing Teacher’s blog here and Kristi and Marjorie’s post on Chartchums here. You can also hear Jen herself describing how to use this book in this video.)

I work as a literacy coach at a pre-k – fourth grade independent school in New York City. We have a lot of autonomy in our school when it comes to reading instruction. As such, it can be challenging to know just how to bring colleagues together around reading curriculum, instruction, and learning goals. Jenn’s book proved to be a powerful vehicle.

how?

How did I introduce the book to my colleagues?

The classroom teachers and I meet in grade level teams once a month for a 60 minute coaching meeting (professional development). I used several of our coaching meetings this fall (as well as some optional, drop-in meeting time) to focus on models of small group and individualized teaching: guided reading, strategy lessons, and one – one conferences. It is rare that someone would object to the benefits of small group or one-on-one instruction, but it is common for teachers to feel unsure of how to plan for and use that time effectively. The Reading Strategies Book has responded to this precise issue. I showed my colleagues how this book supports me in planning for both strategy lessons and one – one conferences. After demonstrating the planning, I taught the lessons in many classrooms. When Donna, the administrative assistant in our school, came knocking on my door to ask why everyone was suddenly requesting so many post-its and folders, I knew were hooked.

It went something like this:

Small Group Bin

 

What if… you had a small group bin in which you had materials (post its, pens, conferring note-taking sheets, etc.) and resources (possible teaching points, visual aids / mini-charts, “leave behinds” for children, mentor texts, etc.) all organized and ready for you to use during reading workshop?

 

What if… the resources in your small group bin were organized by reading goal? and you had a folder for each reading goal? and inside these folders were possible strategy lessons and possible teaching points for one – one conferences?

 

What if… The Reading Strategies Book gave us the language, ideas, and structure to do this work?

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I demonstrated how one could take the words and ideas from the Reading Strategies Book and easily transplant them into a strategy lesson plan (see visuals below). While generating the lesson plan, I also demonstrated how I could use the book as a resource for generating visual aids and leave behinds (basically little post its or mini-charts that the child(ren) can keep as a reminder of the strategy he/she is working on). Finally, I demonstrated the lessons in the classroom with actual children.

We started with… the Hierarchy of Possible Goals that Jen introduces early on in her book. We thought of children in our classrooms and honed in on specific goals. Then, we dug into the table of contents for a particular goal and chose some lessons that looked interesting and read them.

 

We chose a strategy. We imagined teaching it in our rooms with particular groupings of children and planned the lesson, using a modified version of a strategy lesson planning template adapted from a workshop I attended at the Teacher’s College Reading and Writing Project.

  and then we taught the lesson!

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So, now what?

I see so much potential for how we can use the contents and ideas in The Reading Strategies Book, but what I love the most about this book is that because it is so accessible and practical, the potential now lies in all of our hands. I can surely continue to support colleagues in finding time and space to explore and try the strategy lesson ideas we have in this book, but the ideas in this book are also finding their way into classrooms and the minds of teachers organically and on their own.

Thank you Jennifer Serravallo! Your book speaks to us and is moving our thinking, and most significantly, our practice!

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The Unexpected Benefits of Standardized Testing Opt Out

largerApril in New York City public schools (and probably many other school districts around the country) brings with it not only warmer temperatures and budding flowers but also the controversial and time-consuming state tests. This year, for the first time, the tests (and all the drama attached to them) hit home, my home.

My son, Oliver, is a third grader in a public school with a significant opt out movement. (I believe that approximately half of the families opted their children out of the tests. You can read more about NY State tests and Opting out here.) As we neared the beginning of April, I found myself feeling unsure of what to do. Should he take the tests or shouldn’t he? Ultimately, we chose for Oliver to sit the ELA tests out.

52976a2646ed62fa6a641c11c2f8bee1At Oliver’s school, all of the children opting out were given instructions to report to the cafeteria first thing in the morning. His teacher prepped him and others to bring books, projects, etc. with them. The morning of the first test, Oliver walked around apartment gathering materials to bring with him: an assortment of books (one in progress, one he hadn’t started yet, one graphic novel, one sports magazine), sudoku, and playing cards. He was ready.

The second morning, he gathered some additional items and approached his back pack with a big stack of books. Puzzled by the volume of books he was planning to carry with him in his back pack, I asked him what he was working on. He explained that he told various friends (who were also spending the morning in the cafeteria) that he would bring them specific books. Another child (someone whose name I had never even heard before) was going to bring him the second book in a series that he had been reading. A full-fledged book sharing, lending library has been established.

I was amazed. One of my biggest worries about opting Oliver out of the tests was that he’d be bored sitting quietly in the cafeteria all morning, and that very situation (the unstructured, self-directed time in the cafeteria) is yielding something special – a shared love for books, reading, and an opportunity to be social readers.

Testing ended, and Oliver was happy to be back in his classroom full time. As the weeks have gone on, however, a piece of that reading magic that he discovered in the cafeteria has remained. We’ve begun referring to Oliver’s bookshelves in his bedroom as “lending library #2.” He regularly comes home with notes written to himself indicating a classmate’s name and the book he/she wants to borrow. At the same time, he and some friends have started pursuing book clubs that matter to them. I got an email from his teacher one day asking me (on Oliver’s behalf) if I could find two copies of a particular book at my school’s library for Oliver’s book club.

As adults, we all know that reading is social. A good book makes us want to talk. A good book makes us think of friends who would love (or hate) it. What I love about Oliver’s experience is that he and his peers discovered the social nature of reading out of a truly authentic experience – having time on their hands and looking to help each other find ways to enjoy it. So rarely today do kids have opportunities in schools where they have empty chunks of time in which they can choose how to fill it. There is so much thinking today about student / learner centered learning, yet it is often countered by requirements and schedules that oppose such an environment. Never would I have imagined that Oliver’s opt-out experience would have offered him opportunities to negotiate his own time and interests in meaningful and purposeful ways.

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If you are interested in further reading or ideas pertaining to student / learner – centered environments, you might explore the following: Teaching Kindergarten: Learner-Centered Classrooms for the 21st Century, the blog Investigating Choice Time, the Project Approach website, and pertaining to older children, a somewhat recent article from The Atlantic Magazine “What Happens When Students Control Their Own Education?