Leadership: Show Your Passion For Independent Reading

My personal and professional reading life have sustained my desire to continually learn and to read for pleasure. I value the fact that I can choose what to read, reread passages that speak to me, and talk about books and articles to friends and colleagues. One of my primary goals as a middle school principal is to support the culture of independent reading that is part of my school. This means helping teachers feel comfortable setting aside time for independent reading at school. It also means that I model how much I value reading by enlarging classroom libraries, and making our school library an inviting place with comfortable spaces for students to read. I encourage teachers to share books they’ve loved with students, and I share with teachers books I am presently enjoying. For independent reading to flourish in a school, the entire community needs to rally around it.

Research supports the benefit of Independent reading. The pleasure students experience is obvious when I visit a class and observe independent reading. However, I often wonder if schools are embracing independent reading and making it an integral part of their school’s culture. Through reading, students also enlarge background knowledge and vocabulary. But more important is that students derive pleasure from their reading–pleasure in entering and living life in different worlds and cultures as well as stepping into a character’s life and pretending to be that character.

I believe in research, but I also believe in good, old fashioned common sense. To develop skill and expertise at anything in life, you need to practice. Any sport from golf to basketball, requires purposeful practice, and purposeful practice improves performance. If students want to become better readers, it makes sense for purposeful practice to be part of the improvement equation. A combination of independent reading and well-planned, differentiated instructional reading can improve reading skill. Being an excellent reader and writer are necessary for college and career readiness. In addition, it’s also important to remember that students reading below grade level need to read more than their peers who are proficient and advanced readers.

When students self-select books for independent reading, they have opportunities to “practice” the strategies and skills they’ve rehearsed during instructional reading and apply them to materials on their own. Self-selecting books gives students control of what they read which in turn develops self-confidence, literary taste, and a desire to repeat the enjoyable experience.

I am a champion of independent reading. Are you? Readers of my posts know I believe the principal sets the tone through clearly communicated expectations and words of inspiration. I am sharing five ways a principal can encourage and promote independent reading for all, staff included!

If you are new to a school, do a spot check. Are all staff encouraging independent reading? Is it being communicated to students? Are students reading independently in school?

Communicate the value of reading independently. I have known staff who feel they might get in trouble with administration if students are reading independently.

Invest in classroom libraries and your school library. Where we put our money communicates what we value. If we value books and reading, money from the school budget needs to be spent on enlarging classroom libraries and adding books to schools’ central libraries.

Independent reading is practice and should be enjoyable! I have known staff new to my school who shy away from promoting independent reading because they don’t know how to “hold kids accountable.” In my years as a teacher and principal, I have never met anyone who wants to summarize what they read in a notebook or make a shoebox diorama after completing a book. If your staff are stuck in fixed mindsets of accountability for independent reading, work with them to find more positive solutions such vlogs, blogs, or book talks.

Model independent reading! Teachers who read in front of students send a powerful message to their students: as an adult I place such a high value on reading that I read aloud to you every day. Dennis Schug, Principal of Hampton Bays Middle School, notes at the bottom of his email signature what book he is reading. This sends a strong message about the joy reading brings and that’s it’s important to his life.

 

As a school leader, department chair, or classroom teacher, what you value, communicate, and prioritize is like a cold, catching. My challenge, and the challenge of every principal, is to make sure students experience independent reading of self-selected books at school and at home!

Laura and I can provide free P.D. for your school- learn more at Robb Communications

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Informational Writing in the Primary Grades: Linda Hoyt!

Guest Robb Review Author: Linda Hoyt!

For many years, I have called for a stronger emphasis on informational sources in primary classrooms.  Now, it is exciting to see primary teachers actively helping children understand that they can learn about the world while they learn to read and write.  Everywhere I go, I see more informational selections on display and in the hands of independent readers.  I celebrate as emergent and developing writers capture facts in pictures, labels, notes, sentences and multiple page books!  These eager researchers read and write in collaboration with partners and take great pride in generating questions that fuel more reading, more research, and more writing!  (Can you hear me clapping?)

Most of all, I applaud the increasing number of teachers who are clearly understand that their role is not to transmit information, but rather to ignite a sense of wonder—to help kids live a curious life.  In classrooms that are driven by curiosity and wonder, learners erupt with literate vigor and writing becomes a natural extension of the learning.

Informational writing used to be saved for genre studies in which young writers created a set of directions or engaged in crafting a report about animals.  But, evidence now suggests that this limited view of nonfiction writing is too little—too late!  We now know that forward-thinking educators weave explicit scaffolds for nonfiction reading and nonfiction writing into the fabric of daily literacy instruction, making sure that children write for a wide variety of purposes and experience a broad base of nonfiction text types in every subject area—every day.

Some teachers express concern that informational writing should wait until foundational skills are in place. But, extensive evidence suggests children do not need to have correct spelling, complete sentence structures, deep content knowledge, or well-developed writing traits in place before they begin to engage as nonfiction writers.  They will develop these essential skills as a natural extension of modeled writing, coaching conferences, revising, editing and presenting their work.  They WILL learn as they go.  With each successive writing experience, word-building skills will grow and the writing will gain sophistication.

The key:  Don’t expect perfection—expect growth.

Modeled writing is a critical element of accelerating the development of informational writing. Take time to think aloud as you write under the watchful eyes of your students.  Let them hear what is in your mind as you capture an interesting fact on paper, insert a label on a diagram, or list the attributes of a tree frog.  Help them to notice that sketches carry information and support the message, and that even adult writers pause frequently and experiment with different ways to craft a sentence.  When young children see you write, they have a powerful window into meaning, grammar, word construction, and use of space on the page.  So, dive in and “Just do it!”

I am so excited about how the children are writing, especially in comparison to years past.  It is early in the year and my kindergarteners are confident with several text types and absolutely love to write.  We have lists, notes, and multi-page books that look like they were done by much older students.  Thank you for helping me to believe… They are more accomplished writers and I am a more accomplished teacher.  

 Sandy Gordon, kindergarten teacher, Hudson, Ohio

Learn more about Linda! Check out her website!

Follow Linda on Twitter:  @lindavhoyt 

The Reading Teacher – Choosing “Just Right” Books

Is there a perfect or best way for students to select an independent reading book? I don’t think so. Since I’ve been teaching, the five-finger method is a strategy that teachers pass on to students. This technique asks a student to read 100 words and if there are five the student can’t say and/or understand, they look for a different book. I am not a fan of the five-finger method. Having difficulty with five words per one hundred words can be problematic for students with fluency issues. For me, there’s no one method of selecting a book that students use. It’s all about relationships that enable you to offer guidance that resonates with each child and meets that child’s needs.

I wish I could offer you one or two methods that always work. I can’t. My teaching head believes that for students to enjoy an independent reading book, it should be close to 100% accuracy. However, my students have taught me that exceptions to this belief abound! Take Marta, a third grade student who was instructionally on grade level. She checked out The Wizard of Oz on a visit to the library. Definitely, far above her instructional level, so I asked Marta, “Tell me why you want to read it.”

“I’ve seen the movie three times. I really want to read the book.”

“You certainly have a lot of background knowledge, “ I said. “Try it. Know that you might have to reread parts.” A happy Marta skipped to the computer to check out her book. Marta read The Wizard of Oz three times. “The second to get it [the story] better. The third ‘cause I could really read it.” Marta shows us that choosing books is more complicated than we thought. Here are five suggestions to guide you.

  1.    Have students share what they want to read with you. Go to library period with your students and be there to suggest books, to hear why they “must” read a book. Invite students to run by you books they select from your classroom library.
  2.    Offer alternatives. Avoid taking a book away from a student. Instead, suggest two alternatives just in case they want to switch. Abandoning a book should be a student’s choice.
  3.    Listen to students’ reasons. Always ask “why” and listen. What the student says can support your suggestions. If you’re unsure, let the student try the book and explain that it’s okay to abandon it.
  4.    Adopt book talking. Each month, invite students to book talk a favorite independent reading book. Spread these over two days. Just imagine, a class of twenty-five students will hear 250 book talks in ten months. They’ll discover many books that interest them—books they choose to read based on peer recommendation.
  5.    Approve of abandoning a book. When I was in school, I had to finish a book, even if I disliked it. The idea was that I’d learn the discipline of completing what I had started. That doesn’t work. It creates anger and intense dislike—two emotions you don’t want student to associate with reading. When a student abandons a book, I like them to tell me why, only because I’m interested in what causes this decision.

Closing

Your advanced and proficient readers have learned, through experience, how to select a book to enjoy. However, English language learners and students reading below grade level benefit from your support. So say “good-bye” to strategies that don’t work for them, including the five-finger method. Instead, take the time to deepen your relationships with students by supporting their independent reading choices! With practice, they’ll figure out how to choose, but also know it’s okay if they recognize the book is not for them YET and find another.  One day, if the student still wants to read it, he or she will.

Learn more about Laura’s ideas on reading- check out- Teaching Reading in Middle School

Leadership:Let’s Build Our Brand!

As a new school year begins, take time to reflect on how you can promote your school to parents, staff, and students.  Reserve time to build your school’s brand!

In this blog, I am posing some questions for educators to reflect on as you think about creating and promoting your school’s brand.  Branding is the art of aligning what you want people to think about your company or school with what people actually do think about your company or school. And vice-versa. Jay Baer Convince & Convert by Jay Baer with Amber Naslund who wrote The Now Revolution.

 

How we communicate and how our communication is interpreted is important as you work to define your school’s brand.  Certainly, we can all find inspiration from Eric Sheninger’s well-known quote, “ Either you tell your school story or someone else will.”

How you tell your story requires you to be  intentional. Communication will happen no matter what, but without some thought and planning, it might not be the communication you want nor the type of brand you want to define your school. So, how is your school telling its story?  What do the current communication methods say about your school? How are you controlling the narrative to form and communicate your school’s brand?

Reflect on my top 7 questions and thoughts, then decide which ones you and your team do well and where you can improve.  Pick three or four new focus areas to be part of your communication and branding plan for the new school year.

  1. When a person comes to the front door of your school does signage say visitors please report to the main office or does it say visitors must report to the main office?  This may seem small but words send messages and inform people about a school.
  2. Does your front office staff give a great impression to all who enter the office?  How they communicate tells people a lot about the principal. Do office staff have training on customer service? First impressions always count. Ensure that every person who enters your main office experiences a welcome that generates positive feelings.
  3. Is there an updated calendar on your school website?  Who updates the calendar and how often?  Updated and communicated school information sends a message that you care about informing and communicating all the events and activities that are part of your school. If done well, what does this say about your school?  If done poorly, what might people conclude?
  4. If your school is using Google, are staff using Google Sites or Google Classroom?  If yes, have you communicated standards for updating and formatting?  Or are some staff using this great way to communicate while others are not?  If so, what does scattered communication say about your school and you as a leader?
  5. Does your school have a schedule for parent newsletters?  Do grade levels or teams send parent communications home on a set schedule? Consistent and coordinated communication should always be the goal. What message is sent when schedules are not followed or one group in a school communicates much more than another group?
  6. Consider a school-wide positive communication effort to connect with families.  I have no doubt that all schools have some staff who make positive calls to parents. However,  imagine the impact on parents  if all staff commit to making at least two positive calls during the year for each student they teach.
  7. Is your school using social media to effectively connect with families and tell the story of your school?  Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are all free and can communicate messages the school needs to send.  Do you have a plan for who manages social media in your school along with defined expectations including a minimum number of communications per day?  Social media communicates what you value.  If a school only Tweets out athletic information, what does this communicate about what they value? Balanced communication to celebrate all the great happenings in your school sends a powerful message!

I started my list with an easy change; the others are more challenging.  Communication is like a garden; it needs sunshine, water, and sometimes some weeding.  I suggest choosing no more than four focus areas for the year ahead.  It can be tempting to choose more.  Avoid doing too much as this can derail successful change.  

 

Finally, I encourage a purposeful plan to communicate in a coordinated manner.  A well-coordinated plan will advertise your school’s story and brand with a core message: “communication matters to us!”

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