In the waning days of the last school year, my sixth graders completed reading surveys – a series of questions (via Google Forms) designed to help me figure a few things out: did my students feel as though they had made progress as readers over the course of the year? what had helped them along in this progress? what got in the way of their reading lives? Summer, thus far, has been devoted to planning ahead by reading stacks of new YA and PD books. Now, as I revise and tweak my curriculum plans for the new school year, it is finally time to unpack those surveys and allow my students to help me revise and tweak. Here’s what I asked, and (more importantly) here’s how my kids responded.
What changed in the way you chose what to read this year?
Most of my kids felt that they had had a greater choice in what they read, and that the large classroom library had presented more genre experimentation and discovery. Many said that they were more flexible in their approach to choosing books to read, and were willing to take genre risks. Book Clubs were always mentioned as gateways to previously shunned genres, and pleasant discoveries about the merits of those genres.
What changed was that I didn’t use to like to read, but after this year I started to pick out more books to read of every different genre. Some of the books I liked and some I didn’t but I still read them because maybe if I read a little more of the book I would like it.
Name two ways in which you have grown as a reader this year.
All my kids wrote about choosing books with greater thought and care, and that they felt they could stretch themselves to think deeper about the books they were reading. Book stacks, book talks, book clubs and conversations about books helped them, too. It seems as though the culture of book love, which we work so hard to establish and carry through the school year, paid off big time.
I have grown by finding more books that I enjoy. I think that by doing book talks I feel more open to asking people about food books they have read.
Many of my kids wrote about becoming more thoughtful about their reading, as well, a big shift from their fast-paced-plot-driven reading at the beginning of the year. Stopping to think and jotting notes, something they have such an aversion to doing at the beginning of the year, started to make sense to them!
I have learned to stop and think about what is really happening in the story, and I learned how to respond better to the book and make connections.
I’ve grown as a reader this year both by developing my reading comprehension skills, but by also being a more thoughtful, and concentrated reader.
Name two ways in which you set and met reading goals this year. What helped you in this process?
Having goals and reading plans was mentioned by almost every student. Most of them had begun the year with a hit or miss approach to finding books to read, which (more often than not) led to abandoning those books. My students wrote about being more intentional in their choices, and of the importance of setting personal reading goals for themselves.
One way I set and met my reading goals was that I made a list of books that I wanted to read. Whenever I was done with a book or series, I knew what book that I wanted to read next! What helped me in this process was that I made a list in my reading journal and in my mini what board at my house so that I can be prepared! Another way I set and met my reading goals is by getting recommendations from friends and teachers (Mrs. Smith). Mrs. Smith would get a book stack for me and I would choose which books I like so that I can read it! I learned to make bookstacks for myself, too.
One of my goals were to pick up a better stamina. So when we did the book clubs I found I could read for a lot longer then before. Book clubs forced me to read a certain amount of pages in a certain amount of time which made me push myself to read faster and more frequently.
I’ve made sure that I was starting a new goal once I finished a previous one. I kept a list of goals in my agenda and it helped.
What changed in your reading habits this year? Be specific and give examples.
My students’ responses told me that they had learned to set up reading routines so that they could be sure to carve time from their many after school activities in order to read. They had become much more open to discovering new genres and authors, and to learn how to use their Reading Journals strategically.
I was before very restricted to only reading realistic fiction. But from reading The War “That Saved My Life” it made me realize how wonderful these other genres are too. So now I am not afraid or mad when I have to read a different genre.
I began to jot down some notes while I was reading at home, simply because I find that it helps me organize my thinking. For example, last year, I would just read a book and understand it pretty well. Now, I take notes and understand so much more about the characters, the setting, and the plot.
I have learned to “bookmark” specific parts of the book so I can go back to refer while in a conference.
When we read The War That Saved My Life, it made me think more deeply about the book, and made me connect the book to real life situations.
What surprised you about your year of reading in sixth grade?
Reading is thinking, I believe this to be fundamental and so we spent a lot of time thinking with each other and jotting down our ideas over our year of reading workshop. I was glad that this kind of reading/thinking showed up as one thing that was most surprising to my kiddos.
I was surprised that we would take notes and talk about books so much. In 5th grade all you had to do is read the book, but now in 6th grade we had to actually understand the book and it’s characters and plot.
I was surprised at how much better I understood the books that I was reading.
What surprised me was the kind of thinking we had to do. For example, the note and wonder. Another thing is what we did for ‘Kiki and Jacques,’ where we drew what we thought.
I didn’t realize how lost you could get in books, especially as you get older.
What do you know about yourself as a reader now that you didn’t know when you began sixth grade?
The answers to this one covered the gamut, but the one thing each response had in common was that my kids felt a strong sense of empowerment and that reading could be both fun (for sixth graders, that is all important) as well as a meaningful experience.
I have a large reading capacity and can read more in one day than I ever thought. I also learned that books can change our whole entire perception of things.
I realized that I can start to express how I feel about the book and really get deeper into it. For example, I was able to imagine myself being in the character’s shoes and understand how much stress or how nervous this character is.
I now know that my reading level is actually higher than my other teachers told me. I also realize that reading is more FUN than last year, NO MORE POINTLESS POST-ITS! They legitimately sucked the fun out of reading books for myself. It was never FOR myself, actually. The post-its, and all of it, was for the teacher. It’s more fun this year!
That if I make the right choice of what to read, I can.
Tell me how talking about reading helped you as a reader.
Sixth graders love to talk, and need no excuse to be ready, willing, and able to launch into impassioned conversations about everything. The challenge is being able to harness this “talking energy” productively, and I will admit that this is hard to do. We are, very often, a very noisy sixth grade class. I was happy to learn that my kids took away what I’d hoped they would – that book talk allows us to share, grow, and clarify ideas.
Talking about reading in class helped me understand and learn the character’s thoughts, feelings, behavior, and information. It helped me take notes down and learn about the story-line of the book.
Talking about my readings helped me remember all that I learned and this helped me let out my thoughts and hear other peoples thoughts of the same book.
It gave me new perspectives on the pieces and how they are made and what goes into them.
It made me want to read more and more
Tell me how writing about reading helped you as a reader.
We use our reading journals to keep track of our thinking, to sketch out ideas and notes, to lift lines and write long, and in a variety of other ways which I have written about in this post for Two Writing Teachers
. It is always a struggle for me when it comes to assigning reading responses, because I am conscious of the fact that this work will take time, and that my kids need more time to just read
At the end of last year, I found a student’s reading journal in the lost and found. Thinking it belonged to one of my kids, I fished it out and began leafing through it. I quickly discovered that it was the perfect example of how teachers can waste and devalue our student’s reading and writing time with assignments and rubrics like this:
and empty responses to our students like this:
But, there is great value in thoughtfully assigned written responses which are thoughtfully responded to. Such assignments are conversations with our students about the books they are reading and the meaning they find within these stories. I don’t know that I have figured out the right balance in my written reading response assignments, but I was glad to read that these helped my kids organize their thinking, and to dig deep.
When I wrote about a book, it helped me to figure out all my thoughts and organize my thinking.
This helped me learn and take more out of the book by really digging deep into the context of the book.
Writing made me think more deeply.
What are some things you wish we had done in reading workshop this year? Why?
The answers here all led in one direction and were unequivocal: more time to read!
I wished that we had more reading time during class. When I come home from school I have some long activities like cello, guitar, and piano lessons that I don’t have any time to read. So I wish next year for fifth graders, they will have more time to read.
I wish that we had more time to just read. I believe this because we are supposed to read a lot during our younger lives, but with so many after-school activities, it becomes hard to block out times to do a big chunk of reading for many of us.
Parsing through these surveys (we did one for writing, as well) gives me a chance to rethink and evaluate our reading workshop practices – clearly, some aspects of our reading workshop need to be tweaked and restructured. My biggest take away and priority? Carving out more time for my sixth graders to simply read!