The most powerful teaching tool I know is listening closely, so I can build a solid understanding of the student sitting beside me. I can know seven different ways to teach students to retell a story or five ways to figure out the main idea of a nonfiction article, but if I don’t know what the student I am working with is thinking and doing I actually know very little of use. What’s most important in the teaching of reading is getting to know the intricacies of the students I support and making instructional choices based on their unique qualities and tendencies. Student voice is a crucial first step in planning reading instruction.
Consider Tommy, a fourth grader who reads on a third grade level. He often loses his book and says he “can’t find anything good to read.” Sitting next to Tommy is another fourth grader named Luke, who reads at a fifth grade level and tends to reread the same series of books over and over again. Of course there are also twenty-five other students in the class who have their own strengths, interests, and areas they need more support with. It can feel impossible and overwhelming to figure out what each and every student is capable of, needs next, and what engages them in learning. But it is not impossible, and I will describe three practices teachers of any grade level can implement, in order to truly understand how students read and what they like to read. First and foremost, all of these strategies begin with asking the students—we need to hear their voices.
Ask students about their reading interests.
Since we know choice of texts is one of the most important elements of creating a successful reading program, take time across the year for students to talk about the texts they are reading. In order for students to be engaged in independent reading, they need time and space to share their opinions about books and to discuss them with their classmates. These can take many forms such as
- Book Talks: Students have a minute or two to share a book they love with classmates and why they love it.
- Book Reviews: Students write a review of a recent read and share it with classmates on a blog, Goodreads, or a class bulletin board.
- Interest Surveys: Students fill out questionnaires about the type of books they love and really don’t like to read, genres they enjoy, and favorite authors.
- If You Like… Try… Posters: Students make posters or charts that list a popular book and then other books that readers might like that are similar. These are displayed in the library area.
- Student Created Text Sets: Students work in groups to collect texts of interest on the same topic. These are collected in baskets or bins or if they are digital are grouped in a single folder to be shared with others.
Ask students about their reading process.
Regularly meet with students in reading conferences to better understand how they go about reading. Try to uncover their process, because when we know how they currently read we can reinforce what works and add to what they do. One way to do this is to teach students how to share their voices around this often complex process of reading.
- Model how you go about the process of reading a short part of a text. Think aloud and really explain how you were thinking as you read.
- Ask students, “Show me how you went about reading this part of your text.”
- If they need further prompting, ask questions that get at student’s thinking and the steps they took such as, “What were you thinking here?” and “What did you do first? Next? After that?”
- Remember there is no one right way to go about reading and use this conference as an opportunity to be a Miner, uncovering how a reader currently reads. (More on this in Mindsets and Moves: Strategies that Help Readers Take Charge, 2016).
Ask students what their goals are for themselves as readers.
At the start of the year or as you switch to a new book or unit of study, take time for students to share their goals for themselves as readers. Their own personal goals are an important part of sharing their voice. These goal sharing sessions might look different across the grade levels. A few ideas include:
- Pair students up to discuss and share their personal goals.
- Create a goal chart and everyone writes a goal and places in on the chart.
- Sit with each student one-on-one or in small groups and ask them to share their goals.
- Students write a reflection about their goal and why this is important to them and how they are going to work towards it. Then they check in again after a few weeks to reflect on how it is going.
When students have a voice in the reading classroom they are more engaged as learners but also as teachers, we have so much more information to base our instructional decisions upon. Take time throughout the year to ask students about their reading interests, processes, and goals. Let the information you gain from students’ voices become the first step in your instructional plans.