I just finished my fourth week of class with my 8th graders. I made a resolution in This Time I Mean It that I was going whole-hog into Reading Workshop this year and I’ve stuck to it. Wrangling 30+ 8th graders who have never experienced a workshop environment into a working workshop has been challenging. In the years that I’ve attempted this before, the culture of reading in the school was more developed and maneuvering students into a reading routine was easier. From what I can tell, my students have only ever read whole-class novels and even then some of them didn’t really read them. The notion of reading what they want, when they want has been both exciting and overwhelming. Most of the students have settled in with books at this point and the only students who have yet to find a book seem to be the students who are my struggling readers anyway.
The biggest challenge I face right now is getting them to take the reading time in class seriously. These students are so unused to reading that when we settle into reading time, it takes five minutes or more for the room to get quiet. I knew that sustained reading time would be a challenge for this population so I planned to begin with 10 minutes. At this point I’m budgeting 20 minutes for reading time anyway because it takes so long for them to settle into actual, productive reading time. Currently, I have my Silent Independent Reading time at the end of the period. I feel like this may be a problem as well because they are very aware of the clock and begin shutting down while there is still time left in the period. Donalyn Miller in The Book Whisperer suggests scheduling the SIR at the beginning of the period and ending the class with the read aloud. I’ve always done it in the reverse order but I’m beginning to see the wisdom in her plan. By scheduling the SIR time first, hopefully the students will settle into a productive classroom mode and ending the class with the read aloud will provide some cohesion and down-time as we move to the next class.
I feel like with this population that establishing the reading routine is of utmost importance. I would like to eventually work in a modified writing workshop but these students NEED the reading time and comprehension strategy instruction. In addition, writing is not currently assessed on the state test. (I know, I was SHOCKED too!) While this by no means indicates that I will be ignoring writing instruction (because as we all know, reading and writing are so interwoven that improving either helps improve the other), I still feel that focusing on establishing good reading routines is the most pressing issue.
The students have been responsive to the choice element of the class. They were flabbergasted when I said that we would only read 1 or 2 whole-class novels this year. Right now, I think that perhaps the read aloud will even have to serve as our whole-class novel for first quarter. I just don’t feel they’re strong enough to juggle more than two story lines at a time if we are doing a read aloud and they’re reading an independent novel.
I’m still battling my inner voice of doubt as far as curriculum. My colleagues have embraced including SIR time into their class day but they are still tackling whole-class novels in a more traditional manner. I think my students seem to feel that they’re in an “easier” class because we’re not doing this; however, the reading response I’m asking for is much more rigorous than some of the worksheets I’ve seen. But my students are struggling with this open-ended type of response. I’ve already adjusted the response to make it more structured so that it’s a little more manageable for them but I still hear that voice in my head telling me it would so much easier to go back to the whole-class novel approach. I’m fighting this voice because I see a majority buy-in with the choice-reading that I know I wouldn’t be getting with whole-class novels.
My next step is to make sure all students are engaged in a text. Then beyond that, I want to focus on close reading to make sure students are interacting with the text appropriately. I think this will enhance their reading response as well as their understanding of the text they’re reading. It’s not perfect and it’s definitely a work in progress. But I’m proud of the progress we’ve made thus far in a school that has little to no existing reading culture. Any suggestions are appreciated to keep me on the right track.