How do you teach kids to LOVE reading independently while simultaneously keeping them accountable for their work time while also simultaneously making sure they're comprehending what they're reading? Whew.
First Step: Ditch the Reading Logs. Yep, you read that right.
Nothing takes the joy out of reading like the dreaded reading logs. You know the ones. The ones where students have to write down the title, author, date, and how many pages they read that day of that book. Why do we do this? Do teachers actually look at them and get accurate information from them? Plus, when was the last time as an adult that I filled one out to track my reading? Personally, I use GoodReads to do that. It's digital, it's fast, it's visual, and I'm not recording every single detail. That takes the joy out of it all!
So what to use in place of that? How do we know students are completing the books they read? How do we know they're understanding them? Many schools use Accelerated Reader (including mine) and it works well for a lot of kids. Not all, but many are motivated by it. I don't mind it, but it's not my end-all-be-all for reading comprehension.
This year I started using Flipgrid during my workshop time and it's taken off with my students. For their own privacy I'm not going to share our class's personal grid, but I'll explain and give details as to why and how I use it during this time of my day.
During our workshop time, students always read to self at some point. I thought instead of reading logs, which no one except the student/teacher/parent sees, why not make sharing what we're reading more social? Why not provide a platform to students to recommend and review books? Now, THAT we do continuously as adults!
Create and share a Grid! Use flipgrid.com to create a free account. Create a topic within that Grid. Ours is titled "2K Reads" but you could use Reviews, Recommendations, Book Talks, etc. in your title. You'll be provided with a Grid Code after it's set up. This is will be how students will access your grid topic. Share it out with students in a variety of ways: share the code, provide the link, embed the grid topic on a website or LMS.
MODEL what it looks like! Have a few example videos of you and other teachers sharing book reviews/recommendations on the Grid. Here's what my students are required to share:
ALSO, model how to REACT to videos. This emoji reaction guide by Sean Fahey is stellar for teaching students what they mean and when to select them.
Let your students start sharing!! Reading is social and students should be given a platform to share what they're reading and why they love it. 75% of the books I read are recommended by bloggers I follow, podcasts I listen to, friends I love, + librarians I've connected with. Chances are, that reluctant reader is reluctant because he hasn't found the right books that interest him yet.
Here are some other ways to go past only using Flipgrid for Readers Workshop reflection + accountability:
There is no one correct way to teach vocabulary, but nearly all educators can agree that vocabulary should be taught in context. This is something I'm passionate about, as I do not believe vocabulary should be taught in isolation. Teaching a child what the word "forlorn" means, but never reading, applying, or using the word in context is quite terrible instruction. I will be the first to say that I'm consistently trying new things with vocabulary and I'm always trying to switch up how we talk about, practice, and use vocabulary in the classroom. Some strategies work great with some classes, while not great with others.
Before a read aloud, I'll front load a list of words to students. I'll tell them to keep an eye and ear out for those words in the text while we read, and when we stumble upon one to hold up a sign language "V" so we know to pause and analyze its context. I'll model working through using context clues, sentence structure, and picture cues to help me identify what the word could mean, then students try modeling for their classmates for the last few words in the text. It is SO IMPORTANT to model for young readers what it looks like to stumble through a word's meaning! We even do this as adults. I can't tell you how often I quickly google search a definition of a word while I'm reading.
During our literacy center time, students will work through their vocabulary journals. Vocabulary journals come in all sorts. Some teachers use graphic organizers, which can be effective, but if they are not switched up often can lose their effectiveness and just become monotonous. Some teachers have students copy definitions into a notebook and draw a picture to go with, which again, will lose its effectiveness quickly. I've tried so many strategies for reinforcing vocabulary that have NOT worked. Enter: Google Slides!!
My students have started using these this year and get so excited about creating in them. I've now made my vocabulary journals digital. Students are essentially creating a digital scrapbook page for each word on a slide. Every slide has a word, its definition, synonyms and antonyms, photos, and sentences. They are free to add color, change fonts, add backgrounds, and play around to make them look nice. I have them use a new file of slides each quarter to stay organized (and it helps me assess because I know which pieces of work belong in what time period). The beginning of the year we do these together during guided reading time so I can establish an expectation for them, and teach them how to utilize the tools and safely search for photos. Eventually, they're ready to do them independently. Here's an example:
What I love most about doing my Vocabulary Journals digitally, is how much practice they get with Google Apps! They're focused on content while learning how to navigate Google Slides little by little. My second graders come to me with little to no experience using Google Apps, so I do A LOT of front loading first, and often second, quarter. I love seeing how independent they become in this area by third and fourth quarter. Their confidence grows as they see what they're able to create. I love it!
Please reach out if you have any questions on how I create the template and share it out with my students. I'm happy to share. Vocabulary is so important for growing comprehension in readers, and it's not an area of teaching to take lightly or pass over if you're short on time. Always make room to model and instruct learning vocabulary!
For more information on the importance of vocabulary instruction, see this article HERE and this study HERE.
“If we are going to help our students thrive, we have to move past “the way we have always done it,” and create better learning experiences for our students than we had ourselves. This does not mean replacing everything we do, but we must being willing to look with fresh eyes at what we do and ask, “Is there a better way?” We would expect the same mindset from our students, and, as educators, that question is the first step on the path to a better future for education.”
Isn't this the epitome of it all? Isn't THIS why we seek to innovate, to do better for our students? I had some amazing teachers growing up. In fact, my 2nd grade teacher, who has now retired after giving so much to the profession, is who inspired me to go into education. I wanted to make a difference in kids' lives just like she did in mine. Looking at the incredible veteran teachers in this profession, I'm in awe at how much so many have adapted throughout the years. I think there are practices that have been in education a long time and work well. I do not think technology is always the answer to improving something. Is it often the answer? Possibly. But does technology equal innovation? Not necessarily.
As I'm working through my design process, an unexpected turn took place. I thought I was going to go in the direction of math. I knew my students struggled with the concept of regrouping. This was a common theme I noticed year after year, so I thought as the "expert" of my classroom I would determine my lead for my redesign project. I decided to get some student feedback before diving into this one content area for my redesign, although I already had my mind set on what I would base it on. I chose to use Google Forms to collect feedback on what my students struggled with, what they loved about school, what areas they wanted more of, and how I could help them better.
My lead was off. Isn't this why student feedback is SO important? Here I thought regrouping would be my topic of interest, not realizing a bigger struggle was our current writing unit: Poetry. Oh, the irony in this one..
Growing up I loved to write. Really, I did. But. I hated poetry. Loathed it, actually. But I loved to write. I could empathize with my students on this one. The pressure to be creative + witty, the social vulnerability of sharing personal work. It's too much for some kids and it brings so many anxiety for some (myself included).
I decided to dive into this area. I organized my thoughts by putting them together in Google Slides. I looked into the actual challenges I'm addressing, existing approaches, and design principles. Take a peek! I'm excited to see where this (re)design takes my students + I.