Posted in Reading

We’ve Got to Move Them, Move Them!

All of us, as teachers, have students who are reading below grade level each year.  Some of these students are not just slightly but some are significantly below grade level.  We, in our county, call these students our ‘striving’ readers; a phrase coined by Stephanie Harvey and Annie Ward in their book, From Striving to Thriving.   Our school has been working and continues to work to move these readers forward.

The first thing we learned was just how important it is to get these kids excited about reading.   We stopped worry about the “level” of the book and were more concerned about whether the student was interested or excited to read the book.  We took a lot of ideas from Donalyn Miller (The Book Whisperer and Reading in the Wild) and really spent a lot of time in the first half of our year getting kids to actually read during independent time!  We no longer needed “centers” or “rotations” to fill our reading blocks.  We actually have kids reading from PK-5 for long chunks of independent time.  But, even after we had kids excited about reading we knew we had to tackle the issue of our striving readers.

So, for the last few weeks we have been lucky to have Lura Hanks, our Reading & Social Studies Supervisor, coming to model some guided groups with our readers that are furthest away from grade level (students with IEPs, EL students, etc..) .  Lura has come and each time brought a piece of text that was close to or on grade level and each time these students were able to read the text!  Yes…you read that correctly…they read it!    What I saw her doing was not anything earth shattering but the way she taught got students “to do the work” instead of relying on the teacher.  Her techniques gave students the skills and confidence students needed to be more independent.

How does she do it?  What’s the magic formula?  The key, from all I have learned so far it to build up student confidence, “coaching in” with students as they are reading, and helping students build strategies and expecting them to use them independently.

Each time Lura begins a group the students can’t help but feel like they could read anything.  She tells them that “they will read the text” by the end of the week but that on day one she is going to do all the hard work.   Also, Lura expects students to try to read while she supports them by coaching in.  As teachers we want all kids to succeed.  I find that teachers, myself included, have a tendency to help them more than we should because we want them to “get it”.  Therefore students become dependent on us to think, they literally will sit there quietly just looking at the teacher knowing that if they wait long enough they will tell them what to do or say.   Harvey and Ward said it best, “whoever does the most work does the most learning, so like any reader, kids need time to practice, once we show them how.”  Part of learning means sometimes getting it wrong or struggling a bit.   As we know from growth mindset research, people learn best when they have to solve a problem or as a result of what we learn from making mistakes.

Another vital strategy is getting kids to “predict” or notice, wonder, and think BEFORE they ever read a word.  Lura asks them to just “look” at the text for 1-2 minutes before they ever begin to read.  They talk about what they predict it might be about based on the pictures, structure, and text features.  Then they begin to read with the background knowledge and connections they have made.

Today an interesting strategy to help them go off and read a paragraph on their own that they were not going to have time to read together.  She read the subheading of the paragraph to them.  Then she asked them, “Based on this subheading, what words do you think you might encounter as you read?”  This set them up to be able to figure out words based on the context.  In fact before they left several students had found the words in the section that they probably would not have figured out without first connecting to the topic.  I felt like this was a simple but hugely effective strategy.

Accountability is another big part of Lura’s instruction.  When she teaches them a word she has them put their finger on it, she defines it, has them read it and notice what it looks like and then she says, “Now you know the wordinsert word, the next time you see it I expect you to know it!  And…I know you probably don’t believe me…but they do know it!

These are just some basics that I’m picking up but after you watch group after group at every grade level of striving readers reading and understanding passages that are far above their level you can’t help but realize that it’s not about a box intervention it is more about knowing your readers and using the gradual release model to help them “do the work”.  He have to stop holding their hands and start coaching…learning from mistakes and effort.

So…after watching 8 or so groups that Lura has taught I was itching to get my feet wet and try it out myself.  This week I chose a group of three boys from a fourth grade class who all were reading on a I-K level.  I brought a text for them that related to the social studies that they were starting (the Revolutionary War) from NEWSELA (click for the article) that was a 710 lexile (far above their level).   These boys did so well reading this high passage that I posed this to them to set a purpose for their reading:

Later after they have finished reading the text on their own, they will respond to this question:  In your opinion, how could King George avoided the war with the colonies?  Use text evidence to support your reasoning. 

Well…how will they do with the writing prompt?  We shall have to wait and see!  We have several more days this week of touching base with the text before we are ready for the writing piece.  But…if you want to know how it’s going let me know and I’ll try to blog about the process.

Know that this is just the tip of the iceberg of what I have to learn to move our strivers.  I’m learning from Lura and leaning on what I’m learning from the book I mentioned above as well as the Yaris and Burkins book, Who’s Doing the Work.  But…I hope you stay with me on the journey and share what you are learning as well!  We are all made better by learning from those around us.



Posted in Reading

Books to Entice & Intrigue Reluctant Readers

I’m sure as a teacher you have had your share of reluctant readers!  You know those kids…the ones who are always telling you that they don’t like to read, those that are “at-risk” or “struggling”.  From here on out you will see that I will call these students our “striving readers” as I subscribe to the belief that these labels can be harmful to students (as suggested by Stephanie Harvey and Annie Ward in their book, From Striving to Thriving).    Harvey & Ward state, that the best form of intervention is a good book.  But with striving readers, it can be hard to find that good book!  In fact, the older these students become, the harder it seems to find that just right book.

Often, these upper elementary strivers do not want to be seen holding a picture book so, as a teacher I’m always on the lookout for books that look hard from the cover but are easier and not too overwhelming inside.    I can speak, not only from classroom experience but from one of my own boys.  The book that made a difference for my son Ben was Jake and Lily by Jerry Spinelli.  This was the first book, in the summer between 4th and 5th grades, that he fell in love with.  It was this book that motivated him to read and move from a F&P of O in the fall of 2017 to an R in the winter of 2018!  After years of intervention it was one book that made the difference!  What was it about this book, you ask?  It was written like a poem…in verse but it looks like a really thick chapter book that any 4th-6th grader would read.  A story of twins who have a magical bond and feel like half of the same person but who, as they grow older are learning who they are as individuals.   (Ben was just sad that there wasn’t a sequel).  My son had finally found a book that made him want to read!

This whole experience taught me to always be on the look out for those books that might entice and intrigue my striving readers!  Many realize that graphic novels seem to be something they migrate to but also books written in verse might just be that special book that makes a striving reader a reader for life!  So…what are some good books written in verse?  Check these out and add some to your classroom library.  Another plus, to many of these novels is that they are multicultural!


Jake and Lily by Jerry Spinelli

This book addresses issues of identity, belonging, family, and bullying in this humorous and heartfelt novel about twins.


The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary by  Laura Shoven

This is the current book in verse that I am reading.  This book appealed to me because it is about a school that is closing and will be replaced by a shopping center and is told by the fifth grade class entirely in poems.  I have to be honest and tell you that another reason that I picked it up is because it in an NCTE 2017 Notable Verse Novel and the author lives in Maryland (my state)!


Another Day as Emily by Eileen Spinelli

I just checked this book out from the Maryland Digital Library, started it and finished it in about 2.5 hours.  It was FANTASTIC!!  Emily, who is 11, can’t win.  Her hero brother called 911 after seeing a elderly neighbor collapse and she failed to get a part that both she and her best friend auditioned for.  Suzy sees a kindred spirit in Emily Dickinson, who she studies for her summer project.  So, she decides to emulate Dickinson by trying out a life of solitude.


You Can Fly:  The Tuskegee Airman by Carole Boston Weatherford

This is on my list as my next book in verse to read!   The historical story of the Tuskegee Airman told in a novel in poetic form.  This book is sure to be a book that many boys will want to read!


The Crossover  by Kwame Alexander (Newberry 2015)

This book seems to have it all; basketball, a set of twins, and it is written in verse.  This is a fantastic book with issues around a girlfriend, relationships with their Dad, basketball, and sibling rivalry but we warned as it has a sad ending. I would definitely say this is a great middle school book but could also be appropriate for grade 5.  The sequel to this story is Booked.


 Little Dog, Lost and Little Cat’s Luck both written by Marion Dane Bauer

Two heartfelt stories with animals at the center of the story.  In Little Dog, Lost we see a boy in need of a dog, a dog who needs an owner and a neighbor who needs a community.  If you like the first book be sure to check out the companion book Little Cat’s Luck!


Inside Out and Back Again  by Thanhha Lai

A story of a 9 year old Vietnamese child that immigrates from Saigon to the Alabama at the end of the Vietnam War.



Red Butterfly by A.L. Sonnichsen

A Story of a young orphan girl in China who is adopted at birth by an American living in China.   Soon you discover that she was never officially adopted and as an 11 year old is sent to live in a Chinese orphanage while her adopted mother is sent home to Montana.


Love That Dog and Hate That Cat: A Novel  by Sharon Creech

In the first book, Love That Dog, we see a young boy who doesn’t like to write but has a teacher that makes the class write poems.   This story makes a great read aloud as it is not too long; only 128 pages.


Moo by Sharon Creech

This book is about a families move from the city to rural Maine.  The children in this book develop an interesting relationship with a eccentric senior citizen and her cow!


EVEN more fabulous books in verse:

I would also like to note the NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) gives awards each year for novels written in verse and books of poetry.  Many of the books I have mentioned are on their list but it is worth checking out their awards and honors each year at the NCTE site.

Also…if you haven’t be sure to pick up Harvey and Ward’s book, From Striving to Thriving.  It just may change the way you look at and approach those striving readers!