Reader’s Workshop for the First Time

book turning pages_animatedI’ve taught Reader’s Workshop for two years. I am no expert, but I know it’s the right way for me to teach reading to my students. This year I have a combination class of fifth and sixth grade students. None of them are struggling readers, but not all of them like it.

On the first day of school, I collected the Practice Books that go with the Reading textbook and put them away on a shelf. I told them they would choose their own books to read. They could choose the stories in the Reading textbook if they wanted, but there would be no worksheets and no tests. They didn’t know me yet, so they just stared.

On the second day, I held up a picture book and asked if any of them had read it. We’re upper graders, their smirks told me. We haven’t read picture books in years. What a shame. I read them Mrs. Brooks Loves Books (and I Don’t) by Barbara Bottner. Their smirks turned to rapt attention and smiles. I asked them to respond in their Reading Notebooks. They could summarize the book, but I really wanted them to tell me what emotion it evoked, to connect somehow to it. They wrote in total silence for three minutes–their responses had more words than the book itself!

On the third day, I read another picture book. We talked about how to choose books, and I told them we would not be stressing out about Accelerated Reader levels or points. I just wanted them to enjoy reading. They chose books and read in total silence for forty minutes. They didn’t want to put the books away, but it was time for lunch. One student begged with me to be able to take the book she was reading to lunch. I smiled inside and told her that was just fine. (It was even more special that the book she had chosen was an anthology of student novels from a past class.)

As they walked out of the classroom on their way to lunch, I overheard two students discussing reading in animated voices. “This is going to be great!” one said. “Reading is more fun than ever,” the other one responded.

I, too, had a smile on my face when I walked to lunch. This is going to be a terrific year.

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