Tuesday, September 13, 2016

By the End of September - Best of Frank Serafini


In my book, Around the Reading Workshop in 180 Days, I included a section at the end of each chapter describing what I hoped to have set in place by the end of each month. In this installment of my blog I offer the description of what I hope to have in place by the end of September. I hope this helps new teachers get a sense of what is important to start the year.

By the end of September, I hope to begin to see, hear, and have established the following things:

  1. Most students are choosing appropriate reading materials, based on their comprehension abilities, for independent and paired reading – I am aware that I will need to consistently monitor some readers’ choices, but many of my students will be choosing appropriate materials by the end of the month.
  2. Students are willing to offer ideas when I am finished reading aloud a picture or chapter book without being asked – I want students to know that it is their responsibility to generate and articulate their interpretations without being asked after every reading what they think.
  3. The classroom library is organized and being used regularly by all students – we spend a great deal of time on the classroom library in September and I expect students to know what is available and how to find it, check it out and return it to its appropriate place.
  4. Students are writing most every evening in their literature response logs – one of the primary assessment instruments I use is the literature response log. Although these lit logs will include longer and more sophisticated responses as the year progresses, it is essential that students accept the responsibility for completing these every night.
  5. Students know the basic procedures of the reading workshop and are in the right place, with the right materials, for instruction to begin.
  6. Students sing along with me during our “shared singing” time – I begin the year playing the guitar and singing songs with my students. I try to choose songs they like, but the expectation is that everyone participates.
  7. My student assessment forms and notebooks are organized and I have begun to include various assessments in there – September is a time to get to know my students, and for them to get to know me. It is important for me to set up my assessment files so I have a place to keep students’ work samples and assessment forms organized.
  8. Students are beginning to understand the concept of genre, and use terms like science fiction, mystery, realistic fiction, and fairy tales to describe the books they are reading.
  9. Students are beginning to listen to each other in group discussions – the concept of “thinking-talking” is based on one’s ability to articulate one’s ideas AND one’s ability to listen to other students’ ideas.
  10. The classroom will be noisy, but not unruly; engaging but not intimidating; challenging but thoroughly enjoyable – above all, the reading workshop is a place for people to read and revel in the joys and wonders of reading and literature. I need to create a space where every student, regardless of their reading experiences and abilities can find enjoyment engaging in the act of reading.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Helping Young Readers Choose an Appropriate Text


            Helping readers make appropriate choices for what to read during independent and paired reading is one of the most important lessons I teach in the beginning of the school year. Many students come into my classroom making appropriate selections and need very little assistance to continue doing so. Others, need lots of help and monitoring to help them find reading materials they can make sense of. In my experience with intermediate grade students, about fifty percent of my students will make appropriate selections for their independent reading with little support from myself. For them, my job is to get new books into their hands, challenge them to try new genres and expand their reading repertoire. Another twenty-five percent of my students will listen to our discussions about the criteria fro making an appropriate selection, and will begin to make better choices for independent reading. The remaining twenty-five percent will need more monitoring, and we will have conversations about why they choose to read what they select. 
Making appropriate selections is contingent upon understanding that the purpose of reading is understanding what you read. Once readers internalize the fact that they are expected to make sense of what they read, they will begin to make better choices. Rather than focus on making choices for students, leveling and labeling texts, and creating book bins for students to limit students’ selections, I spend more time insuring that my students are reading for meaning and making sense of what they read. This takes time, but shortcuts, like leveling and labeling texts do not guarantee that students will make better choices. In addition, when we level texts we are taking away the responsibility readers have for choosing appropriately. Putting books in designated book baskets is all fine and dandy, but it will have little effect on students’ reading and selections until readers learn to read for meaning.
Additionally, if students are going to be asked to make appropriate choices, they need a wide range of books to choose from, time to browse, and to be exposed to new titles, authors, genres and topics to make more informed choices. It’s difficult for readers to make appropriate choices when there are only a few books to choose from. My classroom library includes books that range in difficulty from simple picture books, like Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss, to complex novels, like The Giver by Lois Lowry. The range of materials in my library is wide, because so is the range of abilities of my readers.

Choosing a Book to Read
·      open to a page and see if you can read and understand what is happening in the story
·      read the blurb on the back cover
·      ask friend for book recommendations and ideas
·      look at the suggested age level
·      read more books from the same author
·      ask Dr. Serafini for some suggestions
·      stop after reading a page and see if you can talk about what is happening
·      be honest with yourself and pick a book you can read, it will be a more enjoyable experience
·      remember that books will be available for when you are ready


Making an appropriate selection to read is dependent on why the reader is reading a particular text. Why we read something influences how we read something. When readers are making selections for independent reading, their purpose is primarily to enjoy a story. This means that a reader has to be able to understand enough of the story to engage with it. Knowing every word is not necessary to enjoy a story. However, when reading expository texts for information, knowing important vocabulary words would be very important. The types of selections we make is contingent upon our purposes for engaging with  text. Browsing or skimming a text requires a different criteria for selection from reading for information or to complete a task.

Monday, September 5, 2016

The Best of Frank Serafini: Reading Aloud


Features of reading aloud and discussing literature I will introduce, demonstrate and focus on during the first few weeks:
·      How to gather together for the read aloud – this includes where to sit, how to get there, when the read aloud will occur during the day, and what to bring. I create an area in the front of the class with enough room for everyone and a special chair, low enough to see everyone and be seen by everyone, that will be used for our read aloud sessions. I play a two minute song on a tape recorder to signal that read alouds are about to begin. Students are expected to put down what they are doing and find a spot in our reading area where they won’t be distracted by other students. I allow everyone to make the decision about whom to sit next to themselves until they demonstrate that they need more “help” choosing a better location.
·      How to listen to a read aloud and when to share ideas – I expect my students to listen and attend to the story being read and be ready to discuss the book at appropriate times. For example, when I am reading a page from a picture book I expect students to listen and not interrupt the reading. When I have finished reading the page, and we are looking more closely at the illustrations, students are invited to offer ideas aloud before we move on to the next page. I don’t expect my students to wait until the book is finished before telling each other what they think. However, I do expect them to listen when I am reading and be polite when someone else is offering an idea.
·      How to listen to other readers’ ideas and interpretations depending on the number of students in the class, during our discussions I try and have students face each other in a circle so they can see and hear each other when discussing a book. This shift in seating arrangements help signal that what students are sharing ideas with each other, not just with the teacher. We talk about what “good listeners” do and practice this procedure a great deal in the beginning of school. If we are going to take each other’s ideas seriously, we need to begin by listening to each other effectively.
·      The literacy notebook – many times, I have my students bring their literacy notebooks, used for collecting writing and responses to literature, to the read aloud and discussion. I have them use this notebook to take notes on the reading lessons I conduct and to respond to the books we share. I cannot allow this book to interfere with the primary goal of reading aloud, namely engaging with the read aloud. However, this notebook is a place for readers reluctant to share ideas to write them down and share them later in a different setting. 


When the read aloud is over, we move into independent reading, paired reading, and eventually strategy and literature discussion groups. Each of these components is introduced one at a time and procedures are established for each component as the year progresses.