This last week as I watched many students come in and out of my classroom, I felt the weight of the year. For many of my 8th grade students, this will be the last year they receive reading support. It will be vital for me to make every moment with these students count. It is a rather daunting task. Many of my students already have a preconceived idea of what reading is and isn’t. Most of my students can even tell you how to be a good reader. However, they have not developed a consistent way of putting those “good reader” habits into practice. If I can put more of the focus of the instruction on creating personal connection, they may just find some of the motivation to make the good reader habits more of a routine.
In order for true connection to happen, I spent a considerable amount of time thinking about how I go about selecting materials for my students. I felt I needed some solid guidelines for this task. My middle school students are no different from others in that they want to know “what’s in it for me.” I realized that when I look at texts (books, articles, etc) to select, I need see the text through their eyes. I developed some guidelines using the acronym R.E.A.D. (Appropriate, right?) When evaluating materials, I have begun to weigh each part of the acronym. If the text falls short in some area, I may want to consider leaving it out.
R = Relevant. The text should be something students see as important to them or their world in some way. If it is relevant, it will be relatable to the students. Relevancy will also lead them to deeper thinking and discussion to help reading growth.
E = Engagement. Students learn best and grow as students more when they are truly engaged in their learning process. This could mean not selecting the exact reading piece they will be reading, but allowing for self-selection. No matter the selection process, classroom materials for whole class instruction should have student engagement in mind.
A = Active Learning. This is more focusing on how I intend to use the text. No matter what we are reading, there must be active learning component. However students are responding to the text, it must be in a way that keeps their thinking active. Any educator will tell you maintaining a high level of active learning can be draining. That is why relevant and engaging material is a must.
D = Development. On the obvious level, we want students to develop their skills as critical readers of texts. However, I firmly believe that is only scratching the surface of what we have the potential to develop with our students. I want my students to develop as people as well. I want text that will introduce my students to new ways of thinking about their classroom, community, and world. I want my students to leave feeling like they have a voice and a purpose. I want them to feel like they are leaving my classroom a little bit better of a person than when they walked in.
My role in my school is “reading support”. I am a “reading specialist” and am very dedicated to both of these roles. While students may need to work to improve their reading skills, why not help them feel empowered by what we are reading? If we focus more on how a program can help our students rather than how we can grow our students, both as readers and as people, we are missing a big piece of the puzzle. All students have ideas to change the world. Whether they are a reader who struggles or not, we educators need to help give a voice to those ideas. We can do just this by making time to put effort into the materials we select. What do you want to R.E.A.D with your students?