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Let' them talk!! Collaboration in Reading and Writing

Welcome back!  Today I want continue the discussion of Essential Practice 1:

Essential Practice #1:  Deliberate, research-informed efforts to foster literacy motivation and engagement within and across lessons.

The third bullet of this practice states:

The teacher offers regular opportunities for children to collaborate with peers in reading and writing, such as through small-group discussion of texts of interest and opportunities to write within group projects.

Collaboration is a fancy term that means...LET THEM TALK!  As teachers, we love quiet classrooms, don't we?  We think our administrators are judging our classroom management skills based on how quiet our classroom is.  But in fact, it is the always-silent classroom that I really worry about.  Really, really worry.  Teacher - deep down in your heart you know that the most magical things happen when your students are having meaningful dialogue about their learning.  So, let them talk!

1.  Provide time for students to read with partners or in small groups.

Sometimes we call this buddy reading and our students love it!  Students can take turns reading aloud or read together chorally.  Either way, it is a great way to practice reading fluency.  When working together, students will be more likely to stop and process the text and discuss the pictures, which is really great for reading comprehension.

2.  Have students create their own questions about a text and discuss the answers with peers.

Asking and answering questions with a peer is much more engaging that filling out a worksheet...that is for sure!!  So, instead of giving students a list of comprehension questions to answer silently after reading, have students generate a few questions about a text and then work with a partner to talk about the answers.  Of course, you would need a few lessons on "thin vs thick" questions to steer them in the right direction, but I get so excited thinking about the critical thinking involved in having students write their own text questions!!

3.  Allow students to do Team Summaries of texts they are reading.

Summarizing is such a critical reading skill and students need lots and lots of practice with it.  Having students collaborate with partners or teams to write effective summaries not only makes it more fun, but also gives them an opportunity to think critically about a text.   As they discuss the events and/or details in the text they will discuss and debate which ideas are important enough to be included in the summary.  Place students in temporary, heterogeneous groups; both striving and thriving readers will benefit from this type of group work!

4.  Have students do Literature Circles instead of book clubs.

If you have never done literature circles (Smokey Daniels), you are missing out.  Students are placed in small groups to discuss a book.  Each person in the group has a different role to support the discussion.  There are a variety of different roles to choose from including discussion director, literary luminator, connector, word wizard, etc.  The roles help to structure the conversation as the group discusses the book.  Students are highly motivated to read and engaged in a text when they know they have an important role to play in their book club.

5.  Give time for Book Talks

In my previous post about matching books to readers, I discussed the importance of creating structures for students to recommend books to one another on a consistent basis.  Book talks are a great way to do this (and a great way to practice summarizing too)!  The idea is simple.  Allow students to pick a book they would like to "book talk" with their partner, a small group or the class.  They plan out their summary of the book by using a simple outline (for example, a summary of the book, and some reasons why their peers might like it also).  Then schedule a time each week when students can do their book talks!  THEY LOVE THIS....and it will help to create an amazing community of readers in your classroom!

6.  Provide opportunities for students to collaborate around writing

Reading and writing instruction go hand-in-hand and students should be given regular opportunities to collaborate with their peers about their own writing as well as the writing of mentor authors.  I have students meet daily with their writing partners to share what they are working on and to get peer feedback.  Peer editing is so helpful for students as well...they can rely on one another to polish their writing and take this off your plate!  Students also love dissecting a mentor text with their peers.  I love to see them putting their little heads together in front of a great book, and having great conversations about author's craft.  This is perfect to do before starting a writing unit on a new text type.  I have a great post about this if you want to learn more:  Immerse Your Students in Great Writing with Mentor Texts

7.  Use a jigsaw to help students to unpack challenging informational or content-area text.

I love a good jigsaw!!  We do them at professional development sessions often, and I think it is a great way to break down long, and complex texts into smaller components, while also giving a great context for collaborating about the text.  If you have never done a jigsaw, the idea is simple.  You divide a piece of text (an article, short text, or even a whole book) and have each member of the group read one the parts.  Then you give an adequate time to read (which may be minutes or days, depending upon the length of the text).  Then the group comes together and "teaches" about the part they read and gives their own insights.  After everyone has taught about their section, the group can analytically discuss the text as a whole, discussing what they've learned, asking and answering questions.   This techniques really helps students to understand more complex text because they have the opportunity to discuss and analyze one small part at a time, with the added insights of their peers.

These are just a few ways to incorporate student collaboration into your daily reading lessons.  When your principal walks in and HEARS all of the chatter going easy.  Because she will SEE some highly engaged students talking about their reading.  And that is exactly what they want to see!  Trust me!

This post is part of a series about the Essential Practices in Early Literacy:

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Relentless Book Matching

Essential Practice #1:  Deliberate, research-informed efforts to foster literacy motivation and engagement within and across lessons.

Do your students LOVE reading?  Do they beg to keep reading when reading time is over?  No?  If your students are struggling with stamina, they may not have "the right" books in their bins.  This post outlines some strategies to help your students to find books that will tickle their fancy and keep them reading long after the required "20 minutes" is up.

1. KNOW your students and their interests.

If you want to match books to have to KNOW the individuals.  It is well worth the time it takes to get to know each of your students on a personal level.  Obviously, this helps to build a rapport and a relationship based on trust and mutual respect.  But, it can also give you the key to finding books that they will love.  Ask questions, show an interest and listen intently to what they tell you, and also to the things they talk about with their peers.  Ken Goodman used to call this "kid-watching", and it is a great way to learn more about your students.  I also like to give my students different reading interest surveys throughout the school year to keep up with their changing likes and dislikes.  Just google "Student Interest Survey" and you will find several good ones.

2.  Encourage peer collaboration around books.

Provide structures for your students to dialogue about books and to recommend books to one another.  Give them lots of opportunities to write book reviews, give book talks and list recommendations to their classmates.  I can really relate to this one as a voracious reader....if my friends are raving about a book, I am on Amazon ordering it that same day.  Powerful.  A teacher I know has a very simple chart posted all is a running list of book recommendations by the kids in her class.   They write their name, and then the name of the book.  Someone is always standing in front of that chart, looking to see what books their besties have read.  Powerful.

3.  Create Text Sets or Reading Ladders

When you have an idea of the types of books your students are interested in, create sets of connected text.  For example, a collection of grade-appropriate fiction and nonfiction texts about dogs or with dog characters.  Students who love dogs will gobble up every book in the set.  Reading ladders are a way of nudging students into more challenging text through highly engaging reads that build upon a student's interest in a text.  You can create these for individual readers, or create generic ones that your students can choose.

4.  Give students access to real-world, relevant and varied text

What is going on the world and what are you studying in your content areas?  Students love books that help them to connect to what they are studying and to real-world issues and events.  I mean, don't you??  It is also nice to have a variety of reading material available, including newspaper articles, magazines, comic books, encyclopedias, and poetry.  Invite students to bring text from home and share it with their peers.  This can make for a great home to school connection while also providing some new text to the classroom.

5.  Allow students to ask questions and explore the answers

Project-based learning is a great way to increase reading engagement and give students an authentic purpose for reading.  Give students the opportunity to identify problems in their community (or school) and then find ways to solve those problems by reading and doing research.  Provide students with books, articles, websites and blogs to guide their inquiry...and then sit back and watch them read, read, read!!

6.  Check-in with students regularly.

Many young readers are not yet experienced at making good reading choices.  They need your help.  Most teachers give students multiple opportunities to "shop" for new books during the week, but then don't take time to talk with them about their selections.  If students haven't put adequate thought into their selections, they are set up to be disengaged during reading time.  Try to meet with each student once each week to confer with them about how things are going.  During this time, talk with them about their book selections and give them guidance as needed.

These are just a few ways to match readers with great books!  Once a student finds the right books and discovers the magic of reading...they will be hooked forever.  A teacher that is skilled at helping them to find the perfect books is a critical piece of lasting reading engagement.

If you enjoyed this post, please check back for most posts in this series...