Specialized Reading & Student Choice

In his Stages Hypothesis, Stephen Krashen recommends:

1. Stories

2. Free Voluntary Reading

3. Specialized Reading (Academic Reading)

In 1. Stories and 2. FVR, students listen and read for just for fun.  However with 3. Specialized Reading. Students not only read what they love: they read to solve problems and feel like experts.

Specialized Reading requires:

1. many years of FVR to develop autonomous reading habits and advanced reading ability,  and 2. a high-interest non-fiction section in your classroom library or  Free Voluntary Websurfing.  Yet the real key to Specialized Reading is 3. student choice.  Think: independent study.

Students choose when they are ready to move away from FVR …don’t push them too soon.  If students test out of ESL before doing Specialized Reading, that’s okay.

Students choose when they have found a topic worth reading about.  They decide when to abandon that topic and move on.

Students choose what books, blogs, articles, etc. to read.  They may choose to skip any passages they don’t need and read only the passages that are interesting to them.

Students choose how to use the new knowledge they find in books.  As with any reading, no tests, no comprehension questions. Students seek answers to questions they create.  They respond to text in an autonomous, authentic way: usually with a product or project they decide on and feel passionate about.  If they loved an article on photography, they may chose to pick up a camera.  If they loved a book on fashion design, they may try out a few sketches.

All of these choices can be supported with teacher suggestions.  Yet student choice  ensures that text is compelling and comprehensible.


Cited:

Krashen, S. (2018). Do Libraries and Teacher Librarians Have the Solution to the Long Term English Language Learner Problem? CSLA Journal, 41(2): 16-19. Available at: http://sdkrashen.com/content/articles/2018_krashen_long-term_ells.pdf

Krashen, S., Sy-Ying, L. & Lao, C. (2018). Comprehensible and Compelling: The Causes and Effects of Free Voluntary Reading. Libraries Unlimited: Westport, CT.

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Truly Silent Reading

“I still suffer twinges of guilt when I have to ask students to stop talking during reading workshop. But they’re talking about books!…And they’re not reading. And they’re distracting the readers around them.” – Nancie Atwell, The Reading Zone p. 32
I have experienced this guilt and struggled with silent reading as well.  It is often hard to enforce complete silence during reading time.  I find the following helpful for sharing excitement for books, but maintaining silence.

  1. Designate a time for groups to exchange ideas after silent reading. Consider literary circles.  Always let students control:
    • What they read: students self-select, but may also abandon a book during the daily post-reading group discussion;
    • How long they will discuss;
    • What they will discuss: they should ask all the questions;
    • How they will discuss: they can respond by talking in L1, L2, or sketching, then exchanging sketchbooks.
  2. Have a system for students to write down ideas to share later.  In those moments children have an idea they want to share, get them in the habit of jotting down a quick note on a bookmark or post-it.  Note this should be voluntary. 
  3. Be available.  Instead of talking to a friend and distracting them, they should be able to share with you.  Make sure you whisper with students.
  4. Books on tape and ear buds as listening stations may help students get in a silent reading habit.  It can be hard to pull together throughout the year, but may be worth it for the very first few books.  When I first introduce literary circles, I give students a table full of 20 or so good first titles to choose from, each with sets of 5 books, an audio book and listening station.  Quickly students familiarize themselves with norms and ater a few weeks/a few books, they get free-reign of the library, typically leaving audio books behind.

Le chouchou – Avoiding Teachers Pets

“Chouchou,” “consentido,” or “class pet”  is an old and universal problem.   Elisha Babad documented the subtitles of teachers’ behaviors for decades and found children as young as 6 perceive differential treatment.

Some principles and strategies that work to avoid this problem:

  1. Library time. Often teachers are perceived to give more time or more positive feedback to traditionally-successful readers. Plan time to chat one-on-one with lost kids milling around the library without a book, while your successful readers (“teacher’s pet” types) are reading independently.
  2. Change up your seating chart and make sure you give small reading groups equal time.  The students sitting nearest you (feel they) get the most attention and often achieve more.  Constantly move your back row to the front.
  3. Avoid class jobs or consider rotating jobs. All Kindergarteners know, being line-leader matters.  Similarly, with Learning Experience Approach or co-created stories, one student gets to be the “story driver.”  You can certainly seek ways to rotate or share these roles equally, but this often introduces the problem that some students are more vocal leaders, some are quiet.  Also, how many Kindergarteners (or high schoolers) can wait six weeks until it’s their turn?  I recommend avoiding class jobs or special leadership roles during whole-group time.  A more natural, egalitarian leadership tends to evolve in student-led literary circles or small group time without direct teacher intervention.
  4. Periodic Assessments should notice all children, especially struggling learners.  Each time you observe something noteworthy, consider jotting down your observation (successes or struggles) on a Post-it.  Stick Post-its in each child’s records page, alphabetized in an class binder.  Flip through your binder monthly to find students you notice less. Anecdotal records can be helpful with administrators and parent conferences and help you cut down on high-accountability testing.

 

Note: a huge thanks to Dr. Beniko Mason for this and many other practical lessons.

Gross-Out Books

Why are blood and guts, gross out humor, and enormous spiders so endlessly fascinating?  Because they’re cool, that’s why.  And the idea of pursuing your curiosity despite it being taboo or displeasing to adults is empowering.  

As students gain knowledge about the gross and weird, they proudly think, “‘Listen to me.  I know what adults know too, and I am brave enough to speak of the unspeakable!’ They are pushing the edges of their knowledge as they push the edges of acceptability,” according to Jobe and Dayton-Sakari (73).

Students feel empowered as they build a special knowledge base through narrow Specialized Reading or academic reading. Encourage students to find a single subject to read narrowly (yes, even if that subject is the later stages of digestion).  

Single-Topic Gross-Out Books

  • Gross-Out Animals That Do Disguisting Things by Ginjer Clarke 
  • Bugopedia by Discovery Kids
  • That’s Disgusting series by Connie Colwell Miller
  • Poop: a Natural History of the Unmentionable by Nicola Davies
  • Sanitation Investigation Series by Capstone
  • Icky, Sticky Gross Stuff series by Pam Rosenberg (warning, the Icky, Sticky, Gross Stuff in Your Food book is in fact quite gross)
  • Real Scary Spiders by Animal Planet

 

*The following books jump from subject to subject.  They don’t have the same effect as true narrow reading in a content area, however, they allow students to browse until they find exactly what they are interested in reading.

  • Grossology by Sylvia Branzei
  • Almanac of the Gross Disgusting and Totally Repulsive by Eric Elfman*
  • National Geographic’s Ultimate Weird but True series*
  • The “Guiness Book of World Records” series*
  • Oh, Yikes! History’s Grosses Moments by Joy Masoff

 

 

Free Voluntary Websurfing:

 


Cited

Jobe, R. & Dayton-Sakari, M. (2002). Info-Kids: How to use nonfiction to turn reluctant readers into enthusiastic learners.  Ontario, Canada: Pembroke.

Specialized Reading: Endless Possibilities

Forget the Civil War or Rainforest. Guide advanced ELLs to self-select and read narrowly and deeply in content-areas based on whatever they loved during Free Voluntary Reading.

Children who love science fiction and have a strong background in FVR may decide they are ready for a unit of study in space exploration.

Maybe they’d rather stick to their beanbag chair with a comic book in hand. Maybe they are waiting for you to conference with them one-on-one to share that they have a hidden passion for photography (what middle schooler isn’t an expert at selfies?).

Maybe they’ve read Raina Telgemeier’s graphic novel, Drama, and are inspired by the main character to read about theater arts so they can join the drama club. Maybe books will help the language minority students in your building take on leadership roles or dream about future careers. Maybe books can satisfy a burning curiosity, slowly build confidence in academic text, and make students feel like experts.

Letting kids come to the books they love autonomously opens up a whole world of maybes and possibilities.