Reader’s Workshop in Senior ELA : A Journey of Discovery

Posted on January 12, 2018


Part 1 of a Series on Independent Reading in Senior ELA

Hooray! Unit 2 of Senior ELA is Reader’s Workshop. For me, this is exciting. For many of my students, this is unbelievable; this is unthinkable; this is outrageous. My seniors are not, for the most part, independent readers. I’m not exactly sure when they last read truly independently–perhaps it was around fourth or fifth grade. I’m curious about this; I’ll look into it, but for now, I want to think about what’s happening in my classroom with the seniors.

In this unit, my goals are for students to:

  • explore their reading identities and practices,
  • expand their reading territories (range),
  • increase their reading depth through exploring several kinds of texts related to a subject,
  • increase their reading fluency and stamina,
  • and become a caring circle of readers who enjoy books and being part of a reading community.

We begin the unit by thinking about our reading identities through selecting and responding to a quote about reading. With this reflection, we begin to explore the question, “Who am I–as a reader?” As we go forward, we will think about directions for possible development as readers. At the unit’s end, we will reflect on the ways that the reading we’ve undertaken has shaped and developed us as readers. It’s my favorite unit.

Unfortunately, many of my seniors identify as non-readers. Some claim that they haven’t read a book since The Cat in the Hat. Several claim to have “never read a book.” I assure them that they can become strong readers, and we will undertake a process that will move them toward the goal. Students who are already enthusiastic readers are rejoicing at their luck; this unit will be a breeze! I am rejoicing with them and looking forward to their contributions to the learning community. They’re my resident experts–but they are a small group; many of their classmates express reluctance and anxiety at the introduction of the unit.

Although I am aware that many students fall out of the habit of reading as adolescence approaches, or that they may have never cultivated the habit, and I am committed to helping them coax it to life, but I am distressed at the role school plays regarding my students’ reading habits: far too much class time is devoted to exercises that create students who are not only non-readers, but who hate reading because it is always attached to the drudgery of standardized testing, from AR, to The Synced Solution, to SAT prep, to NWEA….and these are just the high school tests. I don’t even know which tests our younger students face. What I do know is that replacing a rich and rewarding human endeavor such as reading, especially the enjoyment of literature, with standardized testing is dehumanizing for both students and teachers, and I grieve for the loss of the lively language arts classroom. I know that if my sons had been in middle and high school a few years ago, the odds that they would have graduated would have been slim, because they would not have been able to tolerate being “standardized” readers and writers. My seniors hung in there, through several years of standardization, and they’re here, and I hope that I can kindle within them a spark of the passion I have for reading.

I am enjoying the second year of our newly-adopted ELA Oakland-MAISA curriculum that requires students to become REAL READERS. And so the day has arrived to begin Unit 2: Independent Reading. Before we go to the library to get books, we open our composition books and make two lists: Someday Books and Finished Books. In the library, I ask students to explore books until they find five titles to put on their Someday List–books they might read someday, and if they haven’t selected a book to read from home or the classroom library, they need to check one or more out from the library. Having chosen a title, my students find a seat and begin reading. Whether enthusiastically or tentatively, they embark on their reading journeys. As the noise dies down and more and more students enter the worlds of their books, I stand on the metaphorical shore and wave enthusiastically. Bon Voyage, enjoy the journey!

This is Part 1 of a Multi-Part Series on Reader’s Workshop in Senior ELA12. Future posts will narrate our journey through the unit, highlights and insights from the journey, and include explanations of how I model The Reading Life for my students as they become strong, independent readers who know how to find books they like and become a caring circle of readers, in the  classroom and in the community.

Part 2

Posted in: Books, Reading