The Reading Zone: How to Help Kids Become Skilled, Passionate, Habitual, Critical Readers (paperback)
by Nancie Atwell
No AR Level – Teacher Professional Development!
I know a lot of my friends think I’m nuts, but I’ve been going through a “thing” where I want to set goals for myself as a professional. I don’t have any plans to leave the classroom, because I really, really like having a class of students for a year. I love challenging myself and learning new things and refining my craft, though. Helping others teachers is fun and challenging, but I don’t see a future in administration or adult education. I would like to someday work towards National Board Certification, and I have Apple Distinguished Educator stuck in my head, but for right now, I just want to be a better teacher to my incoming sixth graders.
This is one of the few teacher professional development books I have read voluntarily. I bought it, because I was really looking for $7 to spend to get 24 hour shipping on my Math Workshop book, and since I always have those students who I can’t get to pick up a book and stick with it, I figured it would give me some ideas. Some ideas! I now want to revise the way I do reading! I will no longer have AR time, but a time to get in the zone- the reading zone (not auto zone… hee hee, bad teacher joke). Nancie Atwell is an experienced teacher of seventh and eighth graders in a non-profit school with a diverse population in Maine. She has been teaching for 20+ years and has done her research on the best methods and strategies for teaching reading and getting non-readers (or kids non interested in reading) to read.
Since this is a professional development book, I won’t stick to my normal “what I liked/what I didn’t like” format. Instead, I’ll give the top 5 ideas (mostly summarized) I got from this book, in no particular order:
1. We want our students to be come smarter, happier, more just, and more compassionate people, and they can achieve that through frequent, voluminous reading. They get to experience others’ lives and worlds through the books they read, which will influence them as people. Isn’t this every teacher’s goal? It justifies silent reading and home reading.
2. Free choice of books should be a young reader’s right, not a privilege granted by a kind teacher. She advocates spending funding on our classroom libraries, not class sets or packaged curriculum. Every student has the right to learn, and good literature is necessary to create readers.
3. Requiring students to do work with their reading has the opposite effect. We want our students to like reading, but if we make them stop to take notes, fill in reading lots, answer questions, take quizzes, etc., it is like watching a movie and making them stop every 20 minutes to discuss or write about it. I wouldn’t want to do that! This idea is painful for me, though, and I probably won’t be able to do this completely. I will do lit circles and book studies in addition to their independent reading, but I won’t do reading logs or summaries. I will do my best to involve parents here to ensure students are reading in the ZONE at home.
4. Booktalks introduce students to good literature. These can be done by students after finishing a book, or the teacher can give a booktalk. This can be done in several ways, including talking up books by an author, books in a certain genre, books in a series, oldies by goodies (pre-1995), quick reads, etc. It doesn’t require media presentations, but I might have students do booktalks using technology and post them somewhere so other students can go back and use them to find a good book. She also has her students keep a list of “someday books” so that when they finish, they have a list of books to get started on.
5. One-to-one letters help the students to think critically and at length about one book. She has her students write a letter every 3 weeks after finishing a book. If they finished multiple books in that 3 week period, they only choose one that they most want to talk about. There are no summaries involved, because it is assumed they understood the book. Instead, she has them follow a list of items to talk about, stems, etc. to get them started, and they must quote a part of the book and explain why that quote is significant. I started book letters, but couldn’t find a way to read all 35 per week. This strategy has them write a letter every 3 weeks, and they write to friends and her, so she’s only reading about 12 letters per year. That’s completely doable.
There are so many more “ahas” from this book, but I don’t want to make you think you’re getting it all in this blog. It is a book that all teachers should read if they want their students to become well-read and read for pleasure.
Book 11 of 40 (year 2)