It was just two years ago when I first experimented with a reading workshop approach to teaching reading in my fifth grade classroom. The results were astounding! Students, who had previously groaned at reading, loved reading class and complained vociferously if we lost our reading time. A hushed and holy peace descended over the classroom as they surrendered themselves to the joy of getting immersed in a book. It seemed to meet a deep psychological need. Was it for time to focus inward? Was it for a change of pace in a multitasking world in an ever more scheduled childhood? Or was it for a chance to change location and stretch out on the rug or under the shade of a tree? Is this how to engage the Engage me or Enrage me generation, as Marc Prensky describes them? Whatever the reason, it was marked how those wrung out children relaxed into absorbing and being absorbed by the books they themselves had chosen. Favorite series soon established themselves and students competed to get their hands on the next volume. Reading became “cool”.
This year I took this one step further. Since I myself like to read the books my friends recommend, or become curious to read the ones my acquaintances are all talking about, I decided to recreate this in the classroom. After 8 weeks of reading, I asked the students to select the best book they had read so far. They designed posters, added their recommendation and wrote a “hook” to attract other readers.
All these went up on the bulletin board, as normal, but did not stimulate much excitement until I thought to offer the students sticky notes to post comments on the books that they had also read as “likes”. Suddenly the board took on a new dimension of relevance in their lives. We had effectively “game-ified” the act of reading. In fact my class took this one step further and asked for a second color of sticky notes so they could also tag the books they planned to read in the coming weeks. They all continually study the board with great interest and satisfaction. The next step will be to add sticky notes showing who has the book currently or from where to borrow it !
” It’s interesting because now we know which books to try, if we’ve finished our own book and don’t know what to read next!”
” I can’t wait to read The Red Pyramid! It sounds so hooking!”
“Miss, it’s like own own Book Facebook wall! ”
Allowing students to construct their own reading journey is good constructivist practice, but introducing the dimension of social interaction and a feedback loop of comments upon work completed raises the stakes for children. Their work now has a direct purpose, a visible impact in their world. A well written recommendation, a thrilling “hook” , an eye catching design commands the interest of their peers, conveys social power. The teacher’s criteria for grading become real criteria for success in the real social world of the classroom.