In author Dan Feigelson's new book, Reading Projects Reimagined, Feigelson shows us how conference-based, individual reading projects help students learn to think for themselves. Feigelson raises an important question about the larger goal of reading instruction: while it’s our job as reading teachers to introduce students to new ideas and comprehension strategies, shouldn’t we also teach them to come up with their own ideas? In today's blog, Feigelson writes about the importance of having children share their work with their peers.
Allow Time for Sharing
Adapted from Reading Projects Reimagined by Dan Feigelson
Like most activities in the life of a classroom, conference-based reading projects succeed or fail in direct proportion to how big a deal we make of them. If they are treated as tangential to the regular reading curriculum and never discussed or celebrated publicly, chances are students will not take them seriously.
On the other hand, when a teacher allows time for children to share their individual reading projects with the rest of the class, they begin to feel a strong sense of ownership and involvement in their reading. “Since the class has been doing these projects,” remarks Nancy Wahl, a fifth-grade teacher at PS 41, “they’ve become a community of readers in a way they never did before. There’s a real sense that we are all coming up with our own, different ideas, and isn’t that so interesting?”
Her students agree. “Sophia and I were reading partners,” explained Dorentina, “and we were both reading The City of Ember. Ms. Wahl had conferences with each of us. My assignment was to pay attention to surprising parts in the book and think about what parts they connected to in earlier chapters. But Sophia was interested in looking at the clues. She put them in three groups—clues you think are important, but they aren’t; ones that don’t seem important, but it turns out they are; and clues that seem important, and you’re right, they are important. So when we talked about the book together it was like we were getting ideas from each other—I hadn’t ever thought about different kinds of clues, and she had never thought about paying attention to the surprising parts.”
Many teachers find that setting aside a couple of times a week for students to share their reading projects has an exponential effect; kids not only start to get ideas from one another, but they sometimes want to try out a classmate’s assignment with their own book.
“Sometimes I ask kids to share their project ideas right after the conference, before they’ve even done it, just to share the idea,” says Nancy. “Other times, they’ll present what they’ve come up with after they’ve finished. I try to get them all excited, telling them how cool it is that they are all doing their own work and that we can inspire each other in our reading. And it’s not an act—it really is exciting. They come up with some amazing things!”