When we begin work in a school, we ask teachers three key questions: What can you tell us about your practice? In what aspects of your instruction do you feel strong? And in what areas would you like to grow? Over time, we noticed a pattern emerging in teachers’ responses to this final question. Teachers overwhelmingly want to grow their capacity to confer with readers in order to create joyful independent reading.
To learn more about Trusting Readers visit Heinemann.com.
As consultants, we are fortunate that we get to confer a lot. We confer with Kindergarteners through 5th graders. We confer with students who love reading and students who have yet to find themselves lost in a book. And the more we confer, the more we find ourselves listening to students describe how they feel about reading and less time listening to them talk about the skills and strategies they're working on. When we listen closely to the stories readers tell about their reading lives, we are better able to name their strengths as a reader. Students are experts in naming the reading work that feels important to them in the moment, and that trusting their self-awareness creates clear, transferable instructional pathways for future conferences.
Reading Identity Defined
Intrigued, we wondered what might happen if we centered our conferring work more intentionally on the stories students tell about themselves as readers. We began all of our conferences by saying simply: Tell me about yourself as a reader. And then we would listen. Sometimes this short prompt would open a flood of answers, as if the student had been just waiting for someone to ask them that. Sometimes we were met with a puzzled look and a request to explain what we meant. However the conversation started, students welcomed the opportunity to reflect on themselves as readers. We welcomed the opportunity to learn about the student within and beyond the data. As one teacher with whom we work said recently, “I learned more about that student in the last five minutes than I have learned about him all year.”
After delving into the research on reading identity, we mined our copious conferring notes, looking for patterns. Using lots of sticky notes and chart paper (we are teachers, after all) we categorized student responses to develop a working definition of reading identity. We define a students’ reading identity as consisting of five aspects: attitude, self-efficacy, habits, book choice and process. The chart below from Trusting Readers defines each aspect.
As we built our definition, we spent a lot of time considering engagement. Engagement in reading is not fixed; it is fluid and all students move in and out of various states of engagement throughout the school day. Is engagement a separate aspect of reading identity, or is it woven into all aspects? Engagement may show itself when a student laughs out loud while reading, tiptoes over to a friend to share a good part of a book or does not want to stop reading. Ultimately, we view engagement as playing into all aspects of reading identity.
We suggest devoting time to get to know students’ identities as readers at various points throughout the year. This allows us to offer more relevant feedback and bring other sources of small data we use to make instructional decisions come to life. Centering students’ reading identity allows us to confer about topics that are relevant and student driven, not led by labels.
Here are 3 tips for getting the conversation about reading identity started (or restarted):
- Start with inquiry Pose the question to your class: What is a reading identity? Facilitate reflective conversations, allowing students to share their thinking with partners and small groups. Highlight the strengths you observe across the class, think aloud about your own identity as a reader and grow a definition of reading identity together.
- Start sharing Offer a variety of ways for students to share their reading identities with the class. Students can draw and write about their reading identities. Designate a space in the classroom for students to post (and repost) what they know about themselves. Model for students how this information can guide their book choices, partnerships and responses to text.
- Start reflecting: Invite students to reflect on their identities as readers at strategic points during literacy instruction. You might ask questions or make suggestions such as:
o How does this book fit into or stretch your reading identity?
o Where do you tend to read at home and at school? What does that teach you about yourself as a reader?
o Keep a list of the books you read for a week. Reflect on the list.
As you delve into discovering students’ reading identities, we also recommend that you prioritize conferring. Use and build upon prompts such as “tell me about yourself as a reader” and “what do you pay attention to or think about when you read?” Take notes to capture the students’ language so you can repeat it to them in future conferences. Here are some ways to invite students to share more about themselves:
- You might ask, “How did you choose these books?”
- Invite them to talk about their engagement.
- “What does it feel like when you are engaged in your reading?”
- “Tell me about a time when you felt really disengaged from your reading…”
- Ask them about their interests and lives outside of the classroom. Use those as entry points for supporting book choice and inviting engagement.
- What would you like to work on in your reading? How can I support you?
When we set out to support teachers with their conferring work, we had no idea that we were about to embark on a journey that would lead us to better understand reading identity and its importance in independent reading. We had yet to realize how much the seemingly simple act of talking to and connecting with children about their lives as readers would inform and shift our own practice. We invite you to explore reading identity with your class as a springboard for impactful conferring, which in turn, will lead to creating opportunities for more joyful independent reading.
To learn more about Trusting Readers visit Heinemann.com.
Dr. Jennifer Scoggin has been a teacher, author, speaker, curriculum writer, and literacy consultant. Jennifer’s interest in the evolving identities of both students and teachers and her growing obsession with children’s literature led her to and informs her work. Jen began her career teaching first and second grades in Harlem, New York. In her current role as a literacy consultant, Jennifer collaborates with teachers to create engaging literacy opportunities for children. She holds a doctorate in curriculum and instruction from Teachers College, Columbia University and has previously published two books about literacy instruction and life in the classroom.
Hannah Schneewind has been a teacher, staff developer, curriculum writer, keynote speaker and national literacy consultant. She brings with her over 25 years of experience to the education world. Hannah’s interest in student and teacher agency and her belief in the power of books informs her work with schools.
Hannah began her career as a first grade teacher at P.S. 321 in Brooklyn, New York, and her classroom was used as a model classroom for teachers around the city and country. The trust the administrators placed in her along with the culture of collaboration in the school formed her beliefs in the power and possibilities of schools.
Together, Jen and Hannah created Trusting Readers, a group dedicated to collaborating with teachers to design literacy opportunities that invite all students to be engaged and to thrive as readers and writers. You can connect with them on Twitter at @TrustingReaders.