As the school year comes to a close, we imagine that during Independent Reading you are kidwatching and admiring how much and in how many ways the children have grown as readers. As you kidwatch, remember those early days of the school year when Independent Reading lasted 10 minutes. Remember when students were hesitant to share their ideas with a reading partner. Now, reflect how far your readers have come. Consider the conversations they can have now, the books they are choosing now, the way they see themselves as readers now. Linger in that joy.
That growth did not happen by chance; that growth happened because of your instructional decision making that centered students.
This is why a broad view of reading growth is exactly what teachers and students need right now. Too often, reading growth at the end of the school year is reduced to a number or letter alone; reading growth is defined by a set of discrete skills that can be measured by standardized tests. These standardized tests don’t capture the joy of what actually happened in your classroom over the last school year, but those tests are what “count” as data. Growth in a student’s attitude toward reading or ability to choose a broader range of texts to read isn’t counted.
The disparity between what is tested and what we value is not new. In 1995, NCTE warned that a “…preoccupation with large-scale testing leads to distortion and reduction...” (NCTE Resolution, November 30, 1995.) Current policy and testing practices still reinforce the misconception that student reading growth encompasses only the accumulation of skills and strategies (Afflerbach, 2022), narrowing the definition of what constitutes reading growth. As practitioners, we know that reading is more complex than that. What constitutes reading growth and how it is measured needs to better reflect this complexity (ILA, 2017) and include aspects of reading such as engagement, motivation and self-efficacy. Because it all counts.
As your school year comes to a close, please don’t spend time regretting what you didn’t get to or focusing on what the students still can’t do. Instead, use your teacher-collected formative small data, such as kidwatching notes, conferring notes, artifacts and reflections from the students themselves, to tell the story of each reader. This way, you will tell a narrative of progress for you and the students.
What does reading growth encompass?
Thinking about what reading growth encompasses involves measuring the immeasurable. How a student develops and changes as a reader in a school year under the expert guidance of a teacher isn’t quantifiable. To imagine new spaces of possibility for broadening the definition of reading growth, we turn to the role of reading identity. In an earlier post, we described reading identity as having five aspects (attitude, self-efficacy, habits, book choice and process) that develop throughout the entire year.
Using these five aspects as a guide, we collaborated with teachers and students to make the immeasurable more visible. When we posed the question “What is reading growth?” in conversations with teachers and in classrooms with students, their answers were wonderfully varied. Here a sampling of responses:
Reading growth can mean finding a new series.
Reading growth can mean reading for longer stretches of time.
Reading growth can mean choosing to read when there is extra time.
Reading growth can mean determining and learning lessons in a novel.
Reading growth can mean talking with a new partner.
Reading growth can mean learning more about a topic.
Reading growth can mean talking about your thinking as a reader.
Reading growth can mean changing your mind after reading about an issue.
Reading growth can mean discovering a new author or genre.
Reading growth can mean having a wider repertoire of decoding strategies.
Reading growth can mean understanding that putting in effort leads to growth.
Reading growth can mean finding new favorites.
Reading growth can mean feeling that you are a reader.
This wider stance on reading growth offers teachers and students space to learn and develop within a narrative of success. Success breeds success both for teachers and students. This start to a more nuanced and inclusive definition of reading growth not only honors the successes teachers and students experience every day, it contributes to a larger conversation about what it means to teach readers, not just reading.
Expanding reading growth in your classroom
As teachers, we can look for visible signs of growth through kidwatching, listening and conferring. These are among your richest sources of data. At the same time, we also want to ensure that a larger understanding of what it means to grow as a reader is something we convey to students.
By starting conversations about growth with, What are the ways in which you have changed as a reader? What made you change?, we help make the idea of growth more concrete and at the same time push students to consider the reason for that change. This helps them see how their efforts led to that change and realize that those same efforts could lead to future change as well. Prompt students as needed with additional questions to encourage them to consider all aspects of reading identity. These questions might include: What new reading habits have you developed? What have you learned about yourself as a reader? What reading challenge did you overcome? What are you proud of?
Here are several suggestions for integrating talk about reading growth into your classroom:
Conduct an inquiry into reading growth.
- Start with the prompts: “What are the ways in which you have changed as a reader? What made you change?”
- Encourage students to tell stories about themselves as readers and how their reading life has developed. They might include details such as the first book they read on their own, their old preferences and how they have changed over time, or strong reading memories from school or home. What do these stories teach students about what it means to grow as a reader?
- Spark conversations by revisiting class artifacts, such as previous class anchor charts, student reading responses, class read-alouds from earlier in the year or lists of students’ book choices throughout the year.
Devote time to ReDiscovery conferences.
- In initial Discovery Conferences, you devote time to learning about students’ identities as readers. Imagine what insights you and your students could glean from ReDiscovery conferences.
- Add the word “now” to the original questions.
- Include questions such as the ones suggested in the reading growth inquiry (above) to guide the students to reflect on their growth in all aspects of reading identity.
Support students as they reflect on their own reading growth.
- Encourage students to draw or write about how they have grown or changed as readers, prompting them to consider all aspects of their identity as readers: habits, self-efficacy, attitude, book choice and process.
- This work can also be supported by re-visiting classroom artifacts such as old reading responses, classroom anchor charts or browsing former favorites in the classroom library.
- Some students may choose to reflect alongside a partner, using their partner’s reflections to build upon their own.
Invite students to celebrate their growth.
- Tailor this celebration to match the work your students have done around reading growth and their preferences for sharing. Keep in mind that some students might want to share, while other students might feel more comfortable keeping their reflections to themselves.
- Options include gallery walks, Padlets, Jamboards, and partner or small group conversations in the class or with different classes.
- Write letters to the next year’s teacher telling that teacher about their reading identity, reading growth, and hopes for the upcoming year of reading.
Trust That All Growth Counts
What do you want to carry with you as you close the year? Carry with you a trust in your instructional decision making. Carry with you a belief in yourself as an impactful teacher of readers. Carry with you the grace to let go of practices that are not effective. Carry with you your ability to imagine possibilities for each one of your students.
What do you want your students to carry with them as they leave your classroom? Encourage students to carry with them a strong belief in themselves as readers. Encourage students to trust that they are now and will continue to be readers into the summer and the next school year. Encourage students to understand that their efforts led to their growth as readers.
End the year as you started it, by trusting yourself and trusting readers.
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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.