Get Their Eyes on Text!

The more time that students spend with their eyes on text, the better for their development as readers and for their language acquisition.  Therefore, maximizing the amount of time that students spend interacting with texts is of the utmost importance in setting up a reading program.

In first-year classes, I would not start SSR till after the first seven or wight weeks, in general.  And when I start them off, I start them with EASY and SUCCESSFUL texts:  write-ups of our class stories and discussions, comic books I made from Mike Peto’s template, Reading A to Z books (levels A to E are best to begin with), board books, Scholastic magazines.

1.  Make time to read consistently.  For me, it is easier to make sure that reading happens at the beginning of class so that I do not get involved in other things and have to cut reading time down or skip it entirely.  For that reason, I greet my students and then have them immediately read for about ten minutes each day.  I have them pick up their books on the way into class, sit and visit in their seats till I say “Hola clase” and then we read right away before anything else.  The books stay in the room unless a student really wants to take one home.  That way, there are always books available for them to choose from.

2.  Maintain a quiet, focused environment for reading.  You have to help them build their reading stamina, I do not let them sit anywhere but their seats, I make them get a little pile of books and bring them to their seats (because I do not let them get up and “shop” for another book during reading time), and I spend the first two or three weeks watching them like a hawk and assessing their reading habits using the Habits of Strong Readers Rubric.  I am literally changing their grades right there in real-time.  They know I am doing it.  I am upfront about it.  “I am here to help give you feedback on your reading habits and so my job is to enter scores for you as you read so you know how you are doing.”  I make eye contact if I can with the kids who need to focus up, look at my computer and change their grade, then look back up and smile at them so they know I just noted their behaviors.

3.  Support the readers who can’t do it on their own.  In some classes, there are just a few kids who cannot focus, who need help with their reading habits.  You can get up and confer with them individually, find out what they might like to try reading, bring them different types of text to read, plan a follow-up with them in a day or two, and generally let them know that you are there to support them and that they are on your radar.  In other classes, the ENTIRE class needs support.  In that situation, you would want to give the whole class lessons on how to select a book (I would advise them to bring several books of different genres, lengths, and topics to their seat each day until they hit on a book that they like, and then to continue selecting that kind of book, since it works for them).  Or perhaps lessons on how to keep themselves reading (I would advise them to take small breaks, to look up from the page and perhaps jot down some thoughts on a post-it or in a notebook, and then get back into the book).  In a class in which there are many reluctant readers, you might want to have them read silently for only four to five minutes, then take a processing break in which they talk to a previously-selected reading partner (most likely talking in English) and then get back to reading for four to five more minutes, gradually increasing the time.

4.  DO not read with the class.  I know that the conventional wisdom is to read alongside them, in SSR, but my background is more in Reading Workshop.  In a workshop, the teacher sounds reading time conferring with the readers in class.  We keep a notebook with data on the readers, especially the reluctant readers.  In the notebook, we can write students’ goals, struggles, and successes, and make notes for follow-up work with them.  In a world language classroom, these conferences would most likely happen in the students’ shared language, which is English for us in my school.
Reading conferences and the information we collect in out notebook can help us support reluctant readers by providing text that they want to read.  For instance, if we learn that a reluctant reader enjoys learning about a certain topic, or reading a particular genre of book, we can search for information on that topic or in that genre online and print it out for the student.  I generally search for the topic (in the language)  in parentheses and “for kids” in the language in parentheses.  For example, I would type this into the search bar:  “planche à neige” “pour enfants”.  The goal is to find the easiest-possible text for the student.  However, students  who are interested in the topic tend to be capable of “reading up” which is to say that they can tackle more difficult text than they would be able to with texts that are not on topics of interest to them.
With reluctant readers, you might confer with them as much as two to three times per week.  There are many kinds of reading conferences, with different purposes.  However, for a reading conference to help a reluctant reader build stamina, I would use some of these questions:

Is this book/text working for you?
Is this book/text boring?
What has happened so far (fiction)?
What have you learned so far (nonfiction)?
(If the student cannot answer that question, the book is not a good fit for them, as it is probably not comprehensible or interesting.)
Have you read a text this year that you enjoyed and were able to finish?
What do you like to learn about?  What would you like to know more about?

Sometimes a reluctant reader would benefit from being paired up with a more engaged reader with whom they have a relationship.  In that case, the more skilled reader would read an easier text with the less-eager reader.  You might have them work together as long as they whisper, to work through their text together and support each other.  I have not found much success in pairing up two reluctant readers for this work.

With persistence, consistency,  and guidance, and some creativity on the teacher’s part at sleuthing out tests for the reluctant readers, choice reading can work wonders for increasing the time student spend interacting with text in your language.




6 thoughts on “Get Their Eyes on Text!

  1. Stefanie

    Now I need to build a library. I don’t really have anything for them to read except one page stories I can print and I’m sure that seems like “work” for them. I like Mike Peto’s idea for making comics, so I will start doing that. I might go borrow some books from the library. Any other thoughts on how to get more stuff for students to read?

    1. tinahargaden

      Of course!

      There’s so much to learn about workshop.

      Sometimes I watch primary grades and think, how could this be adapted for middle grades?


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