We start every class with silent reading. The teams rotate who gets the ‘comfy spots’ (2 teams per day) and when I can, I try to give them 20 minutes. That used to be my time to read, too, but this year I’ve been using that time to conference with each student. They sit at a stool beside my desk and we talk about books. Although I miss the reading time, this is my favorite part of class, conferring with students one on one. At this age, they are so open about themselves, so willing to tell both the good and the bad. Here are my questions for the first meeting:
1. Do you consider yourself a reader?
2. What is your favorite genre?
3. What is the best book you have ever read? What made you love it so much?
4. How many books did you read last year?
5. What is easy for you in reading? What is hard?
6. What would you like to improve in your reading? What reading goal would you like to make?
After U.S.S.R. (Uninterrupted Sustained Silent Reading) I ask if anyone is reading something wonderful or who was able to get into the ‘zone’? There are always volunteers. Some kids talk about the same book each time but we can feel the passion he/she has for this book. It’s contagious. Many of them are quite articulate about getting into the ‘reading zone’ (which we define as getting lost in your book and having the world fall away). Many of them have never experienced that feeling, not once, in 8 years of schooling. I want that to change. If they leave me in June without that feeling, I will be sorely disappointed. The thing is, it only takes one book. The right book, placed in the hands of the right student, at the right time – magic happens. I’ve seen it. The scales and resistance fall away and they turn into readers right before your eyes. But that magic will never, ever happen without predictable time to read each day, with books of their own choosing. We can teach them how to read, but we can’t make them readers without the time, space, and commitment to find that one book.
After a ‘Brain Break’ we start Writing Workshop. Instruction is followed by 1 ‘Must do’ and many ‘May dos’ (which at this point in the year consists of drafting their memoirs, preparing for NANOWRIMO (National Novel Writing Month) in November, or any writing they choose). Two more teams get to have the writing desks ($6.00 at Michaels) which I have inscribed with great quotes about writing. (One of my students today thought the desks ‘came like that’ and seemed disappointed that he couldn’t buy them pre-printed!)The only rule is ‘Keep writing!’ I try, not always successfully, to have time for Author’s Chair at the end of class where those that want feedback can share all or part of their writing and receive specific compliments as well as suggestions for improvement. I think this time goes a long way in creating community and building authentic audience. It’s hard to share your writing, especially if you write about things that really matter. But again, all it takes is one. One brave soul to risk laying bare something hard, or painful, or joyful, so that we feel it, too. Then we become connected in a way unique to a reading/writing classroom. If we can feel what the writer feels, we enter their life. We become a part of each other then. That’s when the real writing can begin. I tell my students that writing what matters to you will make your life better.
That means I have to give them time each class to find that out for themselves.