I’ve discovered a way to pack more reading conferences into my day.
No, I do not possess the ability to extend class time (though I wish I did!) and no, I am not able to talk to multiple students at once (though I’m sure my students wish I could!)
However, I have been able to sharpen my powers of observation, and through these observations I’ve been able to deepen my sense of the readers I work with.
I begin observing before the Pledge of Allegiance. Who is using the minutes before the bell to read? Who comes to my classroom looking for a new book because he finished one on the way to school this morning? Who approaches me in the hallway to ask if I have the sequel to a book finished long ago? Who remembers that she owes me a book? Who mumbles apologetically because he loaned the book that he borrowed to a younger sibling?
I continue observing the hallways. Who is carrying a book? Who brings comics to lunch? Who brings books to a school assembly? On a field trip?
When students have an opportunity to read in class, I observe body language. Different readers have different methods of getting physically “into” a book. Some fold the book in half like a newspaper and bring the book inches from their eyes. Others put their heads on their desks. To the untrained eye, teen readers can look slouchy, lazy, or inches away from napping. These are students who have entered what Nancie Atwell calls “the reading zone” — they are so immersed in a story that they are lost to the outside world and are unaware of how others are perceiving them in that moment.
The conclusion of independent reading time gives me another time to collect observations. Who is eager to close the book? Who is reading to the end of the page for a sense of closure before placing a bookmark? Who doesn’t hear the first warning and needs additional cueing away from the reading zone? Who softly moans, “Noooo”?
When students browse for a new book, how do they navigate your classroom library? Is there a section that they zoom towards? Do they pick up the first book in their field of vision, or do they spend time weighing and considering their next book choice?
The data to help us build better readers is all around us when we learn how to look.
Amy Estersohn is a middle school English teacher in Westchester County, NY. She also reviews comic books for http://www.noflyingnotights.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HMX_MSE.