All year long, Leigh-ann has been asking if we could do some work around reading partnerships in her first grade classroom. “They just aren’t clicking,” she said. One thing after another kept me from getting into her room during reading time. Finally, during the last few weeks of school, I sent an invitation out for open coaching cycles-“we can study anything you want!” I was nervous no one would respond, given the crazy time of year, yet I had plenty of takers…including Leigh-ann. Her class was going to be starting a nonfiction book club unit, a perfect time to tackle those partnerships.
I was upfront with Leigh-ann, I wasn’t sure where to start. “Let’s just watch them and see what we notice,” I suggested. What we saw was kids actively engaged in their nonfiction books and writing on post-its. A closer look showed us that many were copying words from the text. Then, when kids got into their book clubs to talk, they mostly took turns reading their post-its.
“How about we try student led read aloud?” I mused aloud. “We can practice what their noticing could look like and then go from there.”
We began by introducing the idea of student led read aloud to the students. “You’re in charge,” I said. “Let’s brainstorm the kinds of things we might stop and talk about and then, you have to give me a signal when you think we need to stop and talk.”
Before reading, Hippos are Huge, by Jonathan London, we brainstormed the kinds of things you need to talk about when reading nonfiction. Our list included:
- New, interesting, and surprising information
- New vocabulary
- This reminds me of…
We left a few blank post-its on the chart in case we thought of other things we just had to talk about. With our chart made, we were ready to jump into the reading. Right away, the kids bubbled up with things we had to stop and talk about-no teacher prompting needed.
After reading a few pages, we sent the kids off to their book clubs, post-its in hand. “Use our anchor chart to think about the places in your own books that you would want to stop and talk with your partners. Those are great places to flag!” They were off.
Leigh-ann and I once again sat back and watched. Some kids were able to transfer the work of the read aloud to their own book clubs, but we knew they needed more practice.
A few days later, we gathered the kids on the rug with clipboards and a few post-its. Our plan was to layer in a whole class conversation into the student led read aloud. After reading a few pages, we stopped and said, “Pretend you are preparing for your bookclub right now. What would you jot on your post-it?” We gestured to the anchor chart of brainstormed ideas.
The kids immediately jotted on their post-its. After a few minutes, we had the students move into a circle. “Who has something they think we can talk about for a long time?”
Hands shot up and we chose a post-it to go in the middle of the circle. Leigh-ann and I positioned ourselves on the outside of the circle, ready to see what happened.
It was clear the kids were taking this work very seriously and that they felt very sophisticated, not having to raise their hand and trying to add their thinking to the conversation. Leigh-ann and I noted the kinds of things kids were talking about and the voices that stood out among the group, as well as the quieter ones.
Again, we set the class up to transfer this work to their bookclubs. “When you get with your club today, try this same work. Ask, ‘Who has something we can talk about for a long time,’ and let’s see what happens.”
We made our rounds as students settled into their reading. We coached a few kids to add in more of their own thinking as they jotted notes and prepared for conversations. “I think that might be a good whole class lesson,” Leigh-ann noted.
Then as kids transitioned to their clubs, we voiced over reminders to choose a post-it to talk long about, to use the text to begin their conversations, and they to work to talk long. The results were what we expected. Some clubs were able talk longer than others and we were fueled with ideas to keep growing the work.
A few days later, I walked into Leigh-ann’s classroom as the kids were wrapping up a mini lesson. I could see from the anchor charts that Leigh-ann had been working with the whole group to think about their jotting. She had a clear strategy listed:
There was a book open under the document camera and she asked the students, “So, if you were jotting right now, what would you write?”
Hands shot up, kids eager to share their thinking. What happened next was a spontaneous whole class conversation. Slowly, kids just started adding in their thinking about these insects that eat poisonous leaves as a way of protecting themselves. They referenced the text and had wonders that went far beyond what was written in the text. Leigh-ann and I kept looking at each other as we let the conversation go, silently celebrating what was happening.
This was what we had been working towards. These were the lessons that weren’t written in the unit, but the work born from noticing and being willing to find solutions to make the work stronger.
It may have taken us all year, but I’m so grateful that Leigh-ann and I finally found time to tackle partnerships and talk. My own learning has been priceless and the process has been one that I think has been rewarding for all.