Friday, July 10, 2015

Reading: A Lifetime Marathon

While I strongly identify myself as a reader, I somewhat embellish my identity as a runner.  Sure, I make every effort to run (or jog/walk) at least three times a week.  However, I'm definitely not what I would consider to be a proficient runner.  As I was huffing and puffing along this morning, I began thinking about my students.One of my favorite things to do is to listen to my students read a book to me and see the pride and joy on their faces.  I am especially excited to have a beginning reader share an experience of reading a whole book to me.  It's one of the greatest things I get to witness as a principal.  As I was thinking about all of this, I began to hit a wall in my running.  My inner self began to tell me that I couldn't run any further, it was just too hot and too tough to keep going.  I quickly tried to shut myself up and began visualizing myself running to the next landmark (which just happened to be a fire hydrant that looked like it was miles away).  I told myself I could do it and kept moving forward.  After all, I had great success running a 10K last weekend and knew I could successfully make it if I just kept going and didn't give up.  As I pushed ahead, I thought about how some of our students must feel when they are learning to read or working to reach that next stage of reading success and come to that point--the one where those inner negative voices in their heads try to creep up and tell them that they can't move forward.  What was it that was allowing me to continue on even though I felt like I couldn't breathe and my legs were made of lead?

Setting goals, preparation, and practice are three things that I feel have really helped me be a more successful runner, and they can also help our students become more successful readers.

Setting Goals
I have been working hard to get back into running shape for several months now.  I have put in the time at least 3 days a week to move my body and build my endurance.  As I run, I set goals for myself by visualizing myself meeting a specific landmark or mile marker and then setting my sights on the next one. Setting mini-goals like this helps me conquer distances little by little, thus allowing me to run further than I thought possible.  For our readers, it is also important for them to set goals based on their progress that will allow them to experience success and keep moving forward in their learning.  They need to feel small victories in order to keep reading!

I am conscious of hydrating my body and have been drinking plenty of fluids to be sure I don't cramp when out in this heat.  I have many different preferences for hydrating my body--water, various flavored sugar-free sports drinks, coconut water, etc.  No one forces me to drink just one type of fluid; I get to choose. Our young readers should also be allowed to choose what they "hydrate" with or "consume" as readers. Choice is an extremely important element in getting our students excited about reading.  While we can definitely steer them in the right direction by exposing them to high-quality read-alouds, teaching them how to identify "good-fit" books, and making sure there is an abundant selection of books for them to choose from, we ultimately need to let them choose their flavor of "hydration" in order for them to keep moving as readers.   If we are not allowing our readers to choose books that will quench their thirst, we are setting them up for defeat.

As a runner, the only way I have been able to increase my stamina is through practice.  If I don't do it, I can't do it.  The same holds true for our students.  As educators, it is our responsibility to ensure that all of our students have time to read independently each day.  At our school, there is an expectation that all students have a minimum of 20 minutes of independent reading time built into their day.  We have been pretty successful with this as we implement a structure for our reading block called The Daily 5.  It allows us to train our students to build their stamina and devour books when it is time to read independently.  We also use dismissal time as one of those Reading in the Wild opportunities. At our school, the dismissal process takes about 30 minutes due to loading one bus at a time as it arrives. While this may seem inconvenient to some, it is actually a great opportunity for us to have our students squeeze in some more independent reading time.  We have baskets of books available in our atrium area where our car riders are waiting as well, so that they are also able to squeeze in some reading while waiting for their parents to pick them up.  All of this practice helps build fluency, comprehension, and reading habits that will assist our students with their reading endurance.

Just like learning to run, learning to identify oneself as a reader is a marathon, not a sprint.  If we don't assist our students by supporting them with proper training, they may give up.  I identify myself as a runner because it is something I do on a regular basis and something I enjoy.  I want all of my students to identify themselves as readers and become avid consumers of the written word because it is something they do and enjoy. I don't want this to be an embellished identity, I want them to have true reading identities.  As we prepare to welcome back all of our students in just a few short weeks, it is important to remember that we can help make this happen for our students.  We can do this by helping them set reading goals and supporting them with the instruction to reach those goals, by helping them select books that interest them, and by giving them time to practice.  Let's help prepare our students for a lifetime marathon of reading and help them truly become the readers that lie within.

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