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Choice Still Matters

This year, my K-8 school district has two parallel tracks for learning. The first is fully in school five days a week, and the other track is fully remote. The cohorts for both are very small, each has its own teacher, and families were allowed to choose which track was best for their child/ren. To support reading workshop in both models, we are utilizing digital text platforms such as Epic!, Sora, NewsELA, Unite for Literacy, and Raz-Kids. Additionally, we want all students, regardless of their learning track, to have access to “real books,” and most importantly, to have choice about what they are reading.

Our in-person model allows kids to book shop in socially-distanced ways; kids select from stacks of preselected books instead of flipping through bins or shelves in the classroom library. By contrast, our remote learners have stacks of books selected by our in-person teachers that are picked up by families every few weeks. Here is a visual of how book handling/distribution works for each track:

Last week, I had the opportunity to support the book shopping for one of our remote 4th grade cohorts. To prepare, I went into our book room and pulled titles I thought would be of interest to the kids. I thought of series they had read in 3rd grade and looked for similar series that might also be of interest. For example, I knew many of the kids had read or listened to the I Survived Series, so I pulled every copy of Ranger in Time I could find. I knew Dyamonde Daniel had been a read-aloud the year before, so I pulled the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th books in the series. I knew their mystery unit had been a big hit, so I pulled some of those, as well. There was a range of readers in the group, so I was mindful to include books with slightly lower text complexity and was prepared to SELL those as some of my favorites in hopes of making them a desirable choice. I rounded out my stack with some low-effort/high-reward titles from National Geographic’s Weird but True series as well as a Minecraft chapter book I had picked up with book club bonus points. Finally, I focused on titles we had multiple copies of so more than one child could have the same book or a book within the same series, and hopefully spark some informal book clubs.

When the time came, I logged into the virtual meeting, and TALKED UP the books. I held them high and put them under my doc camera as I shared my screen. I shared why I loved them, and why they might, too. Although I was masked, I tried to make my eyes smile. I talked fast and conveyed how EXCITED I was to share these particular books with the kids. (I admit I felt a little like Oprah when she unveils her favorite things… you get a book! and YOU GET A BOOK!) I encouraged kids to put their names or comments in the chat when they were enthused about a title, and their virtual classroom teacher took notes about what was exciting and energizing the kids. At the end of our time, the kids were asked to share their top three choices in the chat, and the titles poured in quickly.

I like to think that all of the kids were fired up, and eager to read when they got their book stack a few days later. Every single child received at least 3 of the titles/series choices on their list. It’s possible that the kids wouldn’t have chosen those exact books if we were not in a pandemic and they were able to browse through an entire classroom library. However, harnessing the power of book talks in a slightly modified way engaged the kids and allowed them to make choices.

Even now, when things we’ve always taken for granted– like the luxury of leisurely browsing through bins of books– feel difficult, choice still matters. Kids who choose what they read are more likely to read, and kids will only grow as readers if they actually read.

During this unique school year, how will you ensure your students have reading choices?

Links: In-Person Book Guidelines | Remote Book Guidelines

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