Teachers, we have all made it more than halfway through the year! Congrats on achieving this feat yet again. I am marching my way through year 13 and while some things seem like old hat, there are certainly new surprises and challenges that pop up every year. While it is year 13 for me, it is my second year in a new grade. This certainly means I am adapting and learning as I go.
Last year, my first year back in kindergarten, I relied heavily on the texts provided by our reading curriculum. This worked really well while I was trying to stay afloat amongst lesson planning and data collection. However, I noticed that the many of the stories in the curriculum fell flat with my students. Students often couldn’t relate to the characters and I missed the feel of a real book in my hands. I gave myself last year as a “training wheels” year, a chance to get my bearings. This year I wanted to switch out some of those lifeless stories with real, authentic texts that I know kids love.
So what does this look like? For starters, I try to incorporate more texts that involve not just great connections to our unit, but that also have characters who look like my students. There is nothing quite as powerful as seeing yourself in a book and feeling the connection of “me too.” With the increase in focus on diverse children’s literature, I have been able to really grow my collection. “Hey!” one student chimed as we were reading one text, “That kid looks like me!” His classmates all agreed, it could have been him! All of a sudden they wanted to find themselves in a book too.
I also try to include books that kids can relate to and that reflect the values we hold near and dear to us. As a kindergarten teacher, I look for stories that teach students about sharing, about solving conflicts in a peaceful way, about giving each other personal space. When books reflect the diversity in our classroom and are wrapped in important messages, it is a win-win. We can use the experiences we read about to help connect with what we struggle with in our classroom. “Remember that character that didn’t give other students personal space?”, I remind my class. “Well, what can we do in our room that will help everyone feel like they have space?”
Finally, I look for texts that engage students, books that they would read over and over again if they could. Sometimes this can be a lot of trial and error. For example, last year in our study of weather, I picked up books at my local library that looked engaging with colorful pictures, detailed information, and covered the content we were studying. Once I started reading these with the class, I found they were too long, the language was too complex, or the students were spending more time inspecting their shoelaces than listening to the book. This year, I discovered Gail Gibbons’s Weather Words and What They Mean. My students love the speech bubbles and there is a lot less text on each page. The book is long but I’ve also learned how to break it up and dive deep into tricky language. This year, the shoelaces were much less interesting than the book. Recently, as we were forced to stay inside for our recess due to inclement weather, one of my students said, “Miss Howe, it’s not raining…it’s just a drizzle. Just like the book!”
You may be like me…treading water and trying to stay afloat in the throes of first year teaching, or even 13th year teaching. Or maybe you are looking for a way to engage your students in reading more. Take it one step at a time and maybe slowly tuck away the books that don’t engage your students and try incorporating some more authentic texts. Good luck! You got this!
About Megan Howe – Meg is an elementary school teacher at a charter school in Boston, MA. She has been a teacher for 13 years spanning grades K – 5. Meg has spent time teaching in public, private, and charter schools in Bellingham, WA, Rome, Italy, Los Angeles, CA, Buffalo, NY, and Boston, MA. Meg also runs her own blog AliceEverAfter.com that features her thoughts on children’s literature. She has a passion for picture books and middle grade books and hopes one day Kate DiCamillo can be her new best friend.