By Kelly Virgin
Like many teachers I spend time in the fall getting to know my students as readers. I try to learn as much as I can about their reading habits, interests, triggers, opinions, and self-perceptions. Up until a few years ago I gathered this early information by administering reading surveys. Students quietly and individually answered questions about their reading habits that I collected, reviewed, and filed away for reference during future conversations.
However, I realized the questions I was asking should be asked and explored publicly. It isn’t only beneficial for me to get to know my students as readers, but it is also essential for them to get to know each other as readers. So I took that individualized reader’s interest survey and made it visible with a poster walk/discussion.
Now students, armed with a Sharpie marker, spend time meandering around the classroom posting their responses to a variety of prompts. I encourage discussion as they visit posters headed with open-ended questions such as why do you (or should you) read and what topics are you most interested in reading about. I ask them to circle around a second time to notice trends in response to yes or no questions such as do you read for fun and do you enjoy being read to. I give them an opportunity to learn each other’s reading preferences and resources by inviting them to mark their favorite genres and indicate the top sources for their reading materials.
After we spend time posting, noticing, and discussing our reading habits as a class, I ask students to study and hypothesize about some nationwide data on the declining reading habits of adolescents over time. Since their own class data is visible on the walls around them, they are able to situate themselves into the national data and engage in more meaningful and productive conversations. When I meet with readers for conferences in the future I’m able to use this activity and their reflections as a starting point for our conversations. Moreover, students have taken a vital step towards developing stronger literacy habits – they’ve begun to engage in meaningful and thoughtful reading discussions with their peers.
How do you get to know your students as readers at the beginning of the year? What other types of literacy discussions do you have with your classes?