Celebrate: Reading Growth

The end of the year is an opportunity to celebrate growth. Finding that growth isn’t always obvious. It’s personal. Taking where a student is and using it positively can be tricky.  Especially when a student doesn’t hit the benchmarks in typical ways.

In the last few weeks of the school year, I do running records.  It’s an opportunity to talk about what they did well and work on their next step as a reader. We practice in the text. At the end of the conference, students will often ask, did I pass? Or what’s my level? Questions like these make me wonder what do students take away from these conferences. Does it boil down to pass or fail?

I worry about that. No matter what I say, or how much I downplay the importance of a level, students are very concerned about it.  For those who do well it’s a positive bump, and for those who don’t succeed, it drags them down to a place of  “I’m not good at reading” or worse “I’m not good at anything.”

This week two students showcased these effects.

The positive effect of knowing your level can be seen in Xavier*. He’s a reader through and through. He reads everything. Anything other than reading is an inconvenience.  He’s read 101 books this school year. Something he’s informed me should earn him the student of the month award.

This week he passed his running record with ease. I knew he would. Now he wants to try the next level.  When choosing a book, levels aren’t an issue for Xavier.  He could care less if it’s a P or an X. What matters is that it interests him. For Xavier, his reading level is a badge of honor. It’s bragging rights, just like the number of books he’s read.  He knows who is as a reader, but he wants the acknowledgment that others can recognize.

I see this effect every time a student passes a level. They go back to their desk and tell their seat mates they passed. And their neighbors say “good job” or “I knew you would.” It’s like they won the race. And I guess that’s a good thing. We all want to see the results of our work. Passing a running record is like getting a prize.

But sometimes they don’t win the prize.
Sometimes students get that it was just too hard. And that’s ok. That’s a lesson in itself. But sometimes the reaction to a “no, not yet” can shut them down. This week I saw that happen with Elizabeth*.

Elizabeth isn’t a self-sustaining reader, yet. She can read. But she doesn’t unless I sit with her. She loves that. She especially loves passing a running record. Yesterday she didn’t.  I didn’t think she would, but she wanted to try.  Afterward, she was angry. And the words, “I hate reading. Books are boring,” erupt. She tops it off with, “I don’t think you’re a good teacher anymore.”

Ok. I told her, “Your job is to find a book online you that is not boring. A book you like. There are so many books in the world, I know there is one for you.  Remember the Summer Reading assignment I gave you?”

She looked at me and said, “Can you show me how to do that?”

We spent a few minutes doing some research. I suggested Bad Guys, and we read a part of the book on Amazon.  She liked it. I showed her how to copy the link on to her Summer Reading Google doc. Then I left her to find another one.

About five minutes later I hear, “Hey Mrs. Harmatz!” Elizabeth is waving me over. “I love this book!”  Her smile is proof enough of that. It’s the Lunch Lady.  Standing next to us is Jorge* who asks, “Can you show me how to do that?” I ask Elizabeth if she’d mind helping him. Now the expert online book-shopper, she nods, and they work together to find books for summer.

This week I’m celebrating the growth of each and every reader in my classroom.

Find more celebrations here on Ruth Ayres Writes. 

11 thoughts on “Celebrate: Reading Growth

  1. I think I say this every time you write about your work with your students: you are such a patient, kind teacher who sees each kid as a potential reader. A wonderful gift to celebrate!

  2. Love how you helped Elizabeth and she helped someone else. It’s not easy to be patient and supportive (especially after her outburst), but your words and actions show her that you believe in her ability to find what she wants to read for herself.

  3. All the ways to be a reader …. I am glad that in the second story the sad level moment was followed with a positive experience.

  4. I wonder why students are so focused on levels when, as their teachers we try to downplay them. No matter how hard I try to make sure my students are reading what they want to read, regardless of level, they still have their eye on that. Something to think about…

    • This is my concern as well. And I wonder, does thinking about levels help readers? As a reader, I know what texts are more difficult and what I enjoy. These self-assessments guide choice. They are personal. I fear that for the developing reader the students’ focus on teacher designated levels does not grow readers. It’s about self worth. How to change this mentality around levels is a struggle. I believe focusing on growth is the key.

      • I completely agree that focusing on growth is key. What are kids learning? What can do they do now that they couldn’t do before? How do they feel about what they’re learning? Are they independent problem posers and solvers? Richer data here!

  5. There’s such power in these conversations!!! I understand the struggle about “Did I pass?” and questions like that. This year, I noticed lots of students very unhappy with their standardized scores because they weren’t high enough. (These are all students who passed!) It’s not a value that’s held in my class. It worries me that their focus is on “passing” and “levels” and “high scores”. I want to do more to change that.

    • You do more every day in your class, Michelle. The burden of grades and scores is not what makes learning happen. We need to do more to lift that weight.

  6. Julieanne, I am impressed by your level of patience with your readers and your positivity toward them as real people who need advancement, support, or nudging. It is a gift to be able to call yourself teacher and guide.

  7. It’s so hard to recognize that growth…unless we do intentionally stop to do it. I’m sure each of your students has grown in his or her own way this year. It sounds like you have helped them see themselves as readers regardless of that running record and that’s definitely worth celebrating!

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