This year is going so much better for me this year than last year. I’m sure it’s a combination of factors, including the fact that is this my 3rd full year of doing CI, and every year it gets a little bit easier and I get a little bit better as a teacher. In the past, I have not had success with FCR or FVR programs. Something about my huge class sizes and surely me not setting it up right did not lead to success in the past. However, this year FCR has been very successful and I am excited to share some tweaks I have used to make it so.
This year I am teaching levels 3 and up only, so at the beginning of the year, I dove right in with Free Choice Reading. None of my students had ever been asked to read a book in Spanish before, so it took a little bit of time to set up, establish expectations and reinforce them, and then to find the right follow up “activities”. I say “activities” because they are no or very low-prep ways to hold students accountable for their reading. I have come about these “activities” through trial and error, so I thought I would share them here with you all for you to try them, if you need ways to spice up your FCR time!
Strategy #1: The Habits of Strong Readers Rubric
One of the first things I did when setting up my FCR program in my classes was to show students the Habits of Strong Readers rubric. This is taken directly from Tina Hargaden’s blog, and I have found it to be extremely helpful in establishing real, concrete expectations for my students during reading time. It talks about how strong readers are “lost in the book” and “only fidget in a non-disruptive way”. These word images helped my students to understand exactly what I am looking for behavior-wise during the reading time.
A few years ago, I read the book Teach Like a Champion by Doug Lemov (which I would highly recommend to anyone struggling with classroom management). In the book, Mr. Lemov talks about how setting very, very, VERY clear expectations can be the difference between a successful and unsuccessful classroom. Lemov states that many times, when students don’t do what we want them to do, or they do what we don’t want them to do, it is because THEY DON’T KNOW WHAT WE WANT THEM TO DO. Every time there is a breakdown in behavior in my classroom, I have to take a look at myself as a teacher and ask, “Did I tell them EXACTLY what I wanted them to do?” This is also something that Jon Cowart has talked about a lot in referring to conflicting instructions from the teacher. We have to tell the kids exactly what we want them to do, and then follow through. So if we don’t want them to talk, there have to be consequences for talking and we cannot let “A+ Annie” off the hook when she blurts out the right answer for the 100th time, even though she is “A+ Annie”. I could talk so much more about this, but I will stop here and just say – setting and following through with expectations is the key to any classroom activity, including and especially FCR.
Strategy #2: Follow up questions
Every SINGLE time we are going to read, I remind my students of 3 things. I literally say this WORD FOR WORD Every. Single. Class. Period.
- We are going to read for 10 minutes.
- That means that we are not on our phones, we are not listening to music, we are not making eye contact with friends around the room. That also means that we are reading, focused on the book, trying to understand the text.
- At the end of the 10 minutes, I am going to ask a few people to share with us
- What book you are reading/what’s it about
- Is it easy to understand
- What are two words you figured out through context
- Do you like it and are you going to continue reading it
We then read for 10 minutes and at the end, I choose a few students at random (or sometimes not so random) to share that information with the class in L1. If they cannot tell me what their book is about or at least two words they learned or recognized through context, then the book is too hard for them and I strongly suggest to them that they choose a different book next time. This also helps with the students who continuously read the same book over and over and over again. I know that when I follow up with them again, they should be reading a different book.
I cannot overstate the power of these 4 follow up questions. They have changed FCR for me and my students. In asking these questions, I am asking the students to share an opinion in L1, something that they love to do, but I am also subtly holding them accountable for their reading time. They know that if they can’t tell me what is going on in the book, they will need to choose a different book next time. And the expectation is to be able to report something about the book after the reading time is done, so students need to be trying to understand what they are reading. Sometimes they summarize the story totally wrong, like the kid that said the Brandon Brown was being forced to go on vacation with his grandma in El Nuevo Houdini, but I don’t say anything to them. If they are trying to understand, that’s all I care about.
Strategy # 3: Super Star Readers Wall
This is my first year teaching high school. I had thought it was going to be very different from middle school in terms of maturity level (more), engagement level (less) and a generally disrespectful attitude (more). I was surprised and delighted to find out that I was mostly wrong. While there is slightly less engagement, I find the students to be more respectful, and also more mature. However, like middle schoolers, they still get excited about little prizes and chances to stand out.
When I was teaching middle school, I taught with a teacher who had a “A” board. Every time a student got an A on an assignment, the student was able to sign the board, and then they got to see their name on the board and everyone else did, too. The students loved it and took so much pride in being able to sign the A board. I decided to use this same idea, but with finishing a book. Every time a student finishes reading a book in my class, they get to sign the wall. It doesn’t matter if it is a picture book, a comic book, a very basic reader or one of the more advanced ones – they get to sign the wall. And every time they finish a book after that, they get to sign the wall again. We don’t make it a big deal, I just ask if anyone has finished a book, and to those who say yes, I ask them, “Did you like it?” and “Would you recommend it to your classmates?” and then they get to sign the wall. Once again, doing this subtly encourages students to finish reading the books that they start, without calling out anyone who hasn’t or making anyone feel bad. The students really seem to embrace this small measure of success and I also like helping them feel successful as readers.
So there you have it: 3 strategies that I have successfully used in my classroom to help improve the FCR experience for both me and my students! I hope that you can take something away and use it in your classroom. Leave a comment below if you do something similar or different to help make FCR successful in your classroom!