The role of a reading specialist varies from district to district, but I have learned that it is not solely about helping students who struggle in reading. Being a literacy coach is also taking on a leadership role at your campus and advocating for your teachers and students. The school where I previously worked had a literacy coach and she was (and is) amazing! I try to model myself after her while at the same time growing into my own style. I remember her telling me that one thing she wishes she had done differently as a principal was advocate more for her teachers. She said she realizes now that there was so much that she could have done. As a literacy coach, she is now very adamant about helping teachers. This year I made sure to advocate for the needs of teachers who I was coaching and my own students. Though I knew that I might find myself at odds with administration for speaking up for students and teachers, I knew that I did not want to look back in regret and feel that I could have done more.
I was excited this morning to see an article on my feed from Edutopia on creating a “Place for Learning“. In the article, Mark Philips describes a classroom in northern Appalachia that was in dire need of a makeover. The teacher complained of students’ lack of motivation, sense of community, and sense of trust. I very much believe in the power of the physical environment to create a space for students and the teacher to either succeed or fail.
It just so happens that I signed up a week ago to present on this very topic for my graduate course. This was the first semester that I decided to completely change the space for learning in my classroom. I wanted to create a “literate” environment and by doing so create a sense of community, trust, and a safe place for learning and especially for reading!
This is the set-up of most of my classrooms. Students were in rows and my place was at the front of the class usually lecturing and going around and helping others during independent and group work.
Based on research and just hearing from other teachers, I learned that the environment plays a big role in how students perceive learning and the role of the teacher and student in the classroom. I knew I wanted a place for students to enjoy reading and I knew I wanted a space that promoted student voice and dialogue. Below is a picture of the room after the make-over:
The space no longer had the teacher at the head of the class and instead had the teacher submerged with the students and involved in creating a community. I was given the idea to borrow tables and create an island that fosters dialogue and a sense of community. I had computer stations for the very first time that allowed students to transition into technology and then I had my very first reading center! I knew at the very beginning of class that it would involve a great deal of practice in routines. I was very lucky to have a great set of students who participated in building the literate community. I was able to see students engaged and truly enjoying reading. It was very rewarding. Below is a picture of what the area looked like after students became involved in creating their environment.
I was very excited about the environment that myself and the students created. I enjoyed going into that room everyday and students mentioned that they felt a sense of home in that room. What should be noted is that I had about eight to ten students max in the room at a time. It was very important to set rules at the beginning about how the space would be used and how not to use the space. I definitely saw how this could have become an issue in a different circumstance, but overall, it reiterated my belief in the power of a literate environment.
I still find myself undecided in the debate of whether teachers should use “round robin/popcorn” reading or if there are better alternatives. My very first reading professor insisted that if we took anything from her class, it should be not to use “round robin” or “popcorn” reading in the classroom. The argument is that it causes unnecessary panic and self-esteem issues in students and really shows no gains in students’ reading fluency. Many teachers still do it, so I decided I needed to be the type of teacher that isn’t afraid to try something different.
With brand new ideas from my summer semesters, I went into the classroom determined not to use “round robin” reading. I found myself falling back into the habit because it was how I was taught. Yet, I decided to slowly make a change. I explained to the students that I would not make them read aloud, but I did appreciate any volunteers. What happened was that I had absolutely no volunteers! I had no idea what to do at this point. I read aloud to them and had them read silently until they slowly began to become more comfortable helping out with the reading.
What I have begun to do differently in my class this semester is allow more time for independent reading, partner reading, and group reading. Some researchers have suggested bringing in only high interest texts and reading just excerpts of classic texts. This is a bit drastic for myself right now, but my students do ask to read more high interest texts and it has been working just fine. It is a work in progress and I’m learning that it’s okay. What I am most proud of is that I am willing to try new things as scary as that may be. That is also the spirit that I want to convey to my coachee. Here is a good link if you are looking for alternatives to “round robin” and “popcorn” reading.
Last week, my professor shared some links with our class and inspired us to allow our students a safe place to express their views on sensitive issues in current events. One such issue is the injustices faced in Ferguson, Missouri. I had just spoken to my coachee about how we could engage students. This led to a perfect cross-curricular activity that involves History, English, and social issues that affect our students today. Before I share the project, here are the links in case you are planning to teach about these events: TeachforChange and TheRoot.
In Kelly Gallagher’s book, Readicide, he mentions how important it is to advocate for your teachers and your students. They need materials, especially books, and we need to be steadfast in finding ways to get the materials to students. I have been more vocal this year about needing books, technology, and materials in the classroom and I have advocated for my coachee’s classroom needs as well. I was excited when I tried DonorsChoose.org and I got funded for one project and for class sets of novels! I received books on social issues and art supplies which included 64 paper mache masks. My coachee and I are thinking of ways to use the materials to teach about the events in Ferguson. He is going to focus on the history and I will bring in writing about stereotypes and identity. I will post more as this project manifests. Wish us luck!