Minds in Bloom is delighted to welcome Sara of Secondary Sara back to the blog today! Her post is all about getting those primary readers ready for middle school, so we know that you’ll find her tips useful and informative!
Confession time: I teach middle school English, and if the fifth and sixth grade ELA teachers below me ever quit or retire, I’m in BIG trouble.
Why? Those teachers are incredibly gifted at sending me seventh graders who BOTH show quantified reading growth AND still love books. They make my job easier, since I just need to keep the momentum going, instead of filling huge student reading gaps or converting nonbeliever students to the power of reading.
So, how do my younger-grade reading teachers “do it all”?
Here are the secrets that my school’s best K-6 teachers use, the ones that I try to keep going in their honor. (And if you accomplish even SOME of these, then you’ll make the secondary teachers who receive your students VERY happy people!)
1. Read at home (and not just at school)
To be fair, I know that some schools have policies about homework limits, and maybe you’re busy assigning chunks of a whole-class novel (or trying to get kids to read ANYTHING at home). But to the extent that you can, do NOT let your students become wholly dependent on in-class reading time for choice novels.
The older they get, the less time we secondary teachers can give them to read at school. (Sorry – it’s not always our choice.) So if our kids only know how to read when a teacher carves out time FOR them, then they’ll never become truly independent readers who pick up a book in bedrooms, on buses, or in other quiet moments.
2. Can pace themselves through a text
No surprise here: There IS such a thing as reading too quickly (without comprehending) or reading too slowly (and forgetting what happened in the story). We also know to encourage students to ALWAYS read, not taking too long to pick up the next book, and to be careful with too many books at once.
The bad news? In grades 5-8, I have to help kids with the next level of pacing: balancing at-home reading with homework, sports, and life. The pacing game will NOT get easier for them, and it’s helpful when I don’t have to teach these skills from scratch. To help with that, I use pacing bookmarks that teach students how to set a deadline and then calculate an appropriate rate of pages per day to meet their goals.
3. Choose their own books (sometimes)
I give all kinds of praise to elementary reading teachers, because you are the kings and QUEENS of book talks, author studies, genre units, and matching the right book to the right child. Your recommendations help initiate the love of reading, and you build beautiful trust relationships with students, who know that you can help them find the next awesome book.
But if we want to maintain that lifetime love, then we have to train students to find their own books. Yes, there are websites, apps, and librarians to help them when they grow up, but even that requires students to have the self-advocacy skills to:
Go to the library (making the time, not being afraid, etc.)
Confront a (potentially unfamiliar) adult
Admit that they need a book (need help)
Recognize if the recommendations of others are “good” for them
Asking at least one friend before the teacher: It’s a great social skill to practice talking to a same-age peer about books. In addition, you can steal these free book recommendation inserts to enhance your classroom library with more permanent student ratings! (See below.)
Bringing one “idea” book to the teacher for approval: Make students articulate what they think could be a good idea, and then you can negotiate that plan together.
Knowing what kind of book you want next: I always start by asking 7th graders what genre they want (or need) to read next, since we have a genre checklist, and this at least gives us a starting point for discussion.
Asking a new adult: Add a librarian, parent, or family suggestion requirement to your to-read list or graphic organizer to initiate conversations with a wide variety of adults (and not build a dependence on just you!)
4. Build positive associations with reading and books
Want to help: I love letting students “help” with the classroom library. I have runners who take books back to the main library for me, helpers who keep my classroom library well-labeled and organized, and buddies who volunteer to help their peers browse the shelves for their next read.
Create strong opinions: In my biased opinion, peer book talks matter even more than teacher-given ones, so I love the student-led book talk presentations that we do in ELA.
Celebrate everything: I’m joyful when students say “Yay!” when it’s reading time, who don’t cringe at the start of a new reading unit, and the ones who feel pride every time they finish a book or show growth on an assessment. It’s a sign that students haven’t written off reading as “work” or “just more homework,” and there’s hope for that child to remain positive about books later.
The Bottom Line
Secondary Sara is a 7th and 8th grade English Language Arts teacher from central Ohio. She earned her Master’s degree in ELA for grades 7-12 at THE Ohio State University and also tutors high school students. Find her on TpT, Pinterest, Facebook, and her blog!