Independent reading is a large part of my classroom, but at the beginning of my 2013-2014 school year, I was searching for a way to hold my 9th grade students accountable for their reading, as well as allow them the opportunity to reflect on their reading lives. During my search, I found out about reading ladders from Erica Beaton’s blog post. After reading her post, and then reading Teri Lesesne‘s Reading Ladders: Leading Students from Where They Are to Where We’d like Them to Be and Penny Kittle’s Book Love: Developing Depth, Stamina, and Passion in Adolescent Readers, I knew I had found my answer.
What is a reading ladder?
Literally, a reading ladder is a piece of expository writing where students rank their books (according to their difficulty), reflect on their reading lives, and discuss where growth is needed. According to Lesesne, reading ladders should help students make connections between texts, and also help them move toward independently self-selecting their own books to read. That move toward independence is extremely important to me, for if students cannot self-select text, they probably won’t be readers after they leave my class.
Why have students create a reading ladder?
When it comes to reading, I am a firm believer in student choice. My students don’t do reading logs or take Accelerated Reader tests to show their comprehension. Instead, they have “mini-conferences” with me throughout the school year, usually when they finish reading a book. They also do a few “projects” (i.e. book trailers, book talks) per year that are done solely to encourage their fellow classmates to read their favorite books. Reading ladders are not considered one of those projects. Instead, they are a way to get students thinking about their books, their reading abilities, and their reading lives. From the very beginning of the school year, my students are asked to think about the question, “Why read?” I ask them to do this, since over 75% of the students entering 9th grade each year are labeled “struggling readers,” and thus have a strong dislike for reading. We embark on a research project, of sorts, all year long to discover the benefits of reading.
Students reflect on what they have discovered about their own reading during their conferences with me, and then further explore it (in more detail) in their two reading ladders (mid-year and end of the school year). Having students make connections, evaluate books, reflect, and self-assess are high-level skills that they will use throughout the rest of high school, and beyond. No AR test can do that.
How do students create their reading ladders?
Students cannot just be given an assignment called “reading ladders” and then create their own. Brainstorming and modeling must be done first. I start by going over the purpose of a reading ladder, and then explain what they will be writing about.
They must then gather the required information. My students use Goodreads to keep track of the books they read, so they begin by writing a list of the titles down. Then we create a class list of qualities that can make a book more difficult. Below are just some of the qualities that my students noticed.
At this point, I then took students through my thought process by ranking some of the books I had read. I typed up what you see below right in front of them, explaining my thought process the whole time.
I modeled each section of the reading ladder, and since I typed my samples, students could reference them online, if need be. By using Google Classroom, students could share their first drafts with me and get timely feedback.
How do I know that my students were successful?
After reading my students’ reading ladders, I could tell they were definitely two of the most important pieces they wrote with me. They made connections, figured out strategies they used to “get through” a tough book, evaluated books, reflected on what they learned about the importance of reading, and SO much more. Take a look at the excerpts below from some of my 2014-2015 students. (The excerpts are from students with IEPs, as well as students from my Honors class.) ALL of them learned a lot about themselves as readers.