Tomorrow begins the second half of the school year, so it is an important time for self-reflection. I do my own reflecting, and my students need to reflect on their year so far as well. The one “unit” that spans the whole year in my classroom is independent reading. It’s time for my students to reflect on the books they have read, where they are making strides, and where improvement is needed.
What is a “reading ladder”? Teri Lesesne, the author of Reading Ladders: Leading Students from Where They Are to Where We’d Like Them to Be, states that reading ladders are “a series or set of books that are related in some way (e.g., thematically) and that demonstrate a slow gradual development from simple to more complex” (48). The goal is to slowly but surely move up the ladder to add books that are similar in topic, theme, or length, but in some way, more complex than the previous one. This is Part I of my “Reading Ladder Project” with my students, and I’ve modified my project over the years to add more to it. Erica Beaton’s post about reading ladders and Penny Kittle’s Book Love helped me get a great start for year one. My latest version is still a great self-analysis project for my students. They can assess where they are at so they can make a plan to move forward with their reading.
Part I: Ranking Books – That first portion of my project is where students need the most help. Though I have conferred with students and talked to classes about how to select the “right book,” some students still struggle with this, for they just don’t have a lot of confidence in their abilities, or in the entertainment value of books. We start with a discussion about what makes a book difficult. Each year, without fail, the first person to share an answer says the book’s length. (Length frightens them, when really it shouldn’t. We talk about this and why students feel this way. Students who don’t find length to be scary explain why.) Other answers include, vocabulary, genre, and structure, but I usually have to remind them of some. Students don’t realize that books become more difficult when there are more characters to remember, subplots, and flashbacks. After a great discussion, students begin to rank their books, and explain their decisions in a response. Everyone’s responses will look different, for some students have already read over 30 books, and others have only finished one or two. I even have two students who haven’t finished any. (Their responses will look quite different!) All students share their responses with peers for feedback.
Part II: Reading Rate – In this portion, students receive the number of pages they have read so far in the year, as well as the number of pages they should have read according to their weekly page goal. Students share their reactions to their numbers, their accomplishments, and where improvement is needed. Before beginning this section, I discuss with students that accomplishments vary from person to person. An accomplishment can be anything from meeting a page goal to finishing a book. Every student is a different type of reader, so everyone will have different accomplishments. I find this section important because many students think they are doing fine, when they aren’t, and vice versa. It’s also a great starting point for their goals section, which comes in Part IV.
Part III: Mini-Review – Book reviews aren’t technically in a reading ladder, but I thought this project was the perfect time for them. I decided to insert a “mini review” section of a favorite book for two reasons. First and foremost, it is a great opportunity to remind students how different a book review looks from a typical short answer response. We talk about hooks, the creative freedom they have, important information they should include, and what type of reader would like the book. My second reason for writing these reviews is so I can hang them up in my classroom! Too often, my students come to me for a recommendation, which is perfectly fine. I do, however, want them to gain some independence in the second half of the year and try to find books on their own. After all, this is the last year they will read independently in the classroom. (Sad, I know.) To help with this, they will be able to view their peers’ reviews all around my classroom.
Part IV: My Goals – I feel that all five sections of this project are vital for my students’ success with reading, but if I had to choose the most important section, it would be this one. This part is where my students create a plan for the rest of the year. Again, each student is a different type of reader, so goals will vary. I know what type of readers they are though, so I will know if they are challenging themselves or trying to take an easy way out. All students cannot just say they want to read more than they have been. They need to state how they will find more time to read, and what they will specifically do differently. I model this too, for I want students to understand its importance. When I confer with them throughout the rest of the school year, I will be asking them how they are doing with meeting their goals.
Part V: Reflecting on My Reading – Throughout this year, we have been discussing why students should be readers, and that every type of reader can become a better one. In this section, students reflect on their reading they’ve done this year compared to 8th grade. They focus on one of three topics: the importance of having choice, having a reading community (in the classroom and on Goodreads), or the importance of creating a “reading habit.” Though I model this section, I remind students that they should really be thinking about what they need in order to be a successful reader. Looking back at the other sections helps them the most.
I see so much value in this Reading Ladder project, but more importantly, so do my students. They learn a lot throughout the process, and look forward to the feedback they receive from peers. Though I reinforce the importance of reading all year long, this is a great way to remind students of its value at this point in the year.
Lesesne, Teri S. Reading Ladders: Leading Students from Where They Are to Where We’d like
Them to Be. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2010. Print.