Trying Something New

Wanna know a secret?  I don’t use my basal reader.  It’s true!  And I’m not sorry!  Really – think about it.  Just. One. Book.  All year!?!?  I know this isn’t the intent of the powers that be in my school district.  But for some classroom teachers, that’s exactly what happens.
I challenge all of my colleagues to step out from behind the comfort of the basal and try something new in reading instruction.  Trust your instincts – you know good literature, right?  If your answer is ‘no’, then I urge you to consult your media specialist, reading specialist, or any other teacher in the building who is ‘killing it’ as a reading teacher.  Ask around.
The starting point is always the state standards.  Find your grade level and take a look at what the state of Nebraska is expecting students to know and be able to do.  Then find amazing literature, or better yet, a fantastic author, and use that as a vehicle for addressing the standards.
Let’s say that I’ve perused the state standards, and I’m going to do an author study of William Steig with my students.  I can start with this handy Scholastic resource, or go rogue and design my own plans. The books I would choose are the following:
Sylvester and the Magic Pebble
Dr. DeSoto
Brave Irene
Shrek
The Amazing Bone

•Nebraska State Standard LA 5.1.5 Vocabulary: Students will build and use conversational, academic, and content-specific grade-level vocabulary.

This standard is effortlessly addressed via these books because they are bursting with rich vocabulary.  While reading aloud, I would have students listen for great vocabulary and note it in their journals.  Making connections between the author’s words and synonyms and antonyms is an important activity.  There are myriad ways to reinforce this vocabulary knowledge.

•Nebraska State Standard LA 5.1.6 Comprehension: Students will construct meaning by using prior knowledge and text information while reading grade-level literary and informational text.

Teaching comprehension using these five excellent books is fun, interesting and engaging.  I would have students compare and contrast all five books, or just two or three.  We would discuss characters and their character traits, themes, literary devices, problem, solution, setting, and unique characteristics of the author’s writing.  Students could create a culminating project reflecting their understanding of the book(s) and the author’s message.
Real, meaningful, authentic discussions.  Not a worksheet in sight – yet you can still take grades on student work.  Students are learning together – cooperatively – improving their language skills as they wordsmith a project or justify their answers.
Did we cover the state standards?  Yup.  And we had a great time doing it! TRUST yourselves, guys!  You are professionals!  You are competent!  your students will LOVE the authenticity with which YOU present your love of literature.  You can do it!

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