Our Reading Rights: My Big Mistake and How I’m Fixing It

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Last year, inspired by Pernille Ripp’s Reading Rights idea, I decided to bring a kind of Library Bill of Rights to my middle school readers. I loved the idea of creating a set of norms and holding both my readers and myself to them throughout the year, even when the schedule got busy and things got hard. I had big ideas about what would go on that document, and how students would respect it and check back in with it when they were frustrated or confused.

But then, I made a big mistake: I made the Reading Rights document myself.

At the time, I told myself that it was a scheduling issue – classes were too short to really dig in with students and make the caliber of document that I wanted. I see students once a rotation for 50 minutes, and because our rotation is six days long, so I usually see kiddos once every 8 days or so. It can make a great excuse for when I don’t want to do something or take responsibility for my mistakes 😉  I told myself it was about time: Looking back on it now, I know that it was more about control. I wanted things a certain way. I wanted certain phrases and ideas, to be highlighted and to make it onto the document.

I had a vision in my head, and I decided that my vision was more important than that of my readers.

I created the first draft on my own. Then I presented it to my classes, declared I had based it on their habits and patterns, and asked for feedback. They didn’t have much to say – why would they, on a document that had nothing to do with them? The finished draft was also greeted with a shrug. It hung in our library, looking lovely but totally empty of meaning. I found myself referring to it less and less as the year went on. It held no power in our space, and eventually, it just became another decoration.

In my summer reflection, I went back to Pernille Ripp’s original post to find out where I had gone wrong. What made her experience different than mine?

Today was the day of one of our big fundamental lessons; when reading is trash or magic.  I shared my past reading mistakes in teaching, we shared when reading sucks or when it is lit (student choice of words).  As the post-its crowded the whiteboard, the questions and statements inevitable came.  Will we have to read books you choose for us?  Will we have to write every time we read?  Will we have to do post-it notes? […]

As we finished our conversation we merged into what their reading rights are this year.  the things that I will not take away.  The rights they have as individuals on a reading journey.  This is not my idea, nor something new, but once again the work of others who have paved the way for my better understanding of what developing student reading identity really looks like.  As we discussed what rights they would have and what they meant, I wrote an anchor chart, a reminder that will hang all year so we don’t forget just what we can do together.  What choices we may have.  As we went down the list, the relief was palpable, the excitement grew.  Even some of the kids who had not so gently told me how much they hated reading right away, looked less scared, less set in stone as we talked about what this year would like. (Source)

I saw it right away. The team that created her document was a WE. The team that had created our document was an I.

So this year, we wiped the slate clean and tried again. I didn’t plan for middle school before the year started. Instead, on their first day of library class, we told them that their library time and curriculum would be custom created just for them, and that to make them we needed some information about who they were as readers. The fifth grade team and I created a reading survey together. Then, we asked students to answer at least four of the questions, knowing that the time and care they put into their responses would impact what they learned and how they spent their time over the course of the year.

Here are the questions they chose from:

  • When it comes to reading, I feel really confident about…
  • I wish that IR was…
  • I can’t focus on reading when…
  • I do my best reading when…
  • When it comes to reading, I wish it was easier for me to…
  • This year in 5th grade library and English History time, I am the most excited about…
  • My favorite thing to read is…
  • I wish my teacher knew…

I was amazed by how many students chose to answer every single question, despite only being required to answer four. There was so much they wanted us to know, and their responses were fascinating! The team and I met to organize and analyze their responses, and then found the most common answers and phrases and pulled them out into a separate document. From here, we’re splitting our planning into two weeks of activities:

Week one

Our Reading Rights: How We Read

In week one, we’ll dive deep into what we can do with our bodies and our environment to make reading great. We’ll begin the day with a mindfulness and visualization exercise, asking students to close their eyes and take themselves back in time to the last time they were so into a book, they couldn’t put it down. Where are they? What do they see, feel, and hear? Are they alone?

Next, we’ll take those repeated answers from the reading survey, print them out, and hand them out to students. They’ll have five minutes to group similar answers together into “clumps”. As a class, we’ll turn the clumps into Reading Rights.

When we break for independent reading, we’ll ask students to keep the Reading Rights they created in mind. Then, we’ll gather with five minutes left to add anything that feels like it’s missing. This will become the first piece of our Reading Rights document.

Week two

Our Reading Rights: What We Read

Week two, we’ll take a closer look at the books that we choose, how we choose them, and how they impact our reading time. For our warm up, students will choose a buddy, share their top three favorite books, and help each other to find similarities between the titles. Do your top three have anything in common? If so, what?

Next, we’ll play a game of Take a Stand, where the teacher reads a phrase and students respond by moving to the side of the room that represents their answer. For our exercise, we will have a YES wall and a NO wall. Students will respond with their bodies to phrases like this:

  • My favorite books all have something in common.
  • The things that I do for fun outside of reading impact how or what I read.
  • It would be helpful to know more about how the library is organized so I can find the books that I like more easily. 
  • I like discovering new books through assigned reading, books purchased for me, or recommendations from others. 
  • I have a favorite genre or subject of book, and I can almost always find a book that I like if I search for that.
  • I have a great source to turn to for suggestions for my next book.
  • After I finish a book I love, I feel stuck and don’t know what to read next.

As they “vote”, students will have the chance to tell us about their responses. These responses will become the second half of our Reading Rights document.

 


 

Halfway through week one’s lessons, I am already blown away by the engagement and ownership I’m seeing from students over this living document. They are totally invested, from the abstract ideas to the detailed wordsmith work! I am so excited to see the their finished product. Although last year’s experiment was a big mistake, it was a valuable one. It taught me that students need to be included and trusted to create the expectations, hopes, and dreams for their library time. I have a feeling that this shared experience will have a lasting impact on our time together, this year and beyond.

Check out the photos above to see these lessons in action so far, and the Reading Rights drafts that they have created. I’ll add another update once we complete round two next week.

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