Thursday, July 8, 2010

About Reader's Workshop: Flat-Earth Readers

As I have been reading Aidan Chambers' Tell Me: Children, reading and talk, I came across the best term- flat-earth readers. We all know them (in fact, you may, like me, have been one of them.) They are the readers who only ever read one style, or one author. They are the students who won't move past Diary of a Wimpy Kid, or move away from the Star Wars novelisations. In my case, it was Baby-Sitters Club books or later, Sweet Valley High. They see the reading world as flat, with dragons or other nasties at the edges.

What prevents the students from creating a more rounded world of reading? Chambers suggests three things in particular: the danger of boredom - other books might be boring compared to the books the reader is used to; difficulty - other books might be harder than the books the reader is used to, and the reader lacks the self-efficacy to read harder books; and the fear of exhaustion - that the other side of the reading world may never end (the I'll never read enough of the world's books fear)!

Obviously we don't want students to remain flat world readers - after all, we want the students to become better readers, readers who are willing to take risks and explore a range of books. But how can we assist students to experience a more rounded world of books?

One place to start is the classroom environment, and even little things can make such a difference. I never had a huge amount of success with getting students to read until I was able to turn my books around so the covers faced outwards. Placing them in baskets for different categories, allowed students who were interested in one type of book (for example, my Star Wars fanatic was interested in other science fictions books and ended up extending to new authors and harder books). Having an extra rack of books also allows me to display new books.

Also successful is read alouds. I've talked about read-alouds before (here and here) and why I think they're important, and I have found they're great for moving flat-earth readers. A lot of students go on to read the books when you're finished, or search for similar books. The read-aloud has assured them that there are other good books out there and that they may not be too difficult or overwhelming.

Incidental book talk - or what Chambers calls book gossip - is another powerful tool. Earlier this year, the younger boys in my class went through a massive 39 Clues phase, talking about the books before school, in class, at home online. A lot of them have moved on from these books to the CHERUB and Alex Rider books. They want to share in the world the other boys are sharing in. I'm particularly lucky in this aspect as I have a multi-age classroom and a lot of the time, the younger students want to follow the older students in their reading. This definitely led to the success of The Hunger Games.

We also have formal books talks. These can be a little hit and miss. Coming from me, they're generally pretty solid. I'm lucky again, in that I've taught some of these students since 2007 and they trust me to find good books that they'll enjoy. Especially if I'm really enthusiastic (Percy Jackson, Out of my Mind) a simple book talk from me can have the whole class buzzing. When the students book talk, it often depends on the student. Some have a great pull in the class, others less so. Some give great book talks that make you want to go out and buy ten copies of the book, others are still developing their public speaking skills.

Recently we've had a new place to talk about books, through the use of A lot of students use their blogs to talk about what they're reading and what others should read, which means we've had to have lessons on spoiler warnings and other reviewing niceties. :-)

Despite pressure from other sources, the least success I've had in expanding the world of readers is in set books, or even 'choose from this list' books. Often students approach the books with a certain amount of resentment, especially if they'd prefer to spend reading time reading 'their' book. They take little ownership in the book, and it's difficult to get them to read 'similar' books. I have had some success, particularly when nominating books to small groups, but all in all, it's not a particularly useful way to expand the world of readers.

Of course, if you want to know more about moving readers through different types of books, you can't go past Teri Lesesne's Reading Ladders, and if you can get your hands on Tell Me, I recommend it too - so far, a really great thoughtful read.

What stories of flat-earth readers do you have? Were you one yourself? What made you move on? How do you approach flat-earth readers in your classroom?


Reading Countess said...

Have you tried Animoto with your readers for book talks? We used it for the first time this year (you can have a free 30 second version, or can apply for an educator's license, also free, that is unlimited amount of time). They are really powerful!

A Reader's Community said...

I've had a quick look at them, but haven't had the time to play with them at school (our very slow system makes a lot of web based things difficult). I know the book trailers that we put together on movie maker were quick powerful - but I totally forgot about using them until now!

Donna and Rebecca said...

Do you have genre requirements? I am thinking that might help. If you do, how does that work? I am going to try that this year.
I agree with the power of the Read Aloud. I had a student who would pretty much only read books about war and the army. It was having multiple copies of the read aloud at the time, The Thing About Georgie. I remember him saying, "This is a good book, is it okay if I keep reading it?" I could hardly contain my excitement as I said "Absolutely!"

A Reader's Community said...

No genre requirements, though there are expectations that they'll try a range of books. I do offer a wide range, book talk a wide range, and make recommendations of a wide range in one-to-one conversations. This year I've had no problems with students moving to a range of books - might be different with a different group.

A Reader's Community

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Queensland, Australia
A Reader's Community is a place to find ideas, information, resources and recommendations about Reader's Workshop.

This Blog has five main types of posts.

About Reader's Workshop - information about Reader's Workshop in my classroom and how it works

Reader's Workshop Tools - resources you can access and use to help you with reader's workshop

Book talks - Book recommendations of two or three books centred around a particular theme

Book letters - in-depth reviews of one particular book

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