Sunday, August 24, 2014

You Need Grit (Teacher Grit) to Tap into the Power of Partner Reading

"Just the two of us, we can make it if we try, just the two of us, just the two of us, building castles in the sky, just the two of us, you and I . . . " From Just the Two of Us by Grover Washington Jr.
We all come to that place when we are first trying on workshop teaching when our reading partnerships get the best of us. We want to throw our hands up in the air in frustration, and exclaim, "Forget it! It's just not going to work with this group.  Take heart, we have all been there (and continue to struggle with getting the most out of this powerful reading tool). However, the best resource that we have for coping with the challenges of sustaining partnerships is each other.  What are some helpful tips that you would give to teachers who are falling into the partner pit of despair?


It has been helpful for me when I feel like throwing in the towel, and removing the following Jame's Britton quote from my bulletin board as it taunts me from across the classroom, "reading and writing float on a sea of talk" to remind yourself of why we NEED to have reading partnerships in the first place.  Please feel free to add to the list of reasons below:
  1. Partnerships lift the level of understanding. Isn't true that you understand what you have read better when you have the chance to talk it out with someone else?
  2. Talk provides teachers with multiple opportunities to assess comprehension. Who is it that said talk is a window into our understanding?  We can listen to partner conversations through the lens of reading skills.
  3. Talk builds a sense of community.  Think about the communities or groups that we are a part of. Most would agree that the communities that thrive are the groups where there is trust that it cultivated through relationships. How do we build relationships?  That's right, through conversation. Talk allows us to connect with others.
  4. Talk helps to support stamina. You might question this as when reading is interspersed with talk, don't we have less time to read. However, stamina is not just about time, in fact when we think of time, it might be that volume is a better word choice. Stamina means energy, staying power, grit, and resilience - it's that feeling that when the going gets tough; the tough get going. Talk breathes new life into our reading and gives us the energy to push through the tough parts and keep going. Talk helps us maintain our momentum.
  5. Talk supports oral language development. It provides students with multiple opportunities for repeated practice in comprehending (listening) and expressing their ideas (speaking) with deliberate scaffolds and support from proficient speakers.
  6. Talk promotes a thinking curriculum.  The notion of a thinking curriculum is summed up well by the following quote, "Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire." In classrooms where there is a thinking curriculum in place we can observe the marriage of content and process in the classroom.  Communication is an essential skill and so we need to provide students with authentic opportunities to engage in conversation in order to support them in becoming effective communicators.   
The following two articles are great resources for extending the conversation with colleagues or making the argument for partner reading (in spite of challenges it poses in terms of management) Why Talk is Important In Classrooms and A Thinking Curriculum.

If we start partner reading in our Kindergarten classrooms with our five year olds (see the video below from Tracey Fritch)  


and continue partner reading through first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth grade and beyond Imagine the possibilities . . . 

What should teachers consider when creating partnerships? What do strong reading partnerships look and sound like? What are predictable problems that we will face when launching and sustaining partnership work in reading? We will consider these and other questions in future posts.

Reflecting on the Principal Gala at the Botanical Gardens (2015)

It is important for leaders to retreat to the mountains. This event stands at a cross-section. We need it to determine the road ahead. ...