From mid-January to mid-March, I completed a 3-credit graduate course through UVA for teaching reading comprehension using picture books. It was an amazing class (professor Beth Estill) and it transformed the way I (and the rest of my 4th grade team) teach reading.
Before taking the course, my whole group lessons usually involved reading from the kids' reading textbook while they "followed along" or let their minds wander until they heard me ask a question or say "the end." Since week 2 of the course, my lessons have used on-grade-level picture books that line up to the skills and strategies we are working on.
The transformation in my room has been incredible. When I pull out the book for the morning, students perk up, start creating predictions and questions instantly and stay intrigued through to the end. The discussions they have about the texts are no longer full of sentences like, "Sally is the main character," but now include sentences like, "I made an inference that Sally is feeling upset because she is frowning and I know I would be upset if that happened to me" and "Are you sure that's an inference and not a prediction, because it's something that you know is happening now and not what you think will happen?" (For those of you non-teachers, this is actually a big difference and I was ecstatic to hear this convo!) This love of books has transferred to the kids independent reading and they're constantly asking me to pick them out a good book or sharing books with each other that they enjoyed. It's super exciting to watch.
One day, as I pulled out a new picture book, one boy asked me why we hadn't used our textbooks in a while and I told him we were going to take a break from them for a while because I thought these other books were more interesting. He didn't hesitate at all to loudly proclaim, "FINALLY! That book is SO boring!" I love that they have no trouble speaking their minds. :)
A few weeks ago, we were working on the strategy of making mental images and I didn't have a book picked out for the next day yet, so I quickly grabbed one off the bookshelf as I was walking out the door to go home. I skimmed through it and made sure there were stopping points, but didn't read it in too much detail (a rare occurrence and not recommended!). Turns out, the book, Alpha and the Dirty Baby, includes imps, which are basically aliens/demons that take over the girls mom and dad and make the house super dirty, etc... it's a REALLY strange book, but my kids were enthralled! About 3/4 of the way through, one of my kids shouted out, "How do you always find the BEST books?"
I said, "It's been on the bookshelf all year!"
He said, "How come when I go back there to look, all I can find are boring books that I don't like and you find good ones?"
I just laughed and kept reading. Haha. Clearly, he just doesn't read them... or has a poor taste in literature if he thought this was a good book!
Today, we started our study on Elements of Non-Fiction and the kids are responsible for being able to locate and use a Table of Contents. Since I didn't have any non-fiction books handy, I quickly walked over to the bookshelf and literally grabbed the first chapter book I saw, which happened to also be the biggest and brightest. I took it back to the front of the room and said, "Ok. If I wanted to find the table of contents of this book, Stuart Little, I'd ----" I couldn't finish my sentence because all of my students started an uproar about the book! Apparently, for 27 weeks, none of them saw it sitting there and now ALL of them wanted to read it and they couldn't stop talking about what a good book (or movie!) it was! The same boy from a few weeks ago, again, said, "How do you find these good books?" I open my eyes when I'm looking at the book shelf? How do you NOT find these books? Haha. What have you been doing this whole year? These are some of the questions that ran through my mind, but I think I diplomatically just said something along the lines of, "I'll help you find one later."
The librarian just gave them the challenge of reading 10 chapter books in a month, so hopefully that'll help keep them going through the end of the school year! If I come across any other "Best Books" in my room, I'll let you know!