Lifting Up Literacy

By Brent Gilson

This past week I had the opportunity to attend the NCTE 2018 conference. I learned from so many other teachers and leaders in the literacy community. As I sit down and reflect on both this experience and my classroom I can’t help but wonder if the things I am doing are really promoting lifelong readers.

Screen Shot 2018-11-27 at 11.42.20 AM.png

We hear a lot about the need for independent reading, students need time, time with books of their choice, unassigned and free from “activities”. They need the opportunity to read authentically and that is not going to come with a series of activities in a workbook attached to a book they have been assigned because “we know what is best”.  At a session with the Bowtie Boys and their teacher, Jason Augustowski, he said, “Students really reading their books is 1000% better than fake reading ours.” I am a firm believer in this statement and the evidence of it is alive in my classroom.

My classroom structure is set at 70 minutes 4 times a week with an additional LA period of 50 minutes once a week. I know I am pretty spoiled but with adjustments, I think that my setup could work for any time table.

We begin every class with either a 20 minute independent reading time or writing time. For independent reading, it is PRIMARILY choice but at times that choice reading is impacted a bit. I like to run book clubs and whole class novels at different times throughout the year. Lots of kids in my grade level (7&8) are not keen on or not strong enough readers to be focusing on multiple texts. In those times where we are doing book clubs or whole class novels, they might choose to only focus on the book club or whole class title in that 20 minute time rather than having homeworking reading (I don’t assign homework aside from reading if they have not met the group set goals). After our 20 minutes of reading time, we reflect in our journals and then move on to a mini-lesson taught with mentor text that I read. It is a great opportunity to work on skills and be bathed in awesome picture books. That is the basic reading block.

Screen Shot 2018-11-27 at 11.43.25 AM

Reflection is assisted with different strategies such as Notice and Note, Book-Head-Heart Framework both discussed in Kylene Beer and Robert Probst books, “Notice and Note Strategies for Close Reading” and “DIsrupting Thinking”. A handful of strategies that are discussed by Cris Tovani in her book, “I Read it but Still Don’t Get it” and Kelly Gallaghers Thought Log Stems. A PDF version of what I give my students as an insert for their journals can be found on my blog. We have recently started looking at TQE that was brought to my attention by the fantastic Marisa Thompson, a process of discussion where groups look at and discuss their thoughts, questions and epiphanies about the reading. While most effective for discussions around same text I could see the strategy being used with multiple different texts around common themes as well.

Screen Shot 2018-11-27 at 11.44.58 AM

Book Clubs and Whole class novels are another way that I help develop a culture of reading in my classroom. We start the year with independent self-selected reading and about 6 weeks in we start our first novel as a class. This becomes an opportunity to teach concepts such as theme, conflict and character attributes using the same text. We also model what book clubs will look like as we transition to a more choice oriented discussion around those shared texts. The question is often asked what do you have them do when you teach the book? Let me first quote my friend Kylene Beers,

Screen Shot 2018-11-27 at 11.50.31 AM

I don’t teach books, I use great books to help my students activate a text. To help them better understand the contents within and apply them to curricular outcomes. I don’t do this work with worksheets, quizzes or Teacher Pay Teachers (garbage) canned assignments. I do this with authentic conversation and reflective responses. We just finished reading Restart as a class in grade 7. Students were given a selection of different prompts to respond to. They focused around theme, opinion writing and elements of importance in the story. Students were not required to name what page a certain coat was worn or how many times a character did something. They were asked to discuss theme with support, they were asked to state an opinion with support. They are doing a great job using Notice and Note in some cases and in others just finding the evidence to support their stance. THey follow up with some other free choice “fun” piece. They are making movie posters, board games, collages, movies really anything to go along with the book. It is a celebration of the achievement of reading a great book, no prizes, no points just fun. Book clubs will be much of the same but I am turning over responsibility to them. They will set reading goals and discussion points I will provide some general questions.  It works for us.

I am still working on making my classroom a reading centred space. Years of destructive programs like Accelerated Reader and Teachers Pay Teachers Novel Studies with 100 questions have most certainly impacted my young readers and now we rebuild from the rubble but we are building.

Penny Kittle was discussing what her independent reading time looks like while speaking at NCTE. It was simple, “My kids read in class, I confer with them. It isn’t hard”. We have a responsibility to our readers to build them up, to provide authentic reading experiences and to honour them as the growing readers they will become. I don’t have all the answers but it is a start.

Brent Gilson teaches in a junior high setting in Canada. He enjoys reading MS and YA literature so he can share it with his students.  Brent’s teaching life was changed after attending professional development with Kylene Beers and he continues to strive to improve his practice and student access to texts of all forms. Follow him on Twitter @mrbgilson and read his blog ThingsMrGSays

Author: CCIRAblog

Check out CCIRA's website today at

One thought on “Lifting Up Literacy”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: