Each summer, after a couple of weeks of catching up on the PBS must-see tv shows watched exclusively by nerdy English teachers like myself, I spend a good deal of time reviewing the literature units I taught the previous school year, making decisions about what worked and what needs to be tweaked or improved upon. During that process this past July, I stumbled upon “No More Fake Reading” by Berit Gordon, a book about the teaching of reading that inspired me to experiment with an entirely different approach to reading, one that I felt would complement my current approach perfectly. While Gordon’s method is based on a Reader’s Workshop model, a model of teaching that has been around for quite some time, she takes students a step further by combining the benefits of reading classic literature with the power of engaging them through independent choice books.
I spent a few weeks in July reading through Gordon’s book, marking up the pages, writing in the margins and quickly becoming more and more excited about the prospect of trying out her model. By early August, I couldn’t hold back any longer, and I emailed my supervisor, Aliza Chanales, middle school principal of general studies. Though not surprised, I was ecstatic when Chanales quickly replied, empowering me to create this new model in my class and asking me how she could support me in my endeavor. After a few discussions, she decided to invite Berit Gordon to lead a professional development day at the end of August and give all the teachers in the English department an opportunity to learn from a national expert on the teaching of reading.
Gordon’s visit in August was transformative. She was full of ideas to help us further engage our students, providing researched-based strategies that increase motivation while helping students acquire strong reading skills. Her method focuses on the importance of giving students multiple and varied opportunities to practice the explicit reading strategies taught each day. She also encourages teachers to fill their classroom libraries with high interest books. All of the English teachers walked away feeling inspired to begin the new school year with fresh ideas that would mesh so beautifully with what was already working so well in each of our classrooms.
Because it was such a success, Chanales brought the author back in the beginning of January. After meeting with us and visiting our classrooms, Gordon was floored by all of the creative ways we had implemented her suggestions in just a few months. Classroom libraries were full of fresh new titles and students were working together as a community, reviewing and sharing book recommendations with each other. Berit pointed out that, “Research shows it takes 72 hours of school-based professional development to impact genuine change in the classroom, but the Yeshivat Noam teachers did so after just one day of learning together in August!” Moreover, the student feedback captured the power of our new approach. In an online survey administered to the students, one child said that the Reader’s Workshop model “really gave me a chance to broaden the genres that I read. Also, I liked how we can choose the books.” Another student added that, “Something enjoyable and helpful about the structure of Reader’s Workshop was that I became a closer and more independent reader and a better thinker.”
Thank you to Berit Gordon for your inspiring work and teaching our department the tools for implementation. Thank you to Yeshivat Noam and Aliza Chanales for creating an environment that embraces reflection, change and growth.
By Samara Wasserman
Samara Wasserman is a middle school English teacher at Yeshivat Noam.