Posts filed under 'In the Classroom with Jen'

In the Classroom with Jen: Improving Stamina in Reluctant Readers

Today in our In the Classroom with Jen series author and teacher Jennifer McDonough shares her strategies for helping reluctant readers build their stamina. How do you help your students get to that “lost in a book” feeling?

jennifermcdonoughStrategies for Improving Stamina of Your Reluctant Readers in Reading Workshop

We will always have readers in our classroom who aren’t just having “off” reading days but consistently seem to be looking at the ceiling, rolling around on the carpet, or—better yet—spending their reading time coming up with new and interesting ways to get everyone around them off track as well. Here are a few suggestions I have tried in my classroom to help build the stamina of reluctant readers who haven’t quite found the “lost in a book” feeling that other kids have.

1. File folders (I got this idea from Chart Chums; Open a file folder. Put a green sticker on one side and a red sticker on the other side. Each child sets a goal for how many books he or she wants to read and puts those books on the green side of the file folder. After the child reads a book from the green side, he or she moves it to the red side. The goal is to try to get all of the books moved by the end of independent reading. This concrete way of measuring progress helps kids stay focused.

2. Have the students read independently for just long enough that the majority of the kids are focused and lost in their books. When things begin to get noisy or distracting, stop the independent part of reading workshop and move them into partner time. We don’t ever want to give the kids the idea that independent reading time is noisy and disruptive to others. To build stamina, have the kids set goals for the minutes they think they can read without going off task, and then record the time on chart paper so they can see the class’s progress. Partners who don’t spend the time reading or talking about books need to go back to reading alone until they can learn to stay focused. If you have one of “those” classes this year—the kind that doesn’t seem to be able to read long enough independently for you to be able to confer well enough—consider having the class read independently for as long as they can, switch to partner reading, and then go back to independent reading again. This may help stretch the time while keeping the kids on task.

3. Use an electronic device to read books aloud to a student as he or she follows along in the book. Then have that student reread the same book independently. I use YouTube for popular picture book read-alouds, but I can also use Audioboo (app) to record myself on the iPad reading aloud any of the books in my classroom. Listening to a book on CD or visiting websites that read the stories aloud (Raz-Kids, for example) can also be helpful.

4. Give a reluctant reader in your room the favorite class read-alouds that the kids love and that you have read over and over. Having heard the book read aloud allows them to read books above their independent level and also helps keep them excited about books. Readers who are struggling to decode often get bored or frustrated with decodable books that don’t always hold their attention.

5. Allow students to choose the books they read within a range of three reading levels. Having access to more books increases the chances that readers will find interesting ones. I tell my readers that the books one level above their independent reading levels are good for practicing decoding skills, books at their level are good for developing comprehension and understanding of what they are reading, and books one level below help build fluency because they should be easy for them to read.

6. I also create a “What Independent Reading Looks Like” chart with the class. We brainstorm what independent reading should look and sound like, and put it on the chart with photographs of kids modeling those behaviors. We go back to the chart all year long when certain kids, or the class as a whole, begin to lose stamina and we need reminders about what to do.

7. Videotaping is another great way to help kids build stamina in their reading. If you tell a reluctant reader that he or she is going to model for other kids what independent reading should look like, that child is likely to step up and stay on task. Every so often, I pull out the iPad and take videos of individual kids who need some reminders or do whole-class sweeps so the kids can evaluate how the class is doing.

8. Finally, when we think about the reluctant readers in our classrooms, we usually think about the kids who are reading below grade-level expectations. For a multitude of reasons, they just aren’t getting it as quickly and easily as the other kids in the class and simply need us more. I meet with these kids more often to teach them the spelling patterns and decoding strategies they need to know to learn to read. When I need to confer with the other kids, I either use one of the strategies in this list or have them shadow me and listen in on what I am teaching another student. Until kids become fluent readers, the world of reading is not that exciting to them, so it’s our job to figure out ways to keep them on task until they get there.



Add comment April 22nd, 2014

In the Classroom with Jen: Conferring with young writers

We are excited to start a new blog series this month with Stenhouse author (A Place for Wonder with Georgia Heard) and first-grade teacher Jen McDonough. Jen will share stories and strategies from her classroom every couple of weeks, so be sure to check back often. We’ll start off the series with some ideas for streamlining writing conferences using the 3 F’s: frequency, focus, and follow-up.

Conferring with Young Writers

jenmcdonoughIt can be overwhelming at times when we sit down with kids to talk about their writing. So much to say, so many different directions we can go. One thing I know for sure is that too much teaching in a conference leads to an overwhelmed writer. As I go about working with young writers now, I try to keep what I call the “3 Fs” in mind: frequency, focus, and follow-up. These three things have streamlined my writing conferences with kids and helped make them more successful. So, what are the “3 Fs”?


I am constantly trying to come up with ways to make sure I meet with my young writers more frequently. What I have found is that in order for me to do so, I have to make sure certain things are in place during writing workshop. Management has to be in place. The kids need to know what is expected of them during writing time. We create a class expectations chart together at the beginning of the year and leave it up all year long as a reference for anyone who might be off task. When the kids are on task, I can get working with small groups or individual students.

The classroom also has to be organized. The materials the children will need to get writing work done need to be organized and accessible. I want to spend my time working with writers, not helping kids find a new pencil if one breaks. Keeping conferences short and on point also helps me see more kids, which leads me to the second F.


It is important, when meeting with young writers, not to overwhelm them with too many suggestions about how to improve their writing. Teaching too many strategies at once can leave a child struggling to do any of them independently once I walk away. One way I focus my conferences is to think about the qualities of good writing: structure, conventions, focus, voice, and elaboration. No matter what genre the writer is working on, I can always go back to these qualities to help lift the level of the writing. Instead of teaching one strategy one day and then another the next time we meet, I can help the writer set goals using one of the qualities and work on that for a bit before moving on to something else. For example, a child can set a goal for trying to elaborate more, and I can teach strategies for doing that no matter what the writer is writing about the day we meet. By staying focused on quality for a while, the conferences are more focused, move quicker, and allow the student more practice before moving on to something else.


The third F I think about when it comes to conferring is follow-up. Using the idea of frequency, I want to see writers as often as possible. When I follow up with a writer, I am always sure to compliment what is going well since our last meeting and then quickly talk about the big goal the writer has set. I ask the child to show me places in the writing where goals are being met to hold him or her accountable for what is being taught. If it is not there, I know I need to go back and reteach the strategy. If the writer is making progress, we can move on to another strategy that will help the child reach his or her writing goal. It is important to follow up and make sure that the teaching is sticking and the child is growing as a writer.

By using the “3 Fs” as overarching goals for myself as I confer with young writers, I have found that I feel more confident. The writers in my classroom know what will happen when I sit down with them and therefore feel more comfortable to discuss and work on their writing pieces.

Add comment February 19th, 2014

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