Even if your group of struggling readers is blossoming, it’s important to consider how your community can continue to grow and thrive. That’s especially true for classrooms organized around the Adolescent Accelerated Reading Initiative, or AARI, which brings students quickly to grade level.
Several steps can help build a set of shared experiences, which in turn can enhance your classroom’s community:
Promote a book-club atmosphere. First and foremost, remember that by reading a book together, you have shared an experience together. When you question and ultimately critique the author with your students, you are empowering your students within a book-club community.
Use extension activities to excite students. Challenge students to find YouTube videos that relate to your book’s topic, and that you can watch in the last few minutes of class. Nothing builds community like watching documentary science videos of scary eight-legged creatures if you are reading A Look at Spiders. Just remember not to get carried away, and always bring students back to the text.
Take to the open road with a field trip. Field trips can be expensive, and if you have a small group of students, they may not be realistic. But don’t rule them out! Maybe your district has access to a ropes course. You could head off to a local bookstore. Or maybe you could go to the local retirement community or elementary school, in order to read aloud the books you have gone through. Anything that builds bonds and positions students for success can be beneficial.
Institute a game day. Sometimes being silly together is just the experience needed to solidify a community. Here are some of my favorite board games to play with students. And remember to actually play with your students!
Break bread together. One Friday a month, my classes would have what came to be known as “Food Fridays.” It usually started with my bringing in some snacks (think Costco/Sam’s Club granola bars or crackers). Some years, it took on a life of its own. Students would initiate elaborate sign-up sheets, and they would bake brownies and frost cupcakes. Other years, the kids were just happy to have a little something to eat while we worked.
Consider sports. Maybe instead of food, bond over sports. One year, we had a monthly “Fun Friday,” in which I would take students to the auxiliary gym for the last 20 minutes of class, and we would shoot hoops.
Check out some community-building websites. There are a bunch listed on the AARI Moodle. But if you don’t think the activity is fun, don’t do it! Building community is about building authentic relationships with students—so if you aren’t willing to participate, pick something else.
Repeat and revisit fun times together. Try returning to favorite activities or games throughout the year. This maintains your bonds and steps away from the hard academic work you will be accomplishing together.
You, the teacher, are the reason a community is created! Don’t forget this. Know that it takes work to maintain a community. Know that you have to become a part of that community. Some days you might plan to do an activity unrelated to AARI; other days, your community building will be embedded in your questions or text mapping.
Regardless, community building is not something to do only once in the fall, only to check it off a to-do list. It is an ongoing, ever-evolving process that needs adequate attention in your daily lesson planning throughout the year.
Caroline Thompson (@TeacherThompson) taught middle school ELA for 12 years in Lake Orion before becoming a stay-at-home mom. She supports AARI teachers for Oakland Schools as an independent consultant in the areas of digital media, professional development, and non-fiction resources. Caroline is a Reading and Writing Workshop advocate, a 2008 Oakland Writing Project Teacher Consultant, and a 2009 Oakland County Outstanding Teacher of the Year Nominee. She lives in Berkley with her husband and their 2 year old daughter.