Now that I’ve covered the elements of a strong learning community, I want to delve deeper into some of the practical strategies you might use when building a community in AARI, the Adolescent Accelerated Reading Initiative, which brings students quickly to grade level. The students you have in your class might start out afraid and guarded. And so it’s appropriate to look closer at routines, protocols, goal setting, and risk taking.
Use Routines and Protocols to Promote Community
Consider teaching your students ways in which to talk to each other. I learned the 7 Norms of Collaborative Work from an Oakland Schools consultant (Jen Davidson), and I have used them with teachers and students alike. You could start small, with just the first three, and challenge your students to pause, paraphrase, and pose questions. You will probably have to adjust the language for students and use a “sounds like”/ “looks like” approach to show students how to carry these out.
Use thinking routines. Consider using some of these routines to check in with students each month, or at the start or end of your books.
Set Goals and Share them to Encourage Community
Try posing some questions for students. What has been a struggle for you in reading? What do you hope to get out of this class?
Develop shared goals. These include improving nonfiction reading through inferential questions and text mapping.
Don’t forget to revisit these goals throughout the year. Also, post them in a place that students will look at every day (like their work folder or a bulletin board). If your students are tech savvy, you could have them tweet their goals or use some other platform to share the goals and be held accountable.
Take Risks as Readers and Be a Vulnerable Teacher
Draw on your previous struggles. You are probably not a struggling reader. But you probably have struggled with learning something new or tackling something difficult. You could try something new, or bring in your graduate school work and explain what is difficult for you–anything to show that improvement takes time, practice, and strategies to succeed.
Give students an initial success. In order for students to take risks in reading, they have to feel comfortable. For this reason, I often started my teaching in AARI with a much lower-level book, so students can experience some initial success in the class and become experts at the texts’ structures.
Try a new book, one you’ve never taught before. (You can always borrow a set of AARI books from the Oakland Schools Library.) If you are new to AARI, don’t be afraid to tell students the areas in which you are struggling. Being vulnerable goes a long way with struggling readers.
All of these areas, when used to help students soften and open up, lead to strong communities. You are setting up your students for success when they have a group they can turn to for support and growth.
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.