Reader’s Companions

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One of my struggles over the last two years with the transition to “Common Core” was the lack of resources that supported a consistent plan for executing lessons that were Common Core Aligned. Yes, I could create these lessons; but, to say it is overwhelming to “build” your own curriculum week to week is an understatement. In my district, The School District of Philadelphia, we have a planning and scheduling timeline. This gives us a break down of everything that needs to be taught within a given semester. So, if you are anything like me, you sit down weekly with this plan next to you and a ton of reading and/or math materials flipping through trying to find the best story or chapter to teach the highlighted goals and/or standards for the given week. This is TIRESOME! For me, anyway. I found that yes I could use the anthology but skipping around the text didn’t fit well with my OCD personality. I am the type of teacher that, although I rarely use teacher’s guides, I like to follow a plan or routine. So previously when teaching from the anthology, even though I did my own thing, I taught story to story so that there was always a consistent way to provide spelling/ vocabulary words etc. I don’t know if you can relate to this– maybe this was my own idiosyncrasy.  Whatever the case, it made planning my lessons more predictable and less time consuming- there was no real guess work about what story I was going to use. And, at the time, the focus skills and reading strategy lined up with the planning and scheduling timeline.

So…let me back track for just a second. I taught third and fourth grade for a total of 11 years. In both grades I always wanted to use novels as my source of instruction. I didn’t really care for the anthology but there was little to no flexibility with that. Here was the struggle. I wanted my students to read chapter books instead of a new story from the reading text each week. I got a lot of push back from my principal. So then I decided to use chapter books for guided reading/ literature circles during reading workshop. It became very overwhelming trying to plan my regular lesson plans and map out a novel study for my small reading groups, especially since each group was reading a different book. I still used chapter books but instead of really digging into the text, I created a generic companion for students to use. This companion could be used with any book. Although it worked and I can say the students benefited from it, it wasn’t my vision.

Fast forward to December of 2014. It is then that I realized….”Wait, I have the freedom to teach with chapter books!” And that is when my concept of Reader’s Companions was born.

What is a Reading Companion?

A Reading Companion is a lot like a novel study guide but it is more for the student- and not just a guide for the teacher. It is made up of a series of comprehension questions and activity sheets that reinforce important skills and concepts that can be taught using the text. The students get the companion when we begin the novel. They work through this companion during class, homework, small group work. They become married to this text. This is beneficial because the connection is major! Students begin to bring the characters and events into our everyday lessons. They make comparisons, they make connections, they reference the story when describing something else…. it becomes a part of the class. This is important.  When students read a different story each week from a reading text, yeah they may reference it from time to time, but the connection is nothing like when we read a chapter book as a class.

How Do I use Reading Companions in my classroom.

Although you can use this companion in a variety of ways here is what I usually do: I read with the students in class. We discuss the characters and the events and whatever the highlighted focus skill is. This is to provide differentiated opportunities for the students who may be reading slightly below grade level. Listening comprehension is always higher than their independent and instructional reading level so by hearing me read it first, they have a good understanding of what is going on in the text. Each night students are assigned that same chapter to read for homework. Students who are reading below grade level are asked to read with a partner ( an older sibling, parent, caretaker, text). They then answer the highlighted open-ended questions. I always stress the importance of being able to answer open-ended questions because it is a higher order skill. I require students to provide details and examples to support their thinking from the text. They get a great deal of practice doing this all year- this is great “test prep” using quality teaching versus a “test-prep” book. The next day we review the questions and I go on to the next chapter, or if the chapters are longer (like in Ramona Quimby, Age 8) we read parts of the chapter each day. At the end of the week there is a chapter check-up and students complete an assessment by answering questions that mirror the format of the questions asked on standardized tests (again… good “test-prep”). We do this until we complete the book. In my newer reader companions I’ve included a culminating project to tie together all of the concepts that we’ve been working on and to provide an alternative assessment. I decided to do an alternative assessment because students completed a short quiz after each chapter AND because it is a fun way for students to recap the book.

 What the benefits of using Reader’s Companions for literacy instruction?

I use Reading Companions to hit several skills at one time (getting a huge bang for my buck) while also instilling good reading habits and a love of reading. This is what I’ve observed while teaching with reading companions:

  • Students begin to regularly make comparisons/connections to the characters in the story and real life events.
  • Students develop a stronger connection to the book which ultimately supports their reading comprehension.
  • By having a stronger understanding of the book and its characters and events, teaching important reading skills is that more easier because students have a strong point of reference.
  • Students develop a nightly reading habit. I know that students are completing their required nightly reading for at least 20 minutes now because it is a part of their homework assignment. By having students complete the comprehension questions, it is easier for me to monitor whether or not they are actually reading at night.
  • Reading instruction is more authentic. Because there is a greater investment of time in our reading text, and we aren’t skipping from story to story each week, students can practice comprehension strategies over a period of time in a given text.
  • I find that my students gravitate toward the chapter books more versus the picture books.
  • Planning lessons are MUCH easier because everything is prepared for me in advance. Instruction becomes routined and easy for my students and me to follow. It removes the guess work. The assessments allow me to not only gather grades during this period, but I can also monitor their comprehension throughout this mini unit.
  • Parents are able to follow along- this is probably one of the greatest benefits of teaching with reader’s companions. Now my parents are connected to our curriculum- what we do in reading during the day is not something separate from what they are doing at home each evening. I usually have some parents who read along with us throughout this mini unit. They are then able to discuss the book with their child. This is  a major home and school connection that parents really appreciate.
  • I’ve seen an overall improvement with my students’ reading levels. Most importantly, the students who typically couldn’t read a chapter book independently now have a sense of accomplishment because they are able to get through it with the class. I now find that the students who were once reluctant  to read independently, are now actually reading during our Silent Sustained Reading time and not just flipping through the illustrations.

Reader’s Companions

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The book Flat Stanley is a childhood classic! This common core aligned resource is intended to support your students with the development of their reading comprehension skills. I provide a journal and reader’s companion that can be used as an ongoing homework assignment or, in the classroom during whole group/ small group instruction. There is a corresponding journal sheet for each chapter. There are also additional practice worksheets.

Skills that are addressed:
Making predictions
Cause and Effect
Summarizing
Problem/Solution
Compare/Contrast
Narrative Elements
Monitoring Comprehension
Character Sketch

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This resource is intended to support your students and the development of their reading comprehension skills. This common core aligned journal can be used as an ongoing homework assignment or, in the classroom during whole group/ small group instruction. There is a corresponding journal sheet for each chapter. There are also additional practice worksheets and a suggested way to perform classroom book chats.
Skills that are addressed:
Making predictions
Questioning
Inferencing
Sequencing Events
Making Connections
Character Sketch
Recalling Details/ Citing Evidence
Problem/ Solution
Compare and Contrast

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The Freckle Juice is a classroom favorite! This common core aligned resource is intended to support your students with the development of their reading comprehension skills. I provide a journal and reader’s companion that can be used as an ongoing homework assignment or, in the classroom during whole group/ small group instruction. There is a corresponding journal sheet for each chapter. There are also additional practice worksheets.

Skills that are addressed:
Making predictions
Cause and Effect
Summarizing
Compare/Contrast
Narrative Elements
Monitoring Comprehension
Character Traits
Asking Questions

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