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When Your Readers Are Squirrels


Have you ever sat on a park bench in the fall and watched the squirrels? They are fascinating. They chatter, and chastise each other. They romp and play. They cram their mouths with acorns and then try to run, somewhat off balance, back to their hidey holes. Their tails twitch with excitement or irritation, and their bright shoe-button eyes will follow your every move, even while they're engrossed in their never-ending hunt for food. They are adorable and charming, even when they're robbing your bird feeder. 

They remind me of my fifth grade students. 

It is the second or third week of school, and I've been teaching reader's workshop expectations and routines. We've read about 10 books together already. My kiddos are always in awe of my classroom library. When Richard Allington said that a classroom library should be filled with 1,000-2,000 books, I took him seriously. Actually, his advice was just an excuse to continue my hoarding...but that's another blog post. 

They mill around the library with their book boxes in hand. Some of them try to fill their boxes with at least ten books. Those readers are like the squirrels who over stuff their mouths and then can barely run back to safety. Other kids wipe out an entire bin of The Babysitters' Club books. They're like those squirrels who hog the bird feeder so nobody else gets a taste. But it's when we settle down for independent reading that I can't help but make the comparison.
Their bodies flop. Some switch books every five minutes, never fully diving into the texts they selected for themselves. Others sit with their books open, their bright shoe button eyes glitter as they track my movements around the classroom. When I look their way, they suddenly feign interest in their books. It never changes. It's always the second or third week of school that I have to teach this particular lesson: What To Do When You're Feeling Squirrely.

This past week, I taught the lesson, right on schedule. I began by showing them a youtube video about funny squirrels. I wrote this question on the board: As a reader, how are you like the squirrels in this video? This is the video I used: https://bit.ly/1PgWGf0

They roared with laughter, and it was a great way to hook them. Afterward, they were able to make the connections I wanted. 

"I'm like that squirrel that was laying on the pavement. I get tired!" 

"I'm like that squirrel spiraling on the bird feeder. Sometimes I end up reading the same sentence over and over and over again." 

"Those two squirrels fighting were like Justin and me fighting over The Lightning Thief." 

I listed their comparisons on chart paper, leaving space between each one. It was fun and fascinating to hear them talk about themselves as readers. Then we began discussing and adding solutions to our reading focus problems. 

"I get tired, and so I lose focus." 
Check to see that your book is the right level. That can tire you out if its not. 
"I keep losing my place."
Use a bookmark to help you track through the text as you read.

"Chapter books feel too long sometimes."
Keep some shorter texts like comics, picture books, or nonfiction books about topics you love in your book box. Switch books when you need a break.

"I can never find what I want to read when it's time to read."
Keep a wish list of what to read next in your reading folder or reader's notebook. That way you'll remember when the book is available again.

"Sometimes I get bored."
Are you choosing books that are genres or topics that you love?  If not, conference with a friend about what he or she is reading. They might have some great recommendations!

By the end of our mini-lesson, we had some great solutions for what to do when you find yourself reading like a squirrel. Every one of the behaviors my students mentioned had a solution for them to try. They copied the chart in the back of their reader's notebook and then skittered back to their desks for independent reading. Our workshop session ended with students reporting the different strategies they tried to maintain their focus during their independent reading session. 

Since this lesson, we check in with ourselves periodically and ask, "Am I reading like a squirrel or a fifth grader?" My students are becoming more self-aware of their reading habits as a result. That's the beauty of a great reader's workshop lesson-it reveals the hidden things that successful readers do. The mystery is solved, for everyone. 

If you're interested in reading more about reader's workshop, you  try reading HERE or HERE.

These resources, some free, support my reader's workshop classroom practice. You might find them useful. Click the pictures below to view them. 










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