Tuesday, September 2, 2014

SoLSC Reflections on whole class novels 9.02.14


Slice of Life is a weekly event hosted by Two Writing Teachers.

Over the summer I read Linda Rief's professional book Read Write Teach.  It is full of information about the reading-writing workshop, with a lot of information about writing.  Written with the middle grade class in mind, I was still able to think of ways it pertained to grades 1-4.

One chapter was devoted to whole class novels.  I know there seems to be some controversy about this topic.  Coming from a 100% guided reading focus school, last year was our first year using whole class novels.  The reason why we even started using whole group novels is because in the PARCC frameworks, it recommends using 3-4 each year, 1 per trimester.  We only ended up averaging 2 per grade level.  I was surprised at the outcomes.  We found:

  • classrooms formed amazing reading communities
  • students who were often pulled for reading support services such as reading resource, ELL and students with IEP's were able to participate in whole group discussions, and often had some of the most profound thoughts to add
  • students talked, discussed, argued and learned from the conversations they had with each other
  • this gave a grade level a common language, they were all reading the same book and could all talk about it
  • students who were not always excited about the book and/or genre found they often enjoyed the experience, especially when reading and discussing together as a group
I participated in an online reading group this summer where we read Read Write Teach and shared thoughts.  Tara Smith pulled these quotes from the author, Linda Rief.  I think they sum up our school's experience with whole class novels quite well:

  • “It’s because of the struggling readers, who don’t really read on their own when given the choice, that I must find time to read the stories together aloud.” (p.160)
  • “For the sake of all our students, I am suggesting we read at least two novels and/or a play a year as a whole class, so we can engage all of our kids in the process of real reading - thinking about the meaning of those words on the page, even as we are teaching some of them how to pronounce the words.”(161)
  • “In addition, by reading aloud in class, we can help kids take apart the layers of meaning through class discussion and questions that kids often miss when reading a book on their own.” (p. 162)
There are many ways classrooms can build reading communities, have shared book reading opportunities, and be able to share books with each other.  This is just one way, once each trimester, that we will read together.  The outcome was surprising and we learned from it.  I'm sure we'll continue to tweak things as we go but so far, the learning is good!


  1. We do a few whole class novels - to start the year, and then to launch genre studies. I happen to love them, and think that (done well) they foster a real sense of community in the classroom.

  2. Having a whole class novel gives those who are great participants to see how others share, contemplate, & argue about certain things, too. I don't think anyone does this at school, but depend on the read alouds to build community. Thanks for some new thoughts on this, Michele!

  3. Appreciated reading your thoughts! I love the way a shared reading experience develops community. I'm guessing that the problem with assigned novels comes from the way we tend to overteach them--requiring students to do inauthentic work (comprehension questions, worksheets, activities, projects) when the real work of shared reading should be conversation, connection.

  4. Read aloud is a great way to foster community. (I've never done a whole class novel as indep. reading though.) Some of my former students, some of whom are now in college, still remember some of our read alouds from fifth grade!

  5. You are so right about the controversy over whole class novels. I do see both sides and I really think we as teachers have to make the decision for what we feel is best for our students. We are actually starting one next week. I would prefer to smaller groups with several novels but my teaching partner prefers the whole. So, this time around I will stick with that. Thank you for sharing thoughts on the positive side!

  6. I appreciate you sharing your thoughts about whole class novels and your insights from Linda Rief's book. We've had lots of discussions about the best way to use whole class novels, so I'll be reading Read Write Teach asap!

  7. I love doing whole class novels as read alouds, especially if I can manage to get a copy for each student so they can follow along! I agree with everything you wrote here. I also find these reading experiences to be great motivators for trying new things. I'm convinced it improves their fluency.