Reading stamina has been the focus of my 4th grade class these last few days.  I have been working hard through the guidance of The Daily 5 to instruct my students in my expectations for them to read independently when I need to take small groups of students.

Now these are mostly students that I have looped up with from last year, and, I have to admit, silent reading was never very successful.  In the past, it happened after recess and served more as quiet time than focused reading time.  Sometimes students did more wandering to the bathroom or fiddling with books in the classroom library than reading.  So, when I had nearly the same group of looping students this year, I was excited to try something new with them and instill more purpose and intention to their reading time.

And so, this year, I’ve been clearly communicating expectations and they’ve been building their reading stamina.  During these practices, they must stay in one spot and read the whole time.  Our first practice session lasted 2 minutes.  The next, 4.  The following day we went down to 3 minutes and then tried again and read uninterrupted for 4 minutes.  Obviously building reading stamina was going to take some practice.

What was the reason for such short times?  Well, in sticking with The Daily 5 protocol, I must observe and stop their time when someone stops reading, starts talking or gets up and starts to wonder.  (I don’t count stopping to take a stretch or quick break as long as they get right back to reading.)

Each time, we would regroup and reflect.  I would tell them why I stopped their reading and we would talk more about how to be successful such as how to choose a successful spot to read. (away from distractions or talkative friends and in a comfortable, safe place)

This next time that I asked the students practice, I said I would try one other thing that may help.

“I’m going to soundtrack the room this time,” I said cautiously.  It had been 5 days of school and, although I soundtracked their morning routine (more on that in another post), I hadn’t done academic time yet.  I was unsure of the reaction I may get.  I feared an eye roll, a big sigh or even the ever-unwanted groan.  (You know how students can react to your ideas sometimes…)

Instead, this is what I got:

“Finally!” one girl exclaimed.

“Yes!” said one boy.

“Oh good,”  I heard under someone’s breath.

I was elated!  They were happy to have soundtracking back in our classroom.

I started my ipod and invited my students to find a spot to read.  When I turned around, my anxiety-ridden boy was hugging me.  “Thanks for the music,” he said.

Are you ready to hear how we did?  13 minutes. 13 minutes!  Of uninterrupted silent reading.  My class was so silent and focused that teachers walked by and made faces of astonishment.

After those 13 minutes there was a girl who, even though she stayed silent, just couldn’t get back to reading after taking a well-deserved brain break.  However, the funny thing is, after we gathered together to reflect on our success, the kids (I mean the whole class) pleaded with me to read again!  I couldn’t believe it…and how could I resist?  So we read again and reached 14 minutes.  It was only an improvement of 1 minute because I had to stop them and get them to lunch on time.  (Not to mention, those were back to back session.)

The kids were so proud of themselves and when we had the opportunity to reflect on that first huge success, picking a successful spot was one contribution and the music was the other.  We all agreed that soundtracking our classroom during that time was essential!

~

Now, I love the work I do with arts integration, but there are times when I wonder if what I’m doing is truly making a difference for students.  This was a time that truly confirmed the benefits of soundtracking my classroom – a SEAL strategy that I tell many teachers about in workshops, retreats and online courses.

I use soundtracking in my classroom to create an atmosphere of calm and focus.  With my modified open concept classroom, where students and teachers walk through my room to get to theirs and where walls are scarce, music allows us to create a “bubble of privacy” like a “forcefield.”  These are my students’ words, not mine.  I’m amazed at how much of a difference it truly makes.

Since this described day, we are back to fully soundtracking our academic time again.  I’m hopeful that it will continue to create the calm atmosphere my students need to focus and work through the days and weeks ahead.

If you are interested in learning more about how to soundtrack YOUR classroom, go to this resource.

For more information about SEAL (Social-Emotional Artistic Learning), visit teachSEAL.com!

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