Friday, June 12, 2015

Readers Cafe: Nourishing the Mind and the Body

"Welcome to Readers Cafe. We have amazing readers waiting to read to you and awesome snacks too. We hope you have a wonderful time. May I show you to your seat, sir?"

Readers Cafe in action
What is Readers Cafe? In a nutshell, it is a student-run restaurant that serves both snacks and books to its patrons. It exemplifies the CS Lewis quote:

"Eating and reading are two pleasures that combine admirably"

The opening of the restaurant is the final goal, but as is often the case with learning, it's more about the destination.

Practicing the books
I cannot take full credit for Readers Cafe; it is a concept that I adapted from the student teaching cooperating teacher. Due to state testing butting up to the second to last day of school last year, I wasn't able to do it then. However, this year we had two weeks between state testing being done and end of school year. As soon as I realized this, I approached my principal about doing it this year. She had remembered it from my original interview and agreed. She also agreed to fund the supplies and food needed!

Before even thinking about opening up the Cafe, the students had a lot of work to do. I partnered them up, trying to build new friendships and keeping reading levels heterogeneously mixed. From there, each partnership chose three picture books. I told them that all three books should last no less than twenty minutes together, but there would be no maximum time. For a few days, we practiced just reading the books, focusing on fluency, pronunciation, and expression.

Note the questions chart
The next step was to develop comprehension questions about the story. Questioning is a great way to develop higher level thinking skills. I instructed and modeled beginning prediction questions, one literal and one inferential question each for the middle, and one summarizing/evaluating question for the end, for a total of twelve questions. The only requirement was that the questions couldn't be answered with a simple yes or no. On Google Classroom, I shared a matrix so they could type in their questions. After developing questions, the students continued working on their fluency and practiced asking the questions.

Following this practice, we began on working on the Cafe jobs. There are four jobs in Readers Cafe:
Host greeting our principal
  • Host - Greets the customers, shows them to their seats, keeps track of time, and dismisses the customers. 
  • Waiter - Takes the orders from the customers to the chefs and brings it back. They also help in dismissing the customers.
  • Chef - Fills the orders (goldfish, pretzels, and animal crackers) when the waiters bring it to them. They are also responsible for making sure the food bowls stay filled.
  • Bus Person - Clears the plates after the customers have eaten, washes the dishes, and returns it to the chefs. They also fill in if a host or waiter is absent.

Waitress helping with an order
Chefs filling the snacks
After detailing the jobs, the students picked what jobs they wanted. Amazingly, every student got their first or second choice. I also told them they had to develop their own systems for their jobs. The hosts developed this opening and closing and which sections they would be seating, the waiters developed this waiter pad and which sections they served, and the chefs and bus people determined who would be in charge of which snacks and sections, respectively.

Busboy rinsing dishes
I had twenty two students this year. This means that while eleven of the students (one student from each partnership) were reading , the other eleven (the other student from the partnership) had jobs. We alternated between round one and round two. When they finished their job, they would read quietly or assist other students.

Finally, we were ready to practice everything together: the books, the questions, and the jobs. We used two of my close friends' classes for this and it helped us to highlight weaknesses and strengths. A big strength we noticed was that the systems worked wonderfully. The biggest challenge was keeping the customers focused on the reader. We implemented a "tap the desk, say their name, ask a question, get Mr. B" system to help manage the attention. During the real event, I never had to step in to help get a customer under control. It was amazing to see them solve inattentiveness issues and hopefully it gives them an higher appreciation for teachers!

Family Day at Readers Cafe
Our final practice round was with the families. The Friday before the school-wide event, I invited the families to drop in at any point at the end of the day. We had to make a modified schedule to account for this, but it was clear we had all systems down pat. I even asked the parents to get off task to test how our "tap, name, question" system worked.

Reading to our Head of Instructional Technology
About two weeks before the school-wide event, I sent out a Google Form with a reservation form to the staff in the building. I used a really awesome add-on called Choice Eliminator that make it easy to make sure no one was double booked. It worked pretty well, aside from two minor issues. I also invited the Assistant Superintendents and other members of the School Board Office to attend at any time during the three days. We ended up having seven join us!

Teacher getting into the book
Monday came and Readers Cafe began. We had decorated with a patriotic theme, including red, white, and blue leis for the customers, flag print tablecloths, and other adornments. Each class was given twenty minutes to be seated, served, read to, and lined back up, and we had five minutes in between to switch rounds. Truth be told, aside from announcing which round we were doing, I basically sat there and did nothing. The students ran it all, from seating to serving to clearing to dismissing. The teachers had a choice of being sat in my comfortable recliner or with a reader. Many started on the recliner, but ended up inching closer to the nearest desk! 

The feedback I received from the customers was great! The students seemed to enjoy the books and the snack, the teachers said it was a cute and awesome experience and commented on the outstanding fluency and expression, and the School Board thought it was a great way to end the year. I saw a lot of great things: critical thinking questions, improvements in fluency, leadership roles, problem solving, and hard work. My students loved feeling in charge of the Cafe and I loved seeing them take ownership of it. My students begged me to do it again next year, so they can attend it as a customer!

Now that you've read this post, check out what we updated in 2017 here.

You can watch a video overview of Readers Cafe above.

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