Independent Reading Series: Time and Choice

boy reading

The research base on student-selected reading is robust and conclusive: Students read more, understand more, and are more likely to continue reading when they have the opportunity to choose what they read. In a 2004 meta-analysis, Guthrie and Humenick found that the two most powerful instructional design factors for improving reading motivation and comprehension were (1) student access to many books and (2) personal choice of what to read. (Dick Allington, 2012 EL Vol 69)

One of our favorite articles about reading is Every Child, Every Day by Allington and Gabriel. In it, they describe the six elements of reading instruction that students should have every day.  The first element: Every child reads something he or she chooses.

In our launching post, we stated our beliefs about independent reading.  First on our list was the need to give students time to read each day, and second was the importance of allowing students to choose what they read. These are two simple choices we can make as teachers that will have the greatest impact on the reading achievement of our students.

In speaking with teachers, we’ve found that there exists a wide-interpretation of what independent reading time looks like.  We thought it might be helpful to look at what providing true time for reading looks like vs. the less desirable forms it may take in the classroom.

True Time For Reading:

·      Specifically included as a cohesive part of the daily instructional plan.

·      Age appropriate block of time given for meaningful interaction with text every day.

       (If students aren’t used to large blocks of time spent reading independently, start small. Consider using classroom or individual stamina goals that will increase volume over time. It’s also important to discuss what real reading looks like as compared to skimming or flipping through a book.) 

·      Expectations and procedures of time are clearly conveyed to students. 

       (For instance, students should know how long they will be reading, what kind of moving around is permissible, what type of jotting or writing they might be expected to do, and what the teacher’s role is during this time.)

·      Viewed just as, or more important than direct instruction.

·      Student selects text

Less Effective:

·      Added in to the schedule whenever time allows.

·      Used as transition period, such as after recess.

·      Cut from the schedule to ensure time for other instruction/activities.

·      Given as an option at centers or only if other work is finished.

·      All students read the same text, or teacher selects individual texts

Questions also arise about text selection. Do we allow students to read whatever they please? What if the text they choose isn’t appropriate?  Is it okay that a student reads below his or her level?  It’s important to note that choice isn’t completely unmonitored or undirected by the teacher.

Choice Involves:

·     Teaching students how to decide if a book is a good fit for them and then reteaching those strategies as necessary.  The most effective independent reading provides students with high-success experiences.  If students are choosing texts that frustrate them, be sure to confer about finding “just right” books to get them back on track.

·     Guiding students toward appropriate books, but not limiting them to specific book bins or Lexile levels.

·     Understanding that student interest plays a large role in how successful a student will be with a text.

·    Allowing for guilty pleasure reading (i.e. reading enjoyable books that are well below the student’s level), and…

·    Asking students to challenge themselves by trying new titles, authors, and topics. 

          (It helps to think about what is on our own night tables. There’s probably a huge variety in our reading diet, from favorite magazines to professional books, to the latest Jodi Picoult novel. We choose based on what what we bring cognitively to the reading table each day. Some days we may need an easy read, while on other days we can tackle a 400 page novel. It is no different for students.)

·     Sometimes requiring a selection within a certain genre that is being studied. 

We know that even with all of these guiding principles in mind, teachers fear that students won’t make appropriate choices.  We know that we have chronic book abandoners, students who get stuck reading Magic Tree House and won’t move on, and students who insist on checking out books that they simply cannot read. We are looking forward to sharing our ideas about these tricky scenarios in this series, so we hope that you’ll join us for future posts.

Getting Started

If independent reading hasn’t been a daily priority in your classroom, it’s time to make it one. Begin by deciding what part of the day works best for you and your students. Some teachers prefer to have students begin each day by reading, and others use it to close the day. We feel that independent reading works best directly following read aloud.  Whatever time you decide on, be sure that it’s one that is uninterrupted, focused, and non-negotiable.

Worried that your current classroom library isn’t large enough to provide adequate choice for your students? Start by developing a weekly time to visit your school library. Working together with your school librarian who is able to order books or suggest new titles is a great way to begin planning your own book collection. Many teachers are concerned about the cost of books, and developing a classroom library can be a pricey investment. But it’s just that…an investment. When independent reading is a priority, teachers will look to cut out other spending in order to buy books. Also, consider these ideas when building your collection:

* Join Scholastic Reading Club to earn free books for your class. Each time a student orders, you get points. Make a big deal out of the monthly order form and the tiles inside, and your students will be excited about ordering. The points add up quickly.

* Inquire about grants available to teachers. Our town has an education foundation that has given thousands of dollars in books to our teachers. Stay connected on social media to find out about special grants or contests that award classroom libraries.

* Let parents know that you are all about books. Many would probably be happy to clean their house of unused, outgrown books.

* Check Craigslist, eBay, and other local yard sale sites for people who are selling used books at a bargain price.

* Consider talking to your parent-teacher association about investing in classroom libraries. You never know until you ask!

Providing time and choice for your students is the first step to developing strong independent readers in your classroom.  Donalyn Miller has greatly influenced our thinking about independent reading, and we would love for you to read both of her books on the topic of developing readers in and out of the classroom.

book whisp2 book whisperer

(Available in the WES library)

We’ll leave you with this tweet from Kylene Beers (We love her!).

We would love to hear what successful structures for time and choice you have implemented in your classroom!

~ Jen and Darla


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