Month: September 2015

Increasing Reading Volume

reading volume

A few years ago I decided to run a 5k for the first time ever.  I had a goal and as a former (let’s not talk about how long ago) track and field athlete I had the skills.  So, I should have been successful, right?  Well, although I did “complete” the 5k, I walked more than I wanted to and my time was much slower than I expected.  What went wrong?  I had not trained long enough and frequently enough.  I lacked the volume of training that was needed.  The same problem occurs with some of our readers in workshop.  They have goals and they have the skills to read, but due to a lack of reading volume they are not as successful as they could be.  Fortunately, there are many things we can put in place to help students increase the volume of their reading.

Ensure Adequate Access to Reading Materials

 On our Title I campus, we have an ongoing goal to help build classroom libraries. We have found ways to be resourceful as we work at building our collections.  We have found several digital resources to supplement our print books.  One of our favorites is the digital collection from Epic! Educators can register for a free account using this link  The app is available from Apple and Google Play.  The site includes an ever growing collection of fiction and non-fiction texts. Many popular titles such as the Scaredy Squirrel  and Memoirs of…books can be found here. For our readers who crave non-fiction we use the free website Wonderopolis which posts daily wonders in the form of a question with informative answers.  All the wonders are archived for easy searching.   Our school library is growing our collection of ebooks to help with access as well.  We all recognize that in order to increase volume students need access to a wide variety of texts.

Create an Excitement About Books

Our community is in a “book desert” according to the latest census data (only 6% of households in our community have 100 or more books) so most of our students do not come to school with a love of reading.  We work to grow that love of reading by creating a sense of excitement about books. All staff members have a sign outside their door with what they are currently reading.  We post pictures of teachers reading on a bulletin board in our main hall. We want our whole community to see us a reading community.

summer reading

Author visits in person or through Skype are a wonderful way to increase interest in books and therefore student reading volume.  In classrooms, the importance of book talks cannot be overstated.  There is nothing like word of mouth about a book from a peer to create a frenzy about a title.  Book trailers are another way to increase excitement about a new book.

Use a Toolbox of Strategies

 For some students having access and creating excitement will not be enough.  These students need specific and targeted strategies to increase volume. Reading logs are an important tool in monitoring and creating an awareness of reading volume.  Alice wrote a post about this on September 20th. One of my favorite tools is to the use of stamina graphs.  Our primary classes use these as a whole class to track minutes read as students learn reading behaviors.  In our older grades, stamina graphs can be a tool for individual students to visually see their progress in increasing stamina.  There is a wonderful description of using them at the older grades in Jennifer Serravallo’s book, The Reading Strategies Book (2.14).

                                 stamina graph 1     stamina graph 2

The Reading Strategies Book has several suggested strategies for increasing stamina which will help increase volume.  There are ideas on how to set small goals then take a break to read a favorite type of text or celebrate.  Ideas on how to teach students to monitor their engagement in the text or to make future reading plans.  Serravallo teaches us that engagment should be the first goal to take on, because if students aren’t engaged the other types of reading work will not be able to happen.  Increasing engagment should lead to greater volume.

Donalyn Miller has written entire books that address the topic of increasing reading volume.  In both of her books, The Book Whisperer and Reading in the Wild, she shares how her students took on her 40 Book Challenge.  Choice was a major factor in encouraging all her students to make volume gains.Teaching students to always have a book on hand for “reading emergencies” such as waiting for appointments is one of her ideas.  As a school we embrace this idea and have baskets of books in our front office, clinic, and other areas where parents or students may be waiting. We want to be role models for reading whenever and wherever we can. I have taken on Donalyn Miller’s summer challenge for teachers, #bookaday, for three years now.  I am able to talk to students and teachers about many new titles after participating which further helps with student reading volume.  I am thrilled that I have been much more successful with my reading volume than my running volume.

Next Steps

We would love to hear your best ideas for increasing reading volume.  Please comment below to share with other teachers.

I’ll see you again on Wednesday with ideas for increasing writing volume in workshop.

Living the workshop with you!



Essential Engagement!


When starting the work of readers’ workshop, I found many of my students were passive readers that read on autopilot. Some read for plot fixes, some read because they were supposed to, and others tried to fake read. It was a definite struggle to get my students to read with meaning. In writing, my students struggled to find their voices and usually began by staring at blank pages. They weren’t truly engaged.

In 2002, a researcher, named Schlechty, defined five levels of student engagement in his book Working on the Work:

  • Authentic Engagement – students completely immersed in valuable and meaningful work
  • Ritual Compliance – students are doing work for an external reward like grades, but the work is not meaningful
  • Passive Compliance – students are doing the work to avoid consequences, but find little to no meaning or value in the work
  • Retreatism – students are not engaged in the work, but do not disturb others
  • Rebellion – students refuse the work and are disruptive

When I look at all these levels, I can picture students’ faces in each category. Ideally, we want all our students to be authentically engaged as that is where they get the most instructional benefit. The question then becomes how can we get as many students authentically engaged as possible and to do the work necessary to grow them as readers and writers? Unfortunately, there is not a simple answer. We have to find what makes each one of our students tick. Like Tracy wrote a few weeks ago, it starts with relationships.  Here are my top strategies for helping students get engaged.


Choice is a huge motivator for students. If they get to choose the work they are doing, it instantly becomes a lot more meaningful and relevant to them. When starting the work in reading, many teachers focus on the reading levels of their students. The intent is to have students working in texts they can be successful with.  That is a great idea. However, there is much more to a reader and a book than a reading level. After all, book stores and libraries usually don’t have books organized by level.  We need to help our students become independent at selecting just right books. Donalyn Miller talks all about finding just right books in her book, The Book Whisperer. Jennifer Serravallo has a great strategy in her new book The Reading Strategies Book.  The strategy asks the student to read the first page of the book. Then ask:

  • Does it grab you and make you want to keep reading?
  • How do you feel about it?
  • Can you see the story or topic?
  • Do you care to find out what comes next?

If the answers are negative, that is probably not a just right book.

In writing, it comes down to student choice as well.  Do students have the choice on what to write, or are they always writing to a prompt? A choice in prompts can be useful when starting with writers that don’t know what to write about. By that I mean, showing them some prompts to trigger a few thoughts.  Yes, students will need to learn to write to a prompt for standardized testing, and we can transfer those writing skills to prompts as review for testing season.  After all, are we teaching test-takers, or are we teaching writers?

Instruction: Beyond the What

Instruction is a vital piece to engagement.  It is an important piece for students to find value and meaning in what they are doing. When I’m talking about instruction, I’m thinking of all the instructional components of workshop (mini-lesson, conferring, small group, etc.). As a teacher, my first instinct is to teach what the students need to do.  That’s the content. Too often, we forget to teach the how, why and when. As a learner growing up, I was taught what to do as a reader and writer, but not how to do it, why to do it, and when to do it.  That caused me to be a passively engaged.  I tried, but really had no clue what I was doing because I was not taught the how, why, when.

Let’s take a look at a teaching point about monitoring for meaning while decoding that is written both ways.  The first is just the what, the second includes the why, how, and when.


Example 1:
Today I’m going to teach you that readers slow down when reading to check if what they’re reading makes sense.

Example 2:
Today I’m going to teach you that readers slow down when reading to check if what they’re reading makes sense. Readers do this to make sure they are understanding what is really going on in their books. Readers always ask themselves, “Is what I’m reading making sense?” If the answer is “No!” they go back and fix it up.


Which teaching point will be more meaningful and valuable to a student? Making sure our teaching points include the what, why, how and when can make a world of difference to our students.

Conferring for Feedback and Accountability

Feedback while conferring is good. Specific feedback is even better.  The specific feedback shows students that you value what they are approximating and their attempts to be better readers and writers. I use feedback primarily when giving a compliment to a student. I name what they are specifically doing correctly and encourage them to keep doing that work.  What a great way to open a conversation! For example, I might say, “When I read your piece, I noticed that you had a lead, focused on one small idea and had an ending to your story. That is important work to do when writing a narrative. Keep doing those!” That type of feedback tells the student exactly what they did correctly, because our students often don’t know what they did right.  By naming and complimenting what they did well, students grow with confidence and independence in the work they are doing. The fact that you noticed and valued it, helps create meaning and value for them.

One type of accountability that I use with students is the research part of my conference. When checking in with a student I may ask what they are working on as a reader/writer, how the last strategy we worked on was working, or take me on a tour of their work.  All of these help keep our kids accountable to the work they need to be doing. It shows that you are interested in what they are doing and gives the clear expectation that they need to be working on making themselves better. Regularly meeting with and checking in with students while conferring is an amazing accountability tool, and will work more successfully when you have quality conferring notes to help you remember what every student is working on.

I will totally admit that all students may not completely value and find meaning in their literacy work to be at the top level of engagement as described by Schlechty. The important thing to remember is that these levels are a progression of engagement. Students will most likely not move from the rebellion stage up to authentic engagement stage with one strategy. They will need many. We need to think of ways to move students up one level at a time to allow them to grow as an engaged reader and writer.

Please help us all grow by leaving engagement strategies with which you have been successful in the comment section below.

Make it a reading and writing –tastic week!


Twitter: @ICchiller