As the TEST looms nearer and teachers’ stress levels rise, it seems that the time spent on independent reading in the classroom gets smaller and smaller. Traditional test prep practices become front and center. Testing genre takes over big chunks of time out of already packed schedules. Time spent in independent reading seems to be the first thing to go. Although I do believe that students need to be exposed to testing genre, this should not take precedence over independent reading. Should it? I was searching for some professional guidance, a convincing argument, and renewed faith in order to take a stance for the importance that independent reading plays in our classrooms all year long. . . regardless of how close we get to the TEST. I hit the jackpot! Reading No More Independent Reading Without Support, co-authored by Debbie Miller and Barbara Moss, was exactly what I needed to reinforce my beliefs and convictions.
Barbara Moss sites study after study that prove independent reading in schools can improve students’ oral reading accuracy, increase reading rate, improve reading expression, create gains that are better than national averages in reading rates, and produce a 43% average increase in reading comprehension over the school year. However, these same studies also provided evidence that independent reading is only successful in facilitating student growth when it is supported by a collection of effective practices by the classroom teacher.
Teacher behaviors make all the difference! In order to grow as independent readers, students need teachers that consistently provide the following: classroom time to read, student choice in reading materials, explicit instruction in reading strategies and comprehension, access to a large variety and number of leveled texts, monitoring and support during independent reading, and time to talk about what they have read.
Independent reading can only succeed if the teacher is an active participant. Moss went on to quote a significant study that stated, “It is the specific actions that teachers take to support students during independent reading periods that produce significant growth in students’ comprehension.” This study of highly effective elementary teachers found that they all engaged in a consistent pattern of practices to support independent reading in their classrooms. Some of their common practices are:
- Allowing self-selection of books based on interest and appropriate levels of difficulty
- Modeling and demonstrating for their students independent reading behaviors
- Posting anchor charts listing appropriate independent reading behaviors
- Providing reading experiences appropriate to student ages such as reading orally, whisper reading, buddy reading, or silent reading
- Providing direct instruction in reading strategies during large group, small group, and individual student conferences
- Requiring student accountability through reading logs, written responses, small group book discussions, and individual student conferences
- Monitoring of student progress was ongoing.
Highly effective teachers don’t sit on the sidelines!
Debbie Miller provided some excellent guiding principles for planning this important instruction in order to make the most of the independent reading block. She suggested that teachers should always think about their purpose and ask themselves two questions: What are students working toward? What are our learning goals? She stressed that teachers need to strive for authenticity in their instructional decisions and ask themselves: Does the work that I’m asking my students to do happen in the world, outside the classroom? She stressed the importance of choice and pointed out that students need to have opportunities to choose what to read, where to read, and with whom. Finally, she emphasizes the points that I have already mentioned about explicit instruction. Teachers should ask themselves: How will I show, model, or demonstrate just what I want children to practice and learn how to do? She gives practical ideas for applying all of these guiding principles in the book.
Debbie Miller also provides ten tactics for keeping things “hopping” during independent reading. These ten tactics are:
- Get books in their hands.-Classroom libraries are essential to providing just-right books for students.
- Organize your books for easy access.-Organize texts in bins by level, author, genre, and topic.
- Start with small chunks of classroom independent reading time. -The best way to build stamina is through engagement.
- Monitor independent reading.-Monitor actions and behaviors with conferring. Take time to observe who’s engaged.
- Differentiate instruction and create accountability through conferring.
- Use a catch to refocus the group.-“Catch” everyone back together and talk about it if stamina is fading or to briefly address what the students might need to do or think about in order to move forward.
- Invite student to reflect on and share their learning.- Make it clear to the students what to do when they finish a book and how they will track their reading.
- Use partner reading and book clubs to get students talking and reading independently.
- Assess students’ progress as independent readers.- Teachers and students have a shared ownership for growth over time.
- Support independence through assessment choices.-Give students opportunities to decide how they’ll go about sharing their understanding.
This book rekindled my enthusiasm for independent reading and gave me the pep talk that I needed!
I hope that all of you will “embrace the power” of independent reading this week and for the rest of the school year! Have a fantastic week of Readers’ and Writers’ Workshop!