Before I start, I would like to begin with a disclaimer! From what I have read about Independent Reading, researchers are hesitant to give a complete endorsement of independent reading routines in the classroom. However, research has consistently shown that time spent reading lines right up with reading achievement (Reutzel, Jones, Newman: 2010). It's something that some teachers include in their planning, and some don't. I've always tried to schedule it in, but this year, I've been trying to think of ways to get the most out of it.
Research or no research, there is nothing more satisfying than seeing my class sprawled out over various parts of the classroom, with their nose in a some sort of reading material. I’m not going to lie, on more hectic days, 20 minutes of quiet, hushed atmosphere is balm for the nerves. I honestly think the students appreciate the peacefulness as well!
Independent Reading is where students read alone. In Year 4, most students have reached a point in their reading development where they can choose books on their own interests. That in mind, Independent Reading is different from, and provided in addition to, instructional reading. All students at every age need experience with independent reading at some point to improve their reading fluency. (Cooper, Kiger: 199) I’ve heard some teachers call it Drop Everything And Read (D.E.A.R) or Sustained Silent Reading (S.S.R.)
Students should be allowed to read anything that interests them, that includes magazines, comics, graphic novels and newspapers. I have given them tips and ideas to help them decide if a text is appropriate for them independently. Right now, I am using the “5 Finger Rule” that I have included here. I honestly can't remember where I got this from! If anyone recognizes it, please put the source in the comments:
Nonfiction books are a bit more flexible with this rule since there is a lot of content vocabulary in them. The decision we came to as a class is: Read a page and use the vocabulary cues (glossary, pictures, captions) provided by the book. Then read the page again following the 5-finger Rule.
Some students had a hard time choosing books they wanted to read. That is where conferencing came in. Most of the time, the problem was that they didn't quite believe me when I said "anything" was okay. Soon enough, the more reluctant readers where bringing in comics and magazines.
Getting these reluctant readers to branch out into chapter books was easier than I thought! The last 5 minutes of Independent Reading was designated for sharing. Students would show a friend what they were reading, usually pointing out their favourite parts or showing whatever interested them about the book. I noticed that the bookworms are naturally good at selling books to the more reluctant readers and soon, I noticed changes in what was in their hands.
I learned a lot about how engaged the students were (or not!) in their reading by eavesdropping on these short sharing sessions. Most of the time, I can get in a couple quick interviews with the students about what they are reading as well. After this, I gather the class together and ask if anyone would like to summarize and evaluate a book for the class. Students use the bookmarks that I mentioned in Eight Reading Comprehension Skills. I give about 10 minutes for this and it is rarely enough time to accommodate everyone who wants to present! If students present, they get a reading star to go on this chart:
If students prefer not to present in front of the class, they are welcome to write or create a podcast of their summary and evaluation. The class is also welcome to ask questions about the book. If they get a star, they also get a merit...which is our school-wide reward system. If they do more than the evaluation and comprehension bookmark, they get two merits! Basically, it is bribery to read but the students are enthusiastic and eager to share and recommend books...how can I argue with that?
The next question is "What next?"
Above is the format Book Club, where students are put into reading groups to discuss text. It is like Literature Circles but I use the Eight Reading Comprehension Skills as the structure for the discussion. Students were assigned a skill and were meant to come the Book Club with their assigned reading finished and ready to speak about their reading through the lens of the given reading skill. In the past, the text and groups have been decided by me based on ability. I plan to give it a try with student selected texts and groups. Currently, I have told the class that they have a week to decide a group and a book that everyone agrees on. Groups can be between 2 and 4 people. I have also suggested books that have multiple copies available in the class and school library. I am looking forward to see what they bring me this coming week. We will still be using the Eight Reading Comprehension Skills as a structure for discussion but I am going to ask them to assign themselves their weekly skill, and decide how much of the book will be expected to be read before the next meeting. I am a bit nervous about leaving so much of this in their hands, even with my guidance. If anyone out there has tried something like this before, do email me your suggestions and experiences at firstname.lastname@example.org or post them here in the comments! I will probably update this post soon as this experiment progresses!
Thanks for reading! Below are the sources I sited.
Leigh Ann Fitch
Thank you for visiting! I am a Canadian who teaches and lives in Oman. My goal for this blog is to improve my teaching by learning from fellow colleagues all over the world and sharing my reflections!