My reply . . . Don’t despair! You’re kids can become engaged independent readers for long stretches of time every day.
Sometimes, lack of engagement is about what Boushey and Mosher, authors of The Daily 5 (2014), refer to as building stamina. But more often, it’s about book choice. Plain and simple. When kids have good-fit books – books they CAN read on topics they WANT to read about – reading becomes a JOYFUL time that students look forward to and don’t want to miss.
If you have readers in your classroom who have a hard time staying engaged during independent reading, start by asking yourself three questions:
1) Routines and Expectations – Have I clearly identified, modeled, practiced, and reinforced the precise behaviors and routines that I expect during independent reading?
- If not, start here. Students need explicit teaching about what we expect during independent reading. Show them how it should look, feel, and sound. Help them practice routines with clear and consistent feedback.
- Hint: For the super wiggly kiddos, you may need to create a plan for ways they can take purposeful “brain breaks” during independent reading to reset their mind and get their movement needs met. Work with these students one-on-one to teach appropriate options.
- If you’ve answered yes to the first question, step back to watch and reflect on what modifications may need to be made or what routines and expectations may need additional teaching or practice.
2) Stamina Developed Gradually – Have I helped my students to gradually build their “reading muscle” by adding daily minutes gradually over time?
- Don’t expect too much too soon. Go slowly and build reading muscle over time.
- Teach wiggly and distractible students strategies for taking a break periodically, by drawing or writing about what they’re reading or taking a purposeful movement break that has been prearranged with the teacher.
- Consider providing a break at the mid-point of independent reading to connect with a buddy for purposeful conversation about books and reading..
3) Books They CAN and WANT to Read – Have I helped my students develop many different strategies for finding truly good-fit books?
Once routines and expectations are established and you’ve patiently helped to build some stamina it’s time to look at the most common cause of disengagement in the reading classroom – BOOK CHOICE. In the end, no matter how well you have taught your routines and no matter how carefully you have followed rituals for charting and graphing reading stamina minutes, if kids aren’t matched with books they care about and can read, they will either disengage or end up simply fake reading until the time is up.
To insure that every child is excited to settle in and get to reading, you have to be sure that every child has a book(s) that they can’t wait to pick up and don’t want to put down. To accomplish this, you’ll need to teach a variety of strategies for finding good fit books. This is not done in one or two quick lessons. It requires patient teaching over time. In the end, learning to select books that matter is the skill that will determine if a reader becomes a truly independent reader outside of the classroom walls or not. You’ll want to teach your students to:
- understand how the classroom library is organized
- utilize simple strategies for checking readability
- preview books efficiently and strategically using front and back covers, inside flaps, excerpts and text features
- consider reading additional titles from a favorite author or series
- leverage personal interests and preferences to find great reads
- read widely on a favorite topic
- identify which genres are most likely to delight them
- get and give peer book recommendations
- keep a running list of books they might like to read in the future
When kids know what is expected, have been helped to develop persistence and stamina as a reader, and know strategies for choosing great books independent reading becomes a time of high engagement and joy for all students.