It doesn’t matter what type of reading instruction, materials, or system you have in place in your school or classroom. It doesn’t matter if your state has adopted or rejected the Common Core Standards. It doesn’t matter if your school is high-poverty or high-income. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been teaching for 30 years or 3 months. If you are a teacher of reading, then you need to be asking yourself these three essential questions and adjusting instruction accordingly.
1. Are my kids getting lots of independent READING MINUTES every single day?
Reading volume matters. You get better at something by spending time doing it. As Richard Allington says it, “Kids need to read a lot.” Yes, of course we need to help students build reading habits outside of the school day. At-home reading is essential. But to help kids build the passion, stamina, and skills to become “anywhere readers” we also need to dedicate a generous number of minutes for independent reading during class every single day of the school year. When kids read during class we area able to support and encourage them. We are able to coach them on the skills and strategies that real readers use to sustain rich reading lives.
Don’t feel like you have the time for independent reading in class? You do. It’s there. You just have to reclaim it. As teachers we are masters at making time for what matters to us. Let go of the worksheets and workbooks. Rethink packets and cut-and-paste. Reconsider what matters. Currently we have way too much other stuff going on in the name of reading instruction (read Mike Schmoker’s landmark article, The Crayola Curriculum), when the most important way to build reading skills is through real and sustained reading of authentic texts.
2. Are my kids making most of the CHOICES about what they read?
Choice is the key to engagement. When kids have choice, success and engagement levels go up. Plain and simple. When we choose most or all of what kids read, we lose some of them to boredom and others to failure. We teach them to be dependent on us, waiting for us to hand the next text to read and to tell them how much and when. Most importantly, we miss out on one of the simplest yet most powerful ways to empower students to become self-directed learners.
Sure, when you let kids choose what to read, they’ll make some less than great choices. But we can’t view that as a reason not to let them choose. Instead, we can view it as formative assessment data about the sort of reading instruction our kids need. Teaching students strategies for finding great texts independently is reading instruction. Having plans for what to what to read next and how to keep finding a continuous string of great reads is a hallmark of true lifelong readers.
3. Are my kids making meaningful CONNECTIONS with what they read?
Ultimately reading is about connection. Readers need to be deeply connected with the texts they have selected at the time they are reading them, for sure. But beyond the actual reading itself, we also want to provide opportunities for students to connect more deeply with texts through reflection, conversation and writing.
- The connection between a reader and the text. (What does this text mean to me? Why do I care about it? How might it change me?)
- The connection between and amongst texts. (How does this text connect to other texts I’ve read? How does it connect to texts that others have read? How could this text shape me as a writer?)
- The connection between and amongst readers. (Who do I want to tell about this text? Why? What do I have to say to others as a result of this text? Will I recommend it to others? How can I share my thoughts about this text? )
- The connection between the reader and the world. (What is the big idea of this text? How does this text connect with life in the world? What might this text teach about the world? How does this text expand my understanding of the world?)
Connection in the reading classroom can be supported by a wide range of tools and routines including book talks, partner and small group conversations, reading logs, response journals, and classroom blogs to name a few.
Volume, choice, and connection . . . Three foundations worth fighting for in every reading classroom – no matter what else might try to get in the way.
Simple Starts: Making the Move to a Reader-Centered Classroom will help you to nurture and sustain a practice of high-volume daily independent reading in your K-5 reading classroom. It is packed with manageable, common sense steps to engage and empower your students on the road to becoming self-directed, passionate life long readers.