“How can I make sure my child is getting the most of their independent reading at home?”
A question I receive often from parents. Last year, we were working our way through a new ELA curriculum that had extremely high expectations regarding the amount of independent reading students were required to complete for homework in order to be prepared for the learning activities in the next lesson. My students, some for the first time, were reading high-quality grade-level novels, from cover to cover and the specific close reading strategies they were learning along the way were the keys to their success. I realized then, to maximize at-home reading and support my students access to the difficult mentor texts we were reading, I needed to ensure they were applying these close-reading skills during homework. Knowing this, I started building in the following active reading techniques into my students’ homework.
- Gist Notes: A key skill that my students perfected, is the ability to write a “gist note,” that is, a one or two sentence comment that shares their initial thinking regarding a section of text. This is not a main or central idea. This is not a claim. Gist notes are informal. They’re your first thoughts regarding what is important in the text. As we know, sometimes our first thoughts are inaccurate and our understanding changes and develops as we read more. That’s ok! A gist note is purely a way to monitor and document thinking and they require that extra bit of awareness as a student reads.
- Annotations: Much like gist notes, text annotations are a great way to monitor thinking regarding the text. In fact, a gist note could be considered a form of annotation. In the beginning, I teach my students to view annotations through multiple lenses. Perhaps you’re jotting down gist notes. Perhaps you’re focused in on unknown or unfamiliar vocabulary. Maybe this time you’re tuned into the questions you have as you read. These are all things I like to see my students note as they’re reading. As we progress through the year and my students become more familiar with this way of interacting with a text, I’d like them do this with difficult text (especially when reading independently) keeping all those lenses in mind.
- Text-Dependent Purpose: Finally, set a very specific purpose for reading before releasing students to read on their own. “How does the main character respond to challenges within the chapter?” As students complete the chapter, they have a very specific look for that will help them focus on what is happening in the text, as their thinking and responses should be rooted in what the text says. I ask my students to be prepared with one or two examples along with page numbers so that we can all zoom in and discuss/analyze that example.
You know that feeling when you’ve read a page or two and you realize you have no idea what the text said? In fact, you can’t even recall any specific details from those pages. That happens to us as adults, so imagine how often our developing readers experience it. Perhaps this can be avoided by actively engaging using one of the strategies above. I didn’t invent these strategies. They’ve been around even longer than the recent close reading craze. They are, however, effective and embedded in the work that we do daily in class, and it was clear to me that in order to maximize learning and best support my students, the strategies we worked on in class needed to be applied consistently during independent reading. After all, it was these close-reading strategies that were helping my students experience success with complex text, some for the first time in their academic careers.
What do your reading homework expectations look like? What ideas do you have regarding supporting students of various reading levels as they read a complex text independently?