D.E.A.R…. drop everything and read
S.S.R…. silent sustained reading
D.I.R.T…. daily independent reading time
Despite the many names, I’m talking about something very simple: independent reading in the classroom. Alas, I’ve had a recent epiphany, or perhaps maybe more of a reminder (somewhere along the way I lost sight of best practice here), that independent reading might seem simple on the surface, however, it is an important and multifaceted use of classroom time.
This week I had the opportunity to meet with my grade-level team and administration to discuss how the roll out of our new reading curriculum is going. We discussed power standards, rigorous activities, differentiation, and… independent reading.
Up until now, I’ve made time for independent reading; about 75-90 minutes per week. My students would use this time to “read” (see what I did there?) their self-selected independent reading books. I realized today, that I gave my students the time and space to devote to independent reading, but we were lacking one crucial element: purpose.
After talking with my team, I walked away with three adjustments I’d like to make to the independent reading time in my classroom schedule.
- Model Expectations/Establish Environment: As teachers, we know all about modeling examples and non-examples. In fact, I think at times I take the importance of this strategy for granted. During independent reading time, I want my students to be engaged in their reading (see more on that below) and contributing to a safe and respectful learning environment. I stumbled upon a book focused completely on teaching routines and expectations; including examples, non-examples, and “almost, but not quite,” examples of basically any and every school routine, including independent reading/work. Today, we took five minutes out of our day to review what silent reading looks and sounds like. On top of modeling, we discussed why it’s important to create an environment conducive for focused reading and deep thinking. It may sound simple, but a review of expectations when needed can do wonders for productivity; it certainly did today.
- Accountability and Engagement: Not every sixth grader is passionate about reading. Many 12 year olds have yet to find their favorite genre, author, or book that they could read over and over again. I know this, because I was that 12 year old. Reading just wasn’t my thing, until I found the book that opened my eyes, my mind, and my heart. I think it’s necessary to acknowledge this, and do everything we can to help kids gain interest in reading and writing about books. Today I shared a student blogging website with my students and explained that we will be using this medium to communicate with each other about our personal reading. They were enticed by the idea of utilizing technology and publishing for an audience greater than just me. On top of that, having my students routinely journal about their reading helps keep them accountable for their reading assignments, provides me with an opportunity to get to know them as a reader, and gives me archived material to use when conferring with my students.
- Intentionally Align to Core Skills: Thankfully, this year I have noticed this happening organically since we’ve focusing on “things close readers do,” through our reading curriculum. Despite that, there is plenty of room to tie in the skills and strategies being taught during our core reading block. For instance, we recently finished up a few lessons studying a handful of common prefixes. These are huge in vocabulary development and using them to find meaning in unfamiliar words is a skill I want my students to be able to apply independently. Knowing this, I might ask my students to read through the lens of noticing these word parts. In their blog post, they could describe how breaking the words they found during that day’s reading into affixes helped them determine meaning. This is a small example, but any activity that can be related to the application of a specific learning target from your core lesson is fair game for promoting purpose in independent reading.
This is just the tip of the ice berg. I’m looking forward to brainstorming and collaborating to find more and more ways to help my students engage in their independent reading and truly make the process relevant and worthwhile. In the comments below, please share what independent reading looks like in your classroom!