Build a Community of Readers? Yes, Please!

My grade 7  PLC has joyfully embarked upon a reading journey with our students (see previous Book Love entry). What do I mean by that? Well, we are systematically putting the reading back into our English curriculum. This may sound like a no duh! kind of situation to some people, but not to us. Time for independent reading has been mostly squeezed out of the school day.

About seven years ago, maybe more, most schools in our district stopped having Sustained Silent Reading (SSR). I think this happened for two reasons:

1) Teachers were not really enforcing the independent reading time. Some classes did it and some did not. Some teachers enforced the rule that every student read and some did not. Some teachers modeled the habit by reading themselves and some did not. I could go on.

2) We experienced the combined fallout from No Child Left Behind and the National Reading Panel Report (2000). The NRP Report, authorized by Congress in 1997, basically  states there is no evidence to support a relationship between independent reading and reading improvement. However, in the same section—Chapter 3: Fluency—the authors admit the research done on the topic was extremely limited in scope. Here’s what it says: “The panel was able to locate relatively few studies on this topic, and these tended to address a narrow range of procedures. The studies examined the impact of encouraging independent reading on overall reading, rather than on reading fluency, per se.” They conclude by expressing a need for more rigorous studies on the impact of independent reading.

We know students who read widely and—dare I say it—read for pleasure outperform their non-reading peers. Still, schools seized upon the National Reading Panel Report as an excuse to give up silent reading time. The National Reading Panel says it doesn’t work, so we might as well skip it. However, this makes no sense. Students need time to read and we know that if we don’t provide the time at school, many kids will simply not read at all. The book that really drove this point home to me is Readicide by Kelly Gallagher.  I read the whole thing in one sitting. It’s that good.

Here’s the bottom line: I am not proposing that students spend the entire school day, or even the entire English class period reading. It isn’t independent reading and nothing else.  Instead, my PLC is embracing a systematic independent reading program that works in concert with direct instruction on reading strategies to improve their overall comprehension and fluency.

Our classroom readers are reading for fun, AND for improvement. Here’s how we are building a community of readers:

    • Access to books: No matter what, we visit the school library every two to three weeks. We train our students in the routine of browsing and then sitting down to read. We also train them to return during library hours when they finish books in the interim between visits. Finally, the procedure in all of our classes is to read whenever you have a few spare moments, even if the rest of the class is loud or you are the only one reading.
    • Time: The majority of the homework for English 7 is reading. Students are required, cajoled, and encouraged to read 30 minutes, seven days a week. They have a very simple form to fill out after reading (from Donalyn Miller’s Reading in the Wild). It’s important to note that we want students to spend time reading, not doing what educator and book whisperer Donalyn Miller calls “reading -related activities.”
    • Accountability: We teachers are committed to enforcing the policy that every student have a book during reading time. After we spend the first two weeks reading alongside the students, we start book conferences with individuals. My first session of book conferences is tomorrow, and I’m hoping I can talk to two to three students a day. The questions, taken from Penny Kittle’s Book Love, will range from questions to help monitor reading, questions to help readers strategize, and questions to challenge.
    • Collaboration: Students will give “30-Second Book Talks” several times a quarter. Low-stress and informal, individual student readers tell the class about what they are reading and whether or not they recommend it. After listening to each other, students keep track of books that they might like to read next on their “My Next Reads” list.
    • Setting Goals: There are two ways we help students set reading goals. First, they assess their own silent reading rate by completing a short form requiring them to read for ten minutes and counting the number of words. From this, they guess how much they can read over two hours and how long it should take them to finish a book. Next, they keep track of their own progress through quarterly reflections where they rank their finished books from easiest to most difficult, re-assess their overall reading rate, and set goals for the future. Goal-setting questions include the following: Are you reading as much as you can (at least 30 minutes daily)? Are you finding books you enjoy? How many books will you read next quarter? How will you challenge yourself as a reader?

Our Class Materials: I’m posting the handouts I give to students here. They paste these in their reading / writing notebooks. However, a handout is only as good as the teacher. The most important thing is to drum up passion and enthusiasm for the habit of reading. To be part of that community of readers yourself.

Heavily in debt to Book Love by Penny KittleReading in the Wild by Donalyn Miller, and The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller.

Click here for a link to the Google Doc: Book Love Reading Requirements

Official Assignment Page for Students

Official Assignment Page for Students

 

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