I recently had the pleasure of reading No More Independent Reading Without Support, from the Not this, But That series, written by Debbie Miller and Barbara Moss. One thing that really stood out to me about this book is the powerful punch it packs in just 87 pages. The focus of this post is on providing a basic understanding of what independent reading is, why it’s important, and the importance of going beyond simply providing students time to read.
What is Independent Reading?
Moss provides us with a simple definition of independent reading in order to ensure that readers have the same understanding of what independent reading entails. Independent reading is defined as “time students spend reading self-selected texts” (p.11).
Know the “why?”
Unfortunately, some educators are questioned about including independent reading as part of their daily schedule. Some schools chose test prep activities over independent reading despite the research that supports the benefits of independent reading. It is important to know the numerous benefits of independent reading and the research available so that we can direct those in doubt to the right resources.
Independent reading is beneficial to students because they can:
- Learn about themselves
- Become empathetic toward others
- Feel empowered
- Become better readers
- Improve fluency
- Increase background knowledge
- Increase vocabulary
- Increase overall reading achievement!
Make Time to Read
With these benefits that can truly make the world a better place, how can we not try to find time in our schedules for this important practice? Miller writes about a school’s realization that they were doing a lot of stuff ‘about’ reading but they were not providing students with the time to actually read.
To find the time for independent reading we need to look at what we are doing throughout our day. We should take an honest look to see if everything we are doing is purposeful. We can ask ourselves the following questions:
- How will my students benefit from this learning?
- How does this learning apply to the real world?
Here are some common classroom activities/occurrences that may be stealing time that your student could be reading:
- Calendar activities (in which the same EXACT activities are done k-2)
- School-wide morning announcements
- Lining up
- Reading block (that includes worksheets, packets, math, handwriting practice, coloring, test-prep, spelling practice, word searches & crossword puzzles, cutting and pasting activities, reading computer programs with no real reading)
- Classroom management & unclear procedures
- Whole class bathroom breaks
Know Your Students
Sometimes we think we know our students as readers because we know their reading level or what letters or words they know. Truly knowing our readers goes far beyond this. The following questions are helpful in learning more about our readers:
- What type of books does he/she like?
- Which books is he/she so passionate about that they will want to read all day?
- Is he/she reading books from various genres or has he/she been having a steady diet of their favorite?
- What does he/she think about the books he/she reads?
- Does he/she know how to choose books to read? (not by how many pages or words are in the book or by saying “eeny, meeny, miney, mo”)
More Than Just Independent Reading
Independent reading alone does not bring about these benefits. There needs to be a short, explicit, focused time of learning (minilesson), time for applying and practicing the learning (independent reading), individualized teaching and feedback (conferring), lots and lots of discussions connected to the focus of the lesson (reflecting/sharing).
Some may be surprised to consider that independent reading without support can potentially be harmful to our thriving students. Without guidance during silent reading, some of our students, who are often picking books that are to difficult, could be “suffering in silence” feeling that they are not readers and gain negative perceptions about reading in general (p. 8).
It is important that we are conferring with students during independent reading time. This is not the time to catch up on e-mails or paperwork or read our own books. Our students need us to act with more urgency and intentionality by taking advantage of teaching opportunities during independent reading time. In Moss’s words, “Present teachers are active teachers – they’re tuned into children and responsive to their needs as learners” (p. 38).
Take Time to Notice
The book recommends that we take the time to stand still and look around us to observe all that is going on during independent reading (p. 58). If we notice some things aren’t going accordingly it doesn’t help to jump to reprimanding or consequences. We want to wait a little more and see if the problem resolves itself. If it doesn’t, our next step is to find out why the problem is happening. We can meet with the student or small group to let them know what we are noticing and find out from them why it is happening. Finding out the why will allow us to take positive action in which our students can learn from. Acting in this way also helps to strengthen our relationship with our students as they see us as somebody who is truly there to help support their learning.
Many of our students are not readers outside of school for many reasons. If we don’t provide time for reading in school how will we possibly hook our students on reading enough to get them to want to read outside of school?
If our ultimate goal is to foster and create independent readers who choose to read as students and adults we need to ask ourselves if we are providing our student with enough time in school to practice independent reading and enough support and guidance to learn how to read, think about, and discuss books.
Miller, D. and Moss, B. No More Independent Reading Without Support. Portsmouth: Heinemann. 2013.