Independent Reading: The Necessities

If you read my last post you know that I just finished reading No More Independent Reading Without Support, written by Debbie Miller and Barbara Moss. I highly recommend this book to anybody that wants to understand more about why independent reading is important, why we can not simply have independent reading without explicit teaching, why conferring with feedback is where the most significant teaching occurs, what reading workshop framework best supports independent reading time, and what research is available that supports our decision to have our students involved in independent reading EVERY day.

The book also highlights what needs to be in place for independent reading in order for it to be a productive and effective time for our students.  These necessities will be the focus of this blog post.

Time to read

Unfortunately, many students will not magically become readers outside of school if we do not set the groundwork for their literate lives in school.  It makes sense that students with less access to books are less likely to read outside of school.  Making the time to read regularly in school can help level the playing field for students.

We should look closely at where we spend our minutes during the day. We have to be brutal and honest with ourselves. Are we spending time on purposeful learning that relates to the real world and will be useful to our students in ten years and into adulthood or are we relying on busy work? We will quickly see the benefits of opting for more time spent on actual reading time and less time spent on isolated skill practice such as vocab practice, spelling practice, word work, letter identification, etc.

More books read

Students need to read a large number of books and a variety of texts.  We need to rethink practices that decrease the number of books that our students could be reading.  We might want to reconsider the amount of time we spend on test prep activities or the practice of consistently having one novel for the whole class leading to about 4-6 novels read per school year.

When we are working to increase the number of texts read it doesn’t help to have reading competitions. Having our students compete to read the most books or the most pages encourages surface level reading in which students are not doing the deep thinking that we always want them to be doing.

It is essential that we increase the number of informational books our students are reading.  These books help our student to build academic vocabulary and background knowledge which leads to stronger comprehension.  Although there is more of an awareness about the importance of having a 50/50 diet of fiction/nonfiction, nonfiction books are still not in the hands of our students as often as they need to be.

Choice of texts

Allowing students to choose the books they want to read provides motivation. Teaching students through mini-lessons and conferences how to choose books provides them with a lifelong skill. Research has shown correlations between allowing students to choose their own books and improved comprehension, an increased amount of reading, and students choosing to read on their own time.

Explicit instruction

It is our responsibility to teach our students what, why, and how readers read.  For example, students need to know what is available for them to read. They need to know why you might choose to read a particular book. They need to know that readers approach books from different genres in different ways.

Students make the most growth when they have a teacher who can “help students identify appropriate, interesting materials, incorporating a range of genres and difficulty levels” (page 19). When we provide independent reading time without explicit instruction our striving readers do not make progress and may even develop poor perceptions about themselves as readers and start to resist reading time. These readers need extra guidance in choosing books that are not too hard. A steady diet of books that are too difficult will have negative effects in the long run.

It is important to teach genre-specific strategies because the way you approach books of various genres is different. Knowing how to take on historical fiction, poetry, biographies greatly strengthens students’ abilities to think deeper and improves overall comprehension.

Teacher support/assessment

Conferences help with accountability, assessing, and provide scaffolding for our students through modeling, demonstrating, providing feedback, goal setting, and discussion. One-to-one conferencing is a means of providing the highest level of differentiation which is essential to the progress of our striving students.

Conferences look different over time. During early conferences, we are doing a lot of listening to learn about our students as readers. This process allows us to get to know our students and build a trusting relationship. Over time our conferences become more about listening to our students talk about their reading and thinking in connection with the day’s learning target for the mini-lesson.

Opportunities to Reflect and Discuss

Responding to independent reading provides students with the opportunity to reflect on what they have read, the mini-lesson focus and how it relates to their reading, and their reading goals. Our read aloud time is a powerful time to use in the modeling of how reflecting might look and how to respond to each other.

In Summary

One thing to keep in mind is that our striving students will need more of all of these necessities.  They need more time to read, more books in their hands, more frequent conferencing, more support with how to choose books and more time to discuss books.  If you are missing any of these important pieces of independent reading this is a great time to make a goal for yourself and jump right in.



Miller, D. and Moss, B. No More Independent Reading Without Support. Portsmouth: Heinemann. 2013.

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