A Reading State of Mind

You can form and support learners' literacy skills through independent reading.

By Dawn Dodson

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independent reading

Independent reading is an integral component of effective literacy programs because it helps students to continually build and practice their literacy skills. However, it can be difficult to motivate those pupils who need the practice the most, to read independently. In an effort to increase independent reading practice, a colleague and I began a classroom routine that helped to support those students who otherwise don’t, and won’t, read outside of class. We set aside fifteen minutes per day for independent reading. During this time period, pupils are accountable and high expectations are set. Here is a description of the basic structure of independent reading time in my sixth grade classroom.

A Literal Good Start to the School Day

Upon entering the room, learners have a few simple assignments to do while I take attendance and finish the morning tasks. We call this bell work. Once bell work is done, everyone is expected to begin independent reading. Twice a week, each person writes a journal entry about his reading. This simple strategy means that each pupil is getting at least an hour of independent reading per week. In order to be certain that this time is being used properly and wisely, structure it. Structuring this time is the key to its effectiveness. At the beginning of the year, acquaint your class with why reading time is important and teach them how to choose books that are appropriate for independent reading. Set the expectation that everyone will read for the entire fifteen minutes of independent reading time. This means no passes to leave class, and no dawdling when it’s time to start. Everyone should understand where their independent reading materials are kept, what they are to do if they finish a book before the end of the session, and how to properly make entries in their journals. If these parameters are set at the beginning of the year, and are upheld throughout the year, your learners will grasp the importance or reading while simultaneously creating a valuable habit. 

Journal Entries Bring Literature to Life

By requiring two journal entries per week, I am keeping my pupils accountable, while integrating aspects of my language arts curriculum. I have my class journal on Tuesdays and Fridays; the actual days don’t matter, but it is crucial to choose two days and consistently stick to them as journaling days. In my class, the Tuesday journal is always connected to the concept or skill we are covering during instructional time. For example, when we study characterization, the Tuesday journal assignment is to analyze major and minor characters in their independent reading book. The Friday journal is a standard weekly summary covering the material they read that week. I grade journals every other week, and assess content only. In order to keep students focused and diligent with their independent reading and journaling, you must collect, read, and offer some type of feedback on the journals at regular time intervals. If you don’t look at what they are writing, they will cease to take the task seriously. 

Grading Rubrics Literally Keep Learners Focused

The rubric I use is structured to cover the entire grading period. It is broken up into nine boxes, and has a space for each day of the week. Learners receive four points per day for successful independent reading. The rubric takes into account the time spent on task, whether the reading material is appropriate for that specific person, and whether respect was shown to the other readers in the class. This rubric is available in Lucy Calkins’ book The Art of Teaching Reading (pg. 78).

I keep each student’s rubric in a file beside my desk and jot down assessments throughout the week. Again, this is an easy way to convey the importance of reading to your class. The first week, and every once in a while after that, I walk around the room during independent reading time to remind a few students of my expectations.

However you choose to do it, make independent reading a mainstay in your classroom. It will help your kids build literacy skills, enhance your current curriculum and create a habit that they might maintain for the rest of their lives!

Here are some more ways to promote reading:  

Reading Homework Bookmarks

Here is a clever, but fun way for your pupils to keep track of their independent reading; write it on a bookmark! This plan calls for using bookmarks for at-home reading, but it could be adapted to in-class independent reading. To make recording more motivating, have your kids decorate or design their own bookmarks.  

We Love to Read! 

A list of nine activities that learners can complete once they have finished an independent reading book. From advertisements, to story stew, to video interviews, there are a bunch of great ideas here for sharing the content of favorite books with the rest of the class.

Super Summarizers

Elementary readers gain skills in summarizing and understanding information gained while reading. The class creates a map of one chapter together as a model. Once this is accomplished, kids create maps on their own while silently reading their books.

Guided Reading

Start off your school year with a presentation about guided reading. It offers great ideas and tips for both pupils and teachers. The presentation might also be worthwhile as a mid-year brush-up.