For the past 2 years, my students in 7th grade English have started almost every single class with 10 minutes of independent reading. With 10 minutes of falling into a book. With 10 minutes dedicated to the one thing that research says will make the biggest difference to their reading comprehension. When you teach just 45 minute classes, giving up 10 minutes can be seen as a major sacrifice, and yet, it never is; after all, reading time is one of the biggest gifts I can give all of my students. And offering them up 10 minutes to read the pages of a book they choose is the biggest investment I can make into their future reading lives. I give it gladly.
To an outsider it may seem like the 10 minutes is enough, that all you need for a successful reading experience is just to give kids time. But if you dug a little bit deeper, you would start to see all of the work that leads up to these quick 10 minutes, all of the investment that has happened before all of my students are actually reading. So what do the 10 minutes rest upon?
An enticing classroom library. For the past 6 years, I have been spending a lot of money, yes, my own mostly, to try to build up a library that would entice my students. Just this morning, I realized I needed to go to the book store to find more sports books as I look at the year to come. While our library now is large, it certainly did not start out that way; when I weeded my books, I had less than 150 left, but they were of decent quality and so our foundation started with that. Having an in-class library, coupled with a school library, has made a huge difference to my not so invested readers. The books are right there, at their fingertips, and they can bookshop any time they want. They do not have to wait for library time or even a pass to grab a new book. However, having a school library has also made a huge difference because they see a knowledgeable adult that can help guide them to books we do not have in our classroom library. Another adult has the chance to know them as readers and to help them select their next favorite read. I do not think my students would read as much if they didn’t have immediate access to books that spoke to them.
An exploration of reading identity. We spend a lot of time reflecting on who we are as readers, much to the chagrin of some of my most resistant readers. They are content with declaring themselves as non-readers and would prefer for it to be left at that. However, starting on the second day of school we start to dig into what type of a reader they and also what their goals are. They start to evaluate what has shaped their reading journey so I can figure out how to best support them further, or break down some ingrained habits of non-reading. This is a constant conversation in our classroom; what do you like to read, how do you know, why do you abandon books, what book do you want to read next are all questions that surround us as we discover who we are and who we want to be.
A reading-obsessed adult. I read voraciously, even when it is summer, so that I can pass books to my students. I am connected to other reading crazed adults so that I can find more books for our library. Being a reader myself, and especially of the books we have in our classroom, means that I can speak the same language as my students. By handing books to students and telling them that this may work, we start to develop a deeper relationship than just student/teacher, instead developing one based on the books we love. If you reach reading, you should be a reader yourself, because how can you expect students to invest into something if you don’t invest yourself?
An understanding of self. We learn how to book shop together, to-be-read list in hand, because this is a skill that many of my students have not developed. When they do not know how to find the next great book, they don’t read. It becomes one more thing that they use to not read. So together, we bookshop and tie it in with our reading identity exploration. We make it a social event at least once a month, adding as many titles as we can to our list, but it is also an anytime event. If a child is constantly book shopping it tells me they do not know who they are as readers and so the conversation starts there.
A challenge. Modeled after Donalyn Miller’s 40 Book Challenge, my students have a 25 book challenge (or higher for those where 25 books is not a big deal) and this challenge drives us forward as we plan our reading. All students read with urgency, not at a hurried pace, but with the need to read more than the year prior. We discuss our progress, we revisit goals and we tweak as needed.
A goal. My students are not “just” reading, although frankly “just” reading for some would be a major win. They are always working on something, however, many of them are working on goals directly tied to their reading identity, or the lack of one. So while some kids may be working on skills tied to their reading comprehension, others may simply be working on habits; trying to find a book they actually want to read, trying to re-identify themselves as readers. When I confer with students, I ask about their specific goals and if they do not have one, then we set one together.
A learning purpose. We use Notice and Note from Kylene Beers and Bob Probst to dig deeper into our reading, as a springboard to discuss and write about our reading, and so students are expected to do this work at all times. However, they are not always doing that work, sometimes we read simply to read. What matters is that they CAN do it when needed. We also read to identify writing craft, to learn about the world,, and to explore ourselves as human beings. Having a self-selected text as a way to spur discussion means that all of the students are able to participate in conversations, because they have actually read the book.
For the past 2 years, I have seen many 7th graders rediscover a lost love of reading or even start to work toward a better relationship with books and reading. I have seen 7th graders build upon the foundation of reading love that their previous teachers have laid. Almost every single child I have had the honor of teaching has read more books than they thought possible. When I ask them what made the biggest difference they tell me that the 10 minutes made them into readers. I always smile, because I know that the 10 minutes played a major factor, but they forget all of the other components that come into play when we have a well-developed independent reading experience in our classroom. So start with the time, but do not think that is enough. After all, we are not just teaching reading, but trying to create reading experiences.
I am currently working on two separate literacy books. While the task is daunting and intimidating, it is incredible to once again get to share the phenomenal words of my students as they push me to be a better teacher. The first book titled Reimaging Literacy Through Global Collaboration is scheduled for release November, 2016 by Solution Tree. The second, which I am still writing, is tentatively Passionate Readers and will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge. So until then if you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students. Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.