being a teacher, Literacy, Reading, Reading Identity, students

As We Plan Our Reading Classes

If the children aren't reading in our classrooms, then what are we really teaching? @pernilleripp

We start almost every single day with 10 minutes of reading in our classroom.  With 10 minutes dedicated just to eye on eye on text.  With 10 minutes dedicated to the noble pursuit of falling into a great story.  I wish we could dedicate more time, but teaching 45 minute English blocks, means that 10 minutes is all I have been able to give so far.  To an outsider it may look like not much teaching happens, like there must be more important things to do than just the solitary pursuit of story.  In fact, when I first started embracing independent reading time, I remember making excuses to my principal as to why I wasn’t teaching more at the time.  I am sure he didn’t need the excuses, but I thought he did.  And that’s it, isn’t it.  We mistakenly think that when students are sitting in silence, hopefully immersed in a book, that we are not doing our job as teachers.  That we are somehow not fulfilling  our responsibility or promises.

So we cram as much other stuff into our English classes and leave independent reading time for those days where we have the time.  We plan our lessons down to the last-minute and plan for reading last so that it becomes a reward at the end if we get through everything else.  We plan for it once a week or every couple of days hoping that that is enough and then we sacrifice the time set aside the minute we must cover something else.  Our independent reading time is hardly ever sacred because it doesn’t look like real teaching.  I get it too.  I already feel the panic of the upcoming year and all of the things we should experience.  I already get nervous when I look at how few days we really have together and just how much we have to do.  Yet in the past many years as a teacher of reading and English, the time to read has been the one thing that has made the biggest difference. Even if it meant some days not getting to everything I had hoped.  So we can hope that our students will read outside of our classrooms, perhaps they all will, or we can make sure that we give them the one thing that is the most important in our instructional time; time to read.  Time to find a book.  Time to develop a reading life.  We can assign reading, we can punish those who don’t, or we can simply build our classes around the need for reading, even if we teach in incredibly small blocks of time.

Yet when we speak of developing readers.  When we teach reading.  When we teach English; silent sustained reading time with support should be the very first thing we plan for.  The very last thing we sacrifice.  Our independent reading time should be the one thing that does not get cut.  The one thing that we must fit everything else around.  This is not just a fancy notion, it is research based, just see this post that the incredible Donalyn Miller took the time to put together. There is so much research out there supporting the notion of every child needing time to read in school that entire books have been written to defend it.  (Here’s just one of them!).  And if you are an administrator reading this, you are instrumental in making this happen.

Independent reading time should be a right for all children in English, not just for those who got through whatever they needed to get through.  It should be  a guarantee for all of the children that enter our doors, much like those who enter a science classroom know that they will, indeed, do science.  So why is reading any different?

I know it is not easy to find the time.  I know it is so hard to give up even just one  minute.  So when we cannot change the system and give ourselves more time, how can we fit reading in?

I am currently working on a new literacy book, 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 book, 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.



11 thoughts on “As We Plan Our Reading Classes”

  1. Reading time in school is so important, Pernille. Keeping that time sacred is even more important. Invite your principal in to take part in the reading time, too. It can be pretty powerful when the students see the principal reading right along with them.

  2. Pernille,
    Every post you write, your books, your comments, your words…inspire me in a way that makes me marvel. Your work is truly one of the gifts of technology–of the Internet–and of being able to connect. And I have so many questions. How wonderful it would be to have you as my mentor, to chat over a cup of tea. I will settle for this reply box: I am curious as to whether or not you see reading as even taking priority over writing. Many teachers allocate two days to reading and three to writing or vice versa. You set aside 10 minutes at the start of EVERY class? What do you do with students who aren’t really engrossed in a book? How do you keep them from being disruptive? What do you do with the students who would love to read all day? How do you move them out of the world of their book–out of their dazed state:)–to the realities of the classroom without groans?

    With gratitude for all you share,

    1. Hi Lisa, Yup every day, and I do not think I can give your questions justice in just a reply but your questions are the ones my new book are working on as well. So, the kids who are not in love with their book are some of my favorite kids because they don’t seem to know themselves as readers or their identity is base don being a non-reader so with them it is a yearlong process to reframe who they are as readers. We book shop a lot in our classroom, book talk, and i confer with kids every day too so if a child is not into their book I help them out by finding a new book with them. We repeat that as often as needed in the hopes that they will start to discover more about what they love as readers. I have written a lot about the power of book abandonment as well on the blog. We discuss at the beginning of the year that not reading is not an option and that they must find something worth reading. I have a lot of books at their disposal because of this and also a great school library. A timer or my voice goes off at the end of our 10 minutes and the kids slowly come back to me. I typically book talk a book then for them as they come back. They get used to it though as we go through the year together. I think it takes the dedication to every day as well to create a great reading environment, because the students know that this is the expectation. We try to do writing in some way every day as well, I don’t think I could teach the two separately, however, some quarters are more focused on writing and the teaching of it than others. I don’t know if this is enough to answer your questions but I hope it is a start.

      1. Pernille,
        Thank you! Your reply is quite helpful! It confirms what I thought about how I might approach adding the daily 10 minutes to our classes. At the same time, I must admit to feeling intimidated: I have not read enough YA literature to be able to sit with students and figure out the “just right” book to suggest. We have librarians who do the book talks and know more than I. They can give some book talks. But I am not sure that even they (since they are not exclusively middle school librarians) have the background in YA literature that you have developed. During the summer, my intention was to read lots of YA book. Then I got immersed in reading and thinking about curriculum more broadly, revamping assessment, balance in my life, etc., and my plans changed. So, is it still valuable to take the leap even though I don’t have the library you must have nor the knowledge?
        With gratitude,

  3. I’ve taught every grade level and always, always included reading time. When, on the first day of school, I greeted my new classroom full of students I’d explain- “Guess what? In Reading (or English) class this year, we’re going to READ!” The kids were confused! They thought Reading or English class consisted of worksheets and tests on Friday. Every day I’d give a 60 second talk, which I called a ‘book blessing’, about a new book I’d read. Then I’d leave the book on the chalk ledge (before smart boards took over) and set the timer for free reading. Inevitably the most struggling reader would be the first to grab the ‘blessed book’. I always read too and, if I was really into the book and the kids were really into their books, I’d surreptitiously reach over and extend our reading time. Not one student every complained about it as they kept reading!

  4. This is so vital for a child to be successful as a lifelong reader. You can’t expect a kid to be able to do quality reading at home; it’s unfair to hold them accountable for it in the classroom if you don’t value reading enough to make time for it in class each day. I, too, moved my 15 minutes to the start of each class (I’m also teaching 45 min blocks) because something less important but more “learning-looking” always seemed to take up that precious time if I waited until the end of class. I just wrote a post about in-class reading being the key to success in book clubs, as well.

  5. Lisa, absolutely! You will build your knowledge along with the students. Book talk books, read, listen to audio books, solicit suggestions from each other and together you will grow. We should never be the reason our students do not get reading time.

  6. Hi Pernille,

    First off, I want to thank you for your article. It speaks to my experience and knowledge as a Teacher-Librarian. Currently, I am working on my Master of Teacher-Librarianship and one of my assignments is to develop a Literacy Leadership Proposal for my administration. My action plan involves building more of a participatory culture by having a cross-grade group of students survey the school and be in charge of purchasing books, using part of my library budget. The other aspect, is developing a better model for free voluntary reading (also known as, independent reading, sustained silent reading, drop everything and read) for my staff. I am very passionate about this aspect of my proposal, have read lots of research on the topic and truly believe that it would foster a culture of reading at my school. However, today, as I poured through research, I came across many articles and blog posts by Timothy Shanahan which discourage the practice of free voluntary reading as part of a school day for kids. He states, “I think I’ve been very clear about what I’m saying. I would not use school time to have kids reading independently (which I actually defined/explained in detail in the first article–couldn’t be any clearer). There is no question that at least some of those arguing the point are claiming that I’m saying that kids should not read or that there is no benefit to kids reading. I definitely was talking about DEAR and SSR and SQUIRT time, and not to reading within instruction (in which the teacher plays a role in selecting the material–for content and demand level, holds kids accountable through questioning and conversation, has kids writing about the text; none of which is usually typical of reading on one’s own).

    I also disagree about the “spinnability” of the research evidence. There are widely agreed upon rules or principles to summarizing and synthesizing research in the scientific community. You are correct that those principles have not been followed by some of those arguing the point (who either use research on other issues or who try to selectively use the evidence). What I was depending upon were studies that directly attempted to evaluate the practice in question. I wasn’t trying to generalize from studies that focus on what teachers like to do in their classroom, or how much the better readers read. The issue, the only issue, is whether or not there is a learning advantage to just having kids reading on their own during the school day.

    The meta-analyses of that body of research–not just some of the selected studies that may line up with someone’s point of view–show almost no learning payoff (the amount of payoff is usually treated as inconsequential). Some of the better individual studies (like the work of James Kim) do show that it is possible to get a learning payoff from such practices beyond the school day, but even then it isn’t easy to get kids to improve their reading just by reading on their own (and, yes, that is especially hard the lower your reading ability). However, I don’t take a summer study like Kim’s and say that it proves that if you do that during the school day you’ll get that payoff (both because it wasn’t done during the school day when the reading had to compete with instructional reading, and because it is just one study among many. Nor do I look at studies that compare how much good and poor readers read on their own, and conclude that means class time would better be used for free reading than for instruction.

    It comes down to whether you are trying to figure out what works (in which case you want to look at all of the direct evidence) or whether you are just looking for support for what you want to do (in which case you cherry pick any study that even remotely may be interpreted in your favor). I’m definitely interested in what works. Good luck.”

    Shanhan, T. (2017, April 5). Shanhan on literacy. An argument about independent reading time during the school day.

    I would love to know your thoughts on his comment.

    All the best,

  7. Hi there! I am wondering how exactly you start with reading.. love this idea but trying to think through the logistics (kids often come in loud, talking with people, kids forget their books, etc.) I don’t want to micromanage – rather have a quiet, inviting cozy place for kids to immerse in their books. Thoughts?

    1. Hi Rebecca, My book, Passionate Readers, speaks to every single aspect of the process, and so much more. I have also shared extensively on this blog and in my Patreon community in regards to the how. Best, Pernille

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