being a teacher, Literacy, Reading, Reading Identity, student choice, Student dreams

On Reading Tasks


I used to ask students to write in their reader’s notebook for a few minutes every day after they finished reading.  Some days they could write about whatever, other days I had a specific prompt.  Just four minutes because four always seems less daunting than five.  Just four minutes to give me a feel for what you are thinking.  Just four minutes to let me know if you are reading.

The protests started quickly.  Slow steps to get their reader’s notebooks, lengthy pencil sharpening sessions, bathroom breaks and long stretches.  Kids who needed to read just one more page even though it cut into their writing time.  Then louder, more vocal, “Do we have to, Mrs.  Ripp?”  “I don’t know what to write…”  “What’s the prompt again?”  I even had a child tell me that they thought it was stupid.  But I knew best, so we soldiered on.

Their responses were mediocre at best.  Short burst of thinking.  Not a lot of depth.  Surface level understanding, connections, and even writing.  I was baffled at how poorly they did., had they really misunderstood all of my instruction?  Did they really not understand theme?

On the end of the year survey, I asked them, “What is the one thing you wish Mrs. Ripp would never do again?”  Their response was resounding; our reader’s responses.  “Please don’t put other kids through that, Mrs. Ripp!” one child wrote in the margin.  “It made me hate reading!” another child confided.  I knew they disliked it, but the sheer quantity of kids that, without consulting each other, had put this four minute part of our class on the survey was astounding.  I had known all along, but still…surely this little check for understanding was just that; little.  Insignificant, and yet the damage it was doing to a child’s reading life was anything but.

This happens all the time in our reading classrooms; small ideas, insignificant extra tasks, minor routines that end up doing major damage.  We assume that kids will be okay, they are resilient, but we forget that for many their reading identities are not well formed yet.  That it doesn’t take much to knock them off course.  That it is not just because they dislike reading because they never found the right book, but because we have created reading classrooms where there sometimes is very little reading, but very many tasks.  Yes, kids need to process their reading.  Yes, kids should grow from their reading, but that doesn’t mean always writing.  That doesn’t mean always producing something.  That doesn’t mean that we squeeze in a short response thinking it will help them in the long run, no matter the damage it does now.

We forget that just reading is work.  That for some kids it takes incredible mental prowess to figure out the words, to visualize the story, to comprehend what is going on.  They are tired after they read.  We forget that reading can be solitary.  That as adults we often sit in silence after we have read or we think of who we would like to share this book with.  How we would like to proceed.  I know very few adults that write a summary every time they read or even write down their pages.  So why do our reading decisions look so different in our classrooms?

So what tasks do you have attached to reading?  What are you asking kids to do when they are reading?  Do they get stretches of uninterrupted time to just read?  Do they get to choose what to do when they do read or when they are done?  Have you asked students what they would like to do or what you need to change?

Most days, my students “just” read.  Sometimes I ask them to speak to a peer about their book, sometimes I do ask them to answer a question, sometimes I ask them to reflect on their reading, either out loud or on paper, sometimes I ask them to just think.  The key here is “Sometimes…” not always or often.  Not every day, not always in writing.  I tell them that when I ask them to do something, it matters, and because we do it so rarely, to most it does.  They take their time, they do the work because they know that this is a rarity rather than an everyday occurrence.

I wish I would have stopped our four minutes earlier.  I wish I would have listened to the students, rather than thought I knew best.  I wish I would have asked them sooner, what would you like to do when you finish reading and then listened to their answers.  I wonder if they would have answered much like Thea, our eight-year-old, did when I asked her, “When you finish a book, what would you like to do?”

She looked at me confused, “What do you mean?”

“What kind of thing would you like to do when you have finished a book?”

She looked me right in the eye and said, “Start another book…” and she walked away.

So let them read, not for the sake of producing, but for the sake of reading itself.

PS:  Join the conversation in our Passionate Readers Book Club on Facebook.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child, out August 2017.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first 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.





14 thoughts on “On Reading Tasks”

  1. This is how I have done things in the past, but I have been repeatedly told by admin that my kids should be writing after reading. I’m conflicted about what to do this next year. Thinking about finding a balance between the two by having them make a connection between what they are learning in class and what they reading once or twice a week. Thoughts?

    1. I think balance is key and also speaking to kids about why we are doing what we are doing. So often we think they understand what the bigger picture is but this has not been my experience.

  2. Thanks for writing this.

    Sometimes I think about the short lesson versus the long lesson.

    The short lessons are the skills (inference, story structure, vocabulary, attention to details and word choice.)

    The long lessons are the attitudes and habits of a reading life that readers will take with them into their later teens and adult lives. And one of those big lessons is that the reward for reading is more reading.

    It’s always a balance … but I’ve found that my students know the short lessons and need the long lessons.

  3. I DID have students reflect on paper three times a week. I think the key in MY classroom was that I read and responded to every reflection…as a reader. I used these reflections as conversations about books and characters…I modeled that talk that readers naturally fall into when we are together. I just did it on paper. I love the variety of responses you encourage in your classroom…our young readers must be introduced into that culture of readers.

  4. Great blog post!
    My kids, from the 1st grade up to Jr. High are given these Craft Book Reports. They are Not fun. It’s busy work and a waste of time. One was a cereal box book report where they had to print out their theme, characters, etc and needed to make sure it all fit in all areas of the cereal box! The top needed to be a drawing they did to represent the book. It was so difficult to do. It taught my son how to cut and paste and waste a ton of computer paper because we kept getting the font size wrong. I would rather have a standard essay typed or written on paper and gone that direction. My son loves to read books that interest him. The AR accelerated reader program is phenomenal! Because it’s part of their grade to read and take the quiz on the AR site at school, the kids had no choice but to read. My son had gotten into the Percy Jackson series and has reall all of those books. Without the AR program, there would have been no motivation to read in his own . Check it out if you are not familiar. Thanks for your blog! I especially like your post about clip charts etc! I just read Lost at School by Dr. Ross Greene. Amazing! He is right on the same page and uses collaborative and proactive solutions to help with unresolved issues with kids.

  5. She looked at me confused, “What do you mean?”

    “What kind of thing would you like to do when you have finished a book?”

    She looked me right in the eye and said, “Start another book…” and she walked away.

    Which is exactly what do when I finish a book.

  6. Ugh, I just typed a whole response and got lost in the WordPress login maze.

    The short version of my response is that I was just reading about this in a book, Stop Reading for Junk. It really made me consider the role of choice in all things related to reading motivation.

    I am a school librarian and really want to give kids an opportunity to do…something…after they finish a book. When I finish a book I want to blog about it or Tweet or share it with my Facebook groups. I want to emulate that with my kids. Do they want a blog to write? An account in Goodreads? Do they just want to talk to a partner? Give a booktalk to the class? Write a letter? Draw a picture? Post on social media?

    My issue is managing all of the choice. What does that look like in a classroom?

  7. I have found that if I give them to have genuine conversations first and then write about the conversation the writing is more fluent. It is more reflective and not a “book report.” Agreeing with or debating a friend’s comment is deeper thinking than regurgitating a book’s plot.

  8. Yes, the sentiments you suggested students shared were often spoken to me about why so many “readers” disliked the DEAR portion of their day- a twenty minute allotment to “drop everything and read!” that wasn’t even close enough to real reading experiences for so many- we instead instigated a quiet after lunch return to seats and If one wanted to – read, or write or daydream or doodle or even complete homework and the results were as expected – when reading period began more students were directly focused- more students had thought about what they wished to share, more students participating in the active time! – and in response to the question above- offering choices that reflect real opportunities- computer time, -for the blogging; a quiet corner for the reflective – individually or with a partner or two, book talks- requested and time permitting, shared, illustrating and the best of Social Media- classroom SKYPE talks with authors etc! There is room and time on the curriculum with accurate juggling and even if the ball drops sometimes- pick it up and start it flowing again! 🙂

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