Finding the Time for Independent Reading – Every Day, Every Kid

“I would give them time to read but I don’t have the time…”

The words haunt me several weeks later.  Shocking in their simplicity, yet profound in their meaning.  I didn’t have the courage then to address it but I have the courage now.

You see, that statement represents so much of what goes wrong in our reading instruction.  We want kids to read but expect them to do it outside of our classrooms.  We want them to grow as readers but expect them to fall into the pages of a book on their own.  We want them to be readers but then tell them that with us we don’t have to practice because surely they know how to do that already.  And yet the numbers don’t lie.  The increase in summer slide, in kids who say they don’t read for fun and the scary statistic that says that 26% of adults haven’t read a book in the last year.

And we wonder why we seem to be turning from a nation of readers into a nation of watchers.

It starts with us.  It starts with the way we choose to spend our time.  It starts with our lesson planning.  We nurture the seeds of reading and make the decisions that will help them grow or wither.  With us, the reading should start so that it has a chance to continue once they leave us.  It is as simple as that.

So how do we find the time to have kids read when we don’t have the time?  The answer lies in the small things, the small tweaks that we make every single day with one goal in mind; more time to read.

We start with independent reading.  Every day.

My students start every single class with 10 minutes of uninterrupted free choice reading time.  I do reading check-ins during this time, but their job is to read. To fall into the pages of a book.  Nothing else.  Every child is expected to read, and for those who fight it every single day, I keep trying every single day.  I wish I could give more but 10 isthe least I can give, if I had a longer class period, I would give more time.

Ask yourself; what if we started with independent reading, what is the worst that could happen?

We figure out our learning target.

While I don’t love everything about learning targets, they do force me to think about the ONE thing that I want students to grow in.  Too often we pile many different lessons into one, which increases our talk time.  Instead, really narrow down what is the most important for today and then focus your lesson in on just that.  I know that I teach many different skills in one day, but this helps clear up some of the clutter.

Ask yourself; what is the one skill we really need to focus on today?

We stop talking so much.

Teachers are estimated to speak 60-75 % of the time.  So if you teach in 45 minute periods like I do, we are dominating almost 30 minutes of that time.  No wonder we say we don’t have the time.  Yet how much of that time talking is spent on repeating instructions, on giving extra directions, or simply trying to answer every single thing question asked in front of the whole class.  So set a timer, record yourself, have someone observe you, or ask a child to stop you after a certain amount of time.  Couple this with a specific goal and then stick to it when someone says you are out of time.  If it is a lengthy lesson, which mine sometimes are, explain why to the kids and then help them get up and move.    But again, if you start with reading then you will already have preserved their reading time.

Ask yourself; how can I find out how much time I actually spend talking?

We get to the point.

I know we are supposed to activate background knowledge, share personal stories, and really suck kids into our instruction but how often do we get so wrapped up in sucking them in that we lose them by the time we finally get to the point.  Keep the introduction short, it is, after all, the introduction, and get to the meat of the lesson more quickly.

Ask yourself; How can I keep my introduction to only a few sentences?

We do most of our teaching in small groups rather than whole class.

How often do our lessons increase because we are trying to teach all the skills to all the students and yet what is really needed is one major teaching point and then tons of small groups for personalized instruction?  So focus your one thing in on what all the kids need and then save everything else for small group instruction.  That way kids are getting what they need rather than tuning out in a large class.

Ask yourself; is this needed for all of the kids or just some of them?

We re-evaluate our routines.

Independent reading is my bell-ringer, it is my task to do while I do attendance.  It is the thing to do while kids get settled in.  It is the thing to do while I check in on a kid.  It the thing to do while we wait for the last kid to show up.  If you are waiting for something you read.  If you think you are done and need to check in with me you read until we can speak.

Ask yourself:  What small things take up time in your everyday routine that could be converted into reading time because, truly, every minute counts? 

We cut out the extra stuff.

Just like we speak too much during class, we also have kids go through unnecessary hoops to teach and practice their skills.   Do they really need to “do” something every day with their reading other than talk?  Can they simply read some days and not write about it? Not post-it note it?  Not do mini jots or other tasks?  I fear we often feel that we need proof that their reading meant something or that they got something out of it, and that leads us creating more tasks to do.  We focus a lot on longer projects so that we minimize the time spent doing stuff around their reading.

Ask yourself; is the task I planned for them to do essential or filler?

We grow our patience.

We often stop with independent reading because not ALL kids are reading, not ALL kids are making great choices, not ALL kids are using it well.  But some are.  The thing is, it takes time, sometimes months, sometimes years to help kids embrace independent reading.  For some, it seems an impossible task and yet, we can nurture them as readers every single day.  We can show that our belief in them being well-developed readers is strong and that we will keep believing in them every single day, even if they reject us completely.

Ask yourself; Am I making whole class decisions based on a few kids?

 

If we want kids to be readers we give them time to read, I cannot state this enough.  I cannot bold it enough.  I cannot repeat it enough.  We cannot wonder why our students are not reading if we don’t give them time to do so with us.  Then that’s on us.  And if you don’t believe me, read the research courtesy of Donalyn Miller.

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.

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11 thoughts on “Finding the Time for Independent Reading – Every Day, Every Kid

  1. I agree with most of these points – essentially you are calling for teachers to “get out of the way more …” It entails us trusting our students to their own means and end. However, must say that though you keep insisting we need to give students time to read – DEAR or whatever – but 10 minutes isn’t going to do the job. I don’t think it is good to interrupt a curious, concentrated, learning student after a mere 10 minutes. I understand the practicalities but we do have to challenge the way we organize school and fill it with so much “busy work” and “filling”. Sometimes too much is too little – you inferred that in this post.

  2. Hi Pernille
    I’m just wondering if you have any good reading programs/curriculum for elementary students, esp. for grades K-6. Thanks!
    Ann

  3. Thank you for this! I also give ten minutes or so of reading for my students every day. It has made a difference in their reading, even at home. I had them reflect on their progress after the first grading period, and the responses were overwhelmingly positive. Most admitted to reading more in the first grading period than they did the entire year last year. Now if I can just get some of my colleagues to stop saying they don’t have time and just do it, then that would be amazing. Thanks again!

  4. I’ve embraced independent reading time within class full force this year. They read while I’m teaching small groups. I’m seeing miraculous results. They are talking to each other about what they are reading! They ask me what I’m reading. They discuss genres and what they like and why. My class is known as their stress free learning environment. There are a few kids who still require more push to read, but I’m learning how to push them to books they will like. I every teacher to embrace this.

  5. Hi Pernelle: I so enjoyed & once again gleaned so much from listening to U this past Saturday @ the MISD. My students r the ones who benefit the most every time I get to see U. I would really like to see a pic of your “Reading Tree” so I can set up all my newest books for my students on it?? Can U please write me back w/a pic of it? Blessings Karen Gray

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