Sunday, May 4, 2014

My Only Classroom Non-Negotiable: Daily Independent Reading

The wonderfully insightful literacy educator Kylene Beers,  tweeted something so simple, yet so thought-provoking a few weeks ago:

When I first read this tweet, I think I cheered at my computer screen.  I simply love this notion she brings up.  We need to spend less time worrying about buying and implementing the best reading program in our schools and more time helping students find and discover books that they just can't put down.

If everything else has to go, my one and only non-negotiable is that my students independently read for 30 minutes in school each day.  No exceptions.  This 30 minutes does not include anything but reading. No required responses, comprehension checks, discussions, or anything else.  Only reading.  Now, many students take it upon themselves to jot notes on post-its or in their reading notebooks, but I do not require it during this time (there's a time and place for that during other parts of the school day).

Finding 30 solid minutes is not always easy.  Due to every single little thing out of my control that has to be crammed into our elementary day, sometimes the 30 minutes is broken up into segments of 20 minutes and 10 minutes or 15 and 15. However, I much prefer to have a solid 30 minutes of reading each day in my classroom.  We've all seen the graphics such as the one to the right that compares the amount of time students read each night and vocabulary acquisition.  There are also countless graphics, blog posts, anecdotes, articles, and research findings that say students simply must read more to be successful in school.  Since I can safely assume nearly all teachers and parents agree that kids need to read more, I'm not going to cite studies or convince you that kids need to read. We already know this.  Rather, I'm going to explain the process that keeps my students reading for 30 uninterrupted minutes each day at school, and hopefully each night at home.  Here you go!

First things first:

Provide an ever-growing classroom library full of different genres of many different level books.  The library is always open to students.  Students are also able to take books home and return them whenever they finish reading.  Some books get lost along the way, but I never worry about that.  As long as it's being read by someone, I consider it a win.  I don't believe in leveling a classroom library as kids should not see themselves as levels.  Rather, the library is organized by genre, author, and interest. There are also reading books and resources in other areas of the room housed outside the classroom library.  We have to be open to housing reading everywhere in the classroom.

Picture books organized alphabetically by title

Historical fiction shelves, bottom left.  Favorite
series and authors to the right.  Student book
reviews and recommendations on the wall.

Realistic fiction shelves to the left. Nonfiction
and poetry shelves to the right.
Books We've Read Together Book Bin
Math Book Bin under the math bulletin board.
My "special" books.  These are unveiled about half
way through the school year.  The anticipation around
getting to read Ms. Nosek's special books is just great!
This shouldn't surprise anyone anymore: We also need to
use laptops, iPads, or other electronic forms of reading
waiting to be tapped along with traditional forms.

Realistic fiction to the left.  Fantasy and science
fiction to the right with some classic mystery
thrown in on the bottom shelf.

After the availability comes the interest build-up:
To build student interest in books, there are many things to do.  Book talks, student written book reviews, and individual book-hunting help are all very effective.  Students love writing book reviews and recommendations for each other.  I jazz it up a bit by encouraging them to tap into their inner-artist when designing a book review to be displayed on the classroom library wall.  I also encourage students to seek me out to help them find books they'll love.  Also, I get to know my students to learn their interests.  If I know what my students are interested in, I am much better able to help them find books they love.  Often times, I'll browse through the classroom library with a student, we'll talk about their mood and interests at that time, and then pick out two or three books for preview.  Students almost always find a book they love through this simple conversation.

 Two student book recommendations on 
the wall in the classroom library.

Once books are available and interest is built, provide time and space:
I allow and encourage my students to find a comfortable spot anywhere in the classroom (and sometimes outside) to enjoy their reading time.  I always introduce independent reading time by saying things like enjoy this time, get comfortable, and you all get to read uninterrupted for 30 minutes now!  This is usually followed with cheers from students.  Students then often move from their desks and onto the classroom couch, a bean bag, or another comfy nook in the room.

Comfy bean bags for reading

Students read in nooks, on the couch, curled up with pillows,
and in different  comfy spots all over the classroom.

Sometimes all it takes is a chair, table, and good book.

Book availability, interest build-up, and time & place are all it takes to get students reading.  If we consistently provide these three simple things, we'll have a strong community of readers.  Obviously, this will look a little different at different grade levels.  However, I've found this formula to work well in my fifth grade classroom this year and in my second and third grade classrooms years ago.  

Imagine if we adults were given 30 uninterrupted minutes everyday to read for pleasure.  I suspect we'd be more thoughtful, more kind, and more willing to explore new things.  Now imagine being given this daily from a young age.  Books help us grow not only by entertaining us, but also by teaching us and helping us discover new people, new worlds, and new ideas that we would not have known otherwise. As teachers, we need to give this simple gift to our students, everyday with no exception.  

Happy reading!

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