Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Revisiting My One Classroom Non-Negotiable: Daily Independent Reading

Close to two years ago, I wrote a blog post titled My Only Classroom Non-Negotiable: Daily Independent Reading.  The complete post can be found copied below (also linked here).  I wrote this piece toward the end of the school year during my final year teaching fifth grade.  At the time, I felt that nothing was more important each day than giving children free time to just read in books that they have chosen for themselves.  

Now that I've had the unique opportunity of working in a little over 100 kindergarten through fifth grade classrooms over the past two years as a literacy coach, I cannot even begin to stress how critical this daily practice is for all of our children- no matter their age, grade level, need, perceived ability, or anything else- all children must independently read in books they choose every single day.  No exceptions.  During independent reading time in classrooms, I've been given the gift of actually seeing the true meaning of why we do school... 

I've seen a terribly sad and crying fifth grader calm down and settle into a good book to find peace and solace.

I've seen two first graders giggle and shriek with joy together over the antics of Gerald and Piggy.

I've seen a kindergartener's eyes widen in amazement as she turned a page to see a chart listing and describing all the different types of butterflies in the world- she just couldn't believe it! 

I've seen fourth graders given choice of a topic to study, time in the library to build their own text sets, and then the magic of wonder and curiosity take over an entire classroom as they all delved into their chosen books on their own chosen topics.

I've seen a second grader who once said, "I hate reading, it's so boring," turn into an avid, eager reader over the course of a few consistent weeks after discovering the hilarity of Houndsley and Catina and Amelia Bedelia.

I've seen teacher after teacher grow as professionals by developing a manageable, joyful practice of holding daily one to one reading conferences to meet the individual needs of the very different readers in their classrooms.

I've seen countless children smile, laugh, cry, empathize, and learn to wonder about life and ask questions all due to the daily, consistent, non-negotiable practice of independent reading. 

Simply put, children who are given the right to read daily are at an advantage. Children who are not reading daily in school are not getting what they need to happily and successfully develop to their fullest potential- in all areas, not just in reading and writing. Can you think of a subject in school where comprehension of reading isn't required?  Me either.  The only way for children to become proficient readers is to allow them to read- every single day. 

One of the most thoughtful literacy education minds of time, Lucy Calkins, has even said (and I'm paraphrasing here), all the instruction in the world means nothing if children are not given time to read to practice the skills they're being taught. For more on this idea, please stop reading now and go directly to the late, great Grant Wiggins' piece on transfer, Transfer as the Goal of Education

I decided to once again share my piece below on independent reading after being inspired by another one of my literacy heroes and dear friend, Dr. Mary Howard. This past Saturday, Mary, along with Linda Hoyt, delivered a beautiful professional development session about the power of independent reading and read aloud as a part of The Ed Collaborative Gathering, a free day for educators of online sessions devoted to literacy teaching and learning.  Mary and Linda's session can be found here: Deep Thinking Through Independent Reading and Read Aloud.  If you have not yet checked out The Ed Collaborative Gathering sessions, please do.  Give yourself the gift of learning from the comfort of your own home- in return you'll be giving that gift to your students as well.

                                           The piece below was originally posted on May 4, 2014


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 timeget 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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