Questions & Authors: Finding the time for reading

February 16th, 2011

A few weeks ago we heard from Pat Johnson (One Child at a Time, Catching Readers Before They Fall), about the essentials of guided reading groups. In this installment of Questions & Authors Pat’s coauthor, Katie Keier shares some practical tips for making time for in-class reading.

We all agree that kids need lots of in-school time to read, enjoy books, and share their books and ideas with others. Besides the guided reading time, how else can we make that happen in classrooms where teachers are pushed to do test preparation and worry about their overflowing curriculum demands?

While guided reading is one time in your day to have your students reading, there are many more opportunities we, as teachers, can create.  If our goal is making sure we have kids who not only can read, but choose to read, then we must provide lots of opportunities within the school day to help all readers develop a reading process system and practice using it with meaningful, authentic texts. Having choice in what they read helps these readers see how reading can become a part of their lives. Our daily read aloud time, independent reading time and the teacher’s modeling can support not only the readers who struggle, but also every other reader in your classroom.

Read Alouds. I read aloud as much as possible in the classroom. There is no substitution for a teacher passionately sharing a book he/she loves. Bringing in new books that I find and sharing them with my students helps them see reading as something we do for enjoyment as well as a way to learn new things. I use picture books in every classroom I work in, from kindergarten through sixth grade. I share books from favorite authors, new books I discover that I know kids will love, and books connected to content area topics. What better way to introduce or sustain a topic in science or social studies than by sharing an engaging book? I also use interactive read alouds to teach reading strategies and to help children see a reading process system at work. Our writer’s workshop often starts with a read aloud, as students learn to read like writers through these mentor texts. I don’t see read aloud as a separate time that I may or may not squeeze in, but rather as a key piece of my instruction.

The books I read aloud to kids are the ones that don’t stay on our class bookshelves or in the library for long. Kids want to take these books home and reread them independently or with friends and family. It’s important to make sure your readers who struggle are not pulled out for intervention during read aloud time. This is not “just reading aloud”, but rather a critical time where they can hear fluent, expressive reading modeled, laugh or cry in response to a great book, share ideas and feelings with classmates, and hear a teacher think aloud.  Read aloud time also exposes struggling readers to books at a higher level than they can read independently. They need these opportunities to comprehend and participate in discussions.  Feeling part of the classroom reading community is important. Protect your read aloud time. All kids need to be there for it.

Independent Reading Time. Kids need lots of time, every day, to read books independently. It’s really the only way we can improve at anything – by practicing. Sadly, independent reading time often gets pushed aside in favor of test preparation workbooks, lengthy organizers for kids to record what they are reading (instead of reading), and other activities that take away from reading. Without sustained periods of independent reading time, our students will not be able to have the endurance necessary for the standardized reading tests they are required to take, nor will they learn to enjoy and love reading – our ultimate goal. Independent reading time is a necessary piece of every school day.

In the classrooms where I work, children have boxes or bags of books that are “just right” for them. Often these are books they have read with a teacher in guided reading groups, or a teacher has helped them choose based on a reading level. I agree that kids need to be reading these books every day. Books that are just right for them support their developing reading process system.  The more they practice reading strategically in appropriate level texts the stronger their system becomes.

 However, I also feel that kids need time to read books they have chosen, maybe for no other reason than that the topic or the picture on the cover interests them. A fellow teacher once gave me the idea of having kids keep their “just right” books in a large Ziploc bag. They could also have 4-6 free choice books outside the bag, in their individual book box or desk. It didn’t matter what kind of books these were. The agreement during independent reading time is that they have to read from their bags first, then they can read their free choice books. This has worked quite well at keeping a balance of “just-right” books with free choice books. And it’s amazing how often those free choice books end up moving into the bags as the kids become stronger readers!

Modeling what readers do.  When I tell my students that I read on Twitter that Chris Van Allsburg has a nonfiction book coming out in April, they are as excited as I am. I share author blogs with my students and videos on YouTube of authors reading their books. I bring new books into the classroom frequently, and share my excitement with my students. I love books and reading and love sharing that with my students. I try to be a constant model of what a lifelong reader does. I talk to my students about trying to navigate my way through the complicated owner’s manual on my new camera as well as how I read Pete the Cat to my dog because I was so excited to get it in the mail (and it’s one of those books that begs to be read aloud!)

I feel that bringing excitement and enthusiasm about books into your classroom will get a lot of your readers who struggle to rethink what reading means to them. When you create this culture in your classroom, even your most reluctant readers will be motivated to find a book they enjoy. The more you read aloud great books, provide time daily for students to read in class, engage your class in conversations about books, take note of your student’s interests and find books that appeal to them, and support them in creating a reading process system, the more likely you are to have readers who not only can read, but choose to read.

Entry Filed under: Questions & Authors

4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Tweets that mention Pract&hellip  |  February 16th, 2011 at 1:48 pm

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Reading Horizons, Susan Dee. Susan Dee said: Practical tips 4 making time for in class reading! This should be a non-negotiable! http://fb.me/HUhYQpTO […]

  • 2. Kay McGriff  |  February 16th, 2011 at 6:49 pm

    Thank you! I am inspired to work to find ways to read aloud more in my middle school classes. I know how much they gain from it, but needed to be reminded.

  • 3. West Walker  |  March 5th, 2011 at 12:42 pm

    Great points! It is sad to say that “test prep’ and other purchased programs are pushing away the basic foundations of education! The need for reading practice is a CA state standard: 500,000 words in 4th grade, 1 mill in 8th, 2 mil in 12th. –yet this standard is being ignored or not monitored with fidelity!

    Imagine how the scores would go up and how much more our nation would be globally competitive if we simply allowed the students to practice leveled independent reading!

  • 4. Judith Briles  |  July 6th, 2011 at 9:54 am

    Good ideas. It is indeed an excellent way for students to enhance their reading skills through guided readings as well as their knowledge through the different books they read. Authors must also share in that responsibility in their own respective blogs by creating a student- friendly website where students will be enthused to know more about their books and learn more ideas.

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