Independent Reading: Staple or Slide? (Part 1)

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Is independent reading time a staple in your classroom? Or, is it the first thing that slides off the schedule when you realize you’re running out of time? It can be challenging to prevent the latter from happening for two main reasons: time and understanding the value of independent reading.

I’ve worked with many teachers and administrators who question: “Since time is already limited, why should teachers make space for this in class? Can’t students do this at home? And what about those students who aren’t really reading?” “Isn’t this just a waste of time?” Here’s how I respond to these questions:

  • Research. When I work with teachers who are reluctant to provide independent reading time in their classrooms because of unsupportive administrators, I arm them with the work of educational researchers. Extensive reading is critical! Richard L. Allington, PhD [1] has found that students, particularly struggling readers, need to read 90 minutes each day in order to stay on grade level. This statistic is often surprising to many teachers and causes them to say, “There’s no way I can do this.” The good news is no one teacher has to. All of the reading students do over the course of the day counts. So if each teacher makes time for students to read across the content areas, it all adds up!
  • Opportunity & Access. Many students are overscheduled with activities, making it difficult for them to have large chunks of time to read. Further, struggling readers can be reluctant readers. Securing time in class for reading means teachers can monitor and encourage all of their readers. This means providing them with the guided instruction they need and then asking them to go off and practice this instruction with a great book. Finally, many classrooms are living libraries laden with books on shelves, baskets, and bins. As the reading expert in the room, it’s here where teachers can match students with books that they may not have access to outside of the classroom.
  • Environment. There’s nothing more motivating and powerful than being in a classroom with 25 students who are locked in to their books. When students are in the reading zone, it’s like a bubble has dropped over the classroom and you really could hear a pin drop. They are “really reading” and they love it! Providing them with time to discuss what they’ve read fans the excitement and strengthens comprehension.

Visit the LitLearnAct blog tomorrow when I share how I manage time for independent reading in my classroom each day.

[1] Dr. Richard L. Allington is the author of What Really Matters for Struggling Readers: Designing Research-Based Programs

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