Organizing the classroom, establishing reading rituals, and having a few “non-negotiables” in place are key to maximizing time for independent reading. Here’s how I make independent reading a staple in my classroom.
- Ground rules. Some people call it DEAR (Drop Everything And Read) and others, like me, call it SQUIRT. I use the SQUIRT acronym because it is clear what the expectations are: Sustained Quiet, Uninterrupted, Independent, Reading Time. My students see SQUIRT on the agenda each day. Sometimes it happens right away, when they first arrive; other times it happens just before they leave. Either way, they know that bathroom/water breaks must happen before SQUIRT. I explain, “If we’re signing out for water, are you reading?” The only exception to this is an emergency, and of course, these sometimes happen. But a revolving door and chairs scraping against the floor when students get up and down breaks our “bubble.” My students can read anywhere in the room they’d like. But once they make a decision, they must stick with that location. Again, constant movement distracts readers and prevents them from getting into the zone.
- Books on deck. All of my students keep their SQUIRT books in a designated large bin in the classroom. On the inside cover of each book is a post-it with the student’s name in case it should “wander.” When it’s time for SQUIRT, no one needs to “go looking” for their book because it’s always “on deck.” Also, as students near the end of their book, they are reminded to locate the next book they’d like to read and to place it “on deck.” Again, I remind them, “If you’re looking for a book during SQUIRT, are you reading?” A seamless transition to SQUIRT helps us to maximize our reading minutes. Reading folders that include multiple copies of reading logs are kept in numerical order in the front of my classroom. Students grab their folders and their books as soon as they enter the classroom each day in anticipation of SQUIRT; so when it’s time, they’re ready!
- Schedule. If independent reading time is the first thing to slide off of your schedule due to time constraints, make it the first part of the day. I see my 6th graders each day for 80 minutes, so I’m able to provide 30 minutes for SQUIRT. However, like all teachers, I sometimes find myself pinched for time. After allowing SQUIRT to slide off of my schedule too many times during the first four months of the school year, my New Year’s resolution was to make it first on the agenda. During this time, I’m either conferencing with students or reading as well. When I work with teachers, I remind them about how smart students are. If we’re grading papers or working on the computer during independent reading time, we are letting our students know that independent reading is not really that important; it’s “busy work ” so that the teacher has time to do something else. Independent reading time is also time for me to model being a reader. My students need to see me wrapped up in a great book, too. They want to know what I’m reading and why I love it.
As teachers, we hold a powerful platform. Making independent reading sacred is one of the most important things a teacher can do. This time is valuable. Students need to and want to read. Yes, even struggling readers want to read and we can make this happen for them by being relentless about matching them to books they are excited about reading.