Do you have 40-60 minutes a day to teach reading, writing, and word work? I do. I am a middle school English teacher. When I started teaching middle school, I wondered how I was going to include independent reading time. The answer: 15 minutes of no-nonsense reading a day.
I had a student once ask me, “Aren’t you supposed to be teaching me during this time?” At first I was horrified by this question. But then I understood the confusion. Independent reading is so enjoyable that it doesn’t feel like school work. In fact, for many students, it doesn’t feel like work at all. But it is! It’s very important work, and it’s my job to help students understand that one way readers become better readers is by reading on their own- and reading a lot! So to this student, I replied, “Do you play soccer during soccer practice? Do you play the piano during your piano lesson? Do you do math problems during math class? Yes? In reading and writing class, you need to read and write. You’re becoming a stronger reader by reading. Look at all the books you’ve read this year. You’ve grown so much as a reader!”
How does 15 minutes of independent reading help grow readers and change my class?
1) 15 minutes is enough time to hook a reluctant reader! Simply starting a book can be the hook they need! So many books disappear from my shelves during reading time. As they begin new books, they take them home to read, and bring them back to continue reading the next day. 15 minutes can make all the difference in the life of a reluctant reader. They have eyes on print for an hour and fifteen minutes a week during my class.
2) Talk and Write! Independent reading time provides opportunities, after students read, for students to talk and write about their reading. Students are bursting to share what they’re reading, recommend books to others, write about their thinking, and share new words they’re coming across.
3) Saves time! Who would have ever thought that 15 minutes could save me class time? But it does! My students are relaxed and quiet after independent reading. They are settled down and ready for learning. After reading, they listen more carefully to my minilessons and we move through material faster. I’ve actually gained back time!
4) Joy! My students love reading and they love coming to class. They read everything- graphic novels, picture books, poetry books, chapter books, and nonfiction. They’re happy. Reading brings so much joy to our classroom!
5) Growing readers. 15 minutes a day grows ALL readers- avid and reluctant. They’re moving forward as they practice reading. All the proof I need is in their reading assessments, where I see them move through the reading levels. I wish we could spend more time each day on independent reading. But even 15 minutes makes a difference!
Typically found wearing mismatched socks, Dana Johansen spends her time teaching fifth grade in Connecticut, negotiating with her yellow lab about doggy dinner options, and plopping down on the floor in bookstore aisles to find new reads. She has taught elementary and middle school for fourteen years. Dana is a doctoral student at Teachers College, Columbia University where she studies blended learning in reading and writing workshop.