Independent Reading Myth #4–It’ll mean more time for me…{Teach}

Myth #4–It’ll mean more time spent on grading poster and book reports or messing with those leveled reading programs.

Oh, the poster project.  The book report.  The book summary followed by the tic-tac-toe assignment and endless CDs of soundtracks all dedicated to Edward Cullen. I’ve been there and sometimes I feel like it never leaves me.  

And what about those leveled programs we see so neatly packaged by lexile?  First of all, how do you know your students’ true lexile scores?  From the state’s standardized text score from last year’s test?  Second of all, is there a magical button students press where the leveled program takes into account their reading interests as well as their reading ability?  Nope.  That’s called a teacher, folks.  

Here’s a secret to independent reading….you don’t have to assign a major grade to it every grading period or rely on a strict program to hold students accountable.  Shocker, I know!

When SSR is integrated as a daily routine and students are encouraged to talk about and write in response to what they read after seeing it modeled by you, they will actually do it!  There’s no magical formula folks.  Allow students time and freedom to read for pleasure + read in front of and with your kids + model how readers think, write, and talk about what they read= students who read independently chosen texts AND talk to other readers about what they read (audible gasp)!

Am I oversimplifying the issue?  Yes, I am.  Unfortunately, most students need more external motivation than the pleasure of talk to other readers in the beginning,  which is why I started to integrated reader responses into my writer’s notebook requirements.  If students are responsible for 20 entries for a grading period, 5 of those are expected to be in response to what they are reading.  

I’ll even sneak an actual assignment (low-stakes) into the mix such as identifying and exploring the tone, mood, theme, or even characters.  We dabble in creative responses to literature in the form of reader’s theatre scripts and found poems.  But, it’s always an invitation to play.  I find that my students’ responses to the texts they read for pleasure are much more insightful and analytical than those more traditional texts we often assign them to read in the name of rigor. 

There is still a time and place for cumulating projects.  Instead of book reports or soundtracks, my students read, analyze, and craft their own reviews to post to or a book trailer to post to youtube.  Because that’s what readers do when moved by a text.  Formative assessments include their reader response entries, which I do read each grading period, and reading conferences, where the meat of their experiences are brought to the surface. 

Is there a time investment at first?  Most definitely.  When I consider practices to adopt or discard, I think of it in terms of investment.  What will the initial cost be versus the ultimate pay-off or return?  When it comes to independent reading, the return is well worth anything you put into it.  Independent reading saves me time.  Rather than creating individual vocabulary, reading, analysis, and writing tasks for my students, I spend that time browsing new books, talking to students about what they are reading, and investing in the reading habits that will continue to develop vocabulary, writing, comprehension, and critical thinking far after they leave my room.  That’s more than any grammar workbook or novel reading guide has ever done for me or my students. 


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