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Teacher to Teacher: Independent Reading – What should I read next?

By Lynne R. Dorfman

Students in all grade levels are always asking, “What should I read next?’ It’s an important question because you want your students to continue to find books that they can read independently inside and outside of school. In Readicide author Kelly Gallagher talks about McQuillan’s study of reluctant readers (2001). It that showed a statistically significant gain in reading and writing fluency and writing complexity with students who had had a negative attitude towards reading at the beginning of the year, but at the semester’s end had improved significantly after having finished several books on their own. How did this happen? The students were given time to read books of their choosing in school without having to complete a book report, track points, or fill in a worksheet.

Csikszentmihalyi (1990) talked about reading flow – where students can get lost in the pages of a book and achieve true pleasure in the act of reading for reading’s sake without the promise of extrinsic rewards or grades. If we want our students to achieve this state of reading flow, then we have to help them find books that are interesting and inviting to them. We must provide the time and space for them to read in school before we can hope that they will read outside of school. Often, we find our busy schedules do not allow much time to consider the question, “What shall I read next?’ We find that even during a library special, we hurry from the room lined with inviting books just waiting for a recommendation (“Pick me! You’ll find adventure here!) to use the prep period to record reading, math, and writing data on the schoolwide system or respond to a parent’s phone call or e-mail. There is always so much to do, and yet….

Perhaps you can try to answer the question about what book to read next with another question. Ask your student to think about why he liked the last book he finished. Was it a mystery or fantasy or a book about animals? Did he like the way the author told the story? Was he drawn to the subject matter or the illustrations throughout the book? Tempt students with a beautiful poetry book like National Geographic’s Book of Nature Poetry. For YA readers – was it a dystopian novel or a Steampunk novel such as Heart of Veridon by Tim Akers or Cold Magic by Kate Elliott. Is your teenager looking for books about teen anxieties and the discomfort of free choice/will? Perhaps Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson or The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chobsky or Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith will be a good fit.

Text sets are always a powerful way to engage students in discussion, using vehicles such as book clubs, literature circles, book talks, and book reviews. Since these books can offer classroom opportunities for individual, small group, and extended learning, multiple copies (at least two or three) make reading a book even more inviting. it is a good idea to write a short blurb on a sticky note and place inside on the end pages. “This book is for you if you enjoy reading,,,,” Students can preview books and post an invitation to read a particular book on a bulletin board. In this way, students naturally create a response partner(s). And encourage rereads! Students of all ages and stages benefit from a second read of a beloved book.

Finally, we need to really, truly believe that allowing students to read independently in school will not only lead to more reading outside of school; it will serve as test preparation, too. Independent reads build vocabulary and content knowledge as well as the stamina and endurance to read lengthy passages on PSSA tests and the Keystone exam. The most powerful strategy we have to build lifelong readers is to provide the time for reading daily within our classroom walls. Here are some things we can all do:

  • Visit your school and local library and browse.
  • Talk with librarians to find out what is new, exciting, and available to your students. Follow book recommendations on twitter.
  • Read reviews on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and the NY Times Book Review.
  • Talk with your colleagues.
  • Then talk with your students about good books – all kinds of good books just waiting for someone to pick them up and remain in what Nancie Atwell refers to as “the reading zone” – a place where readers are submerged in a text until they must “come up for air.’

Lynne R. Dorfman profileLynne R. Dorfman is Past-President of Chester County Reading Association and a Co-director of PAWLP and a Stenhouse author. Follow her on twitter @LynneRDorfman and in the Teacher to Teacher posts here on pawlpblog.org. Look for her at the PAWLP continuity sessions on Saturdays and other events such as the March 19th PAWLPday on Six Traits Writing..

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. I love the idea of independent reading during the school day. I am a very independent reader now, but this wasn’t always the case. However, in class reading time two or three times a week pushed me to look past the drudgery of reading and enabled me become engaged with and interested in literature. Especially in younger grades when reading is on unsteady ground already due to the fact that it is being learned, it is important to encourage students to read not because it is a grade or will give them extra credit, but simply for the fact that it is interesting and has the ability to transport them to somewhere else. Becoming an independent reader has to start somewhere, and it does not happen overnight. Providing time to read and enable students to explore different genres and styles of writing in the classroom is, in my opinion, a positive step towards creating the next generation of independent readers.

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    November 9, 2015
  2. Amber #

    I am really excited that there are individuals out there who still believe in the importance of reading texts for pleasure, such as some of the Young Adult Literature books listed above (Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson for example. As a future teacher, it is reassuring to know that reading books that are not solely a part of the core curriculum can have significant value in the classroom. I never realized that providing one or more copies of a novel made it seem more enticing. I just assumed teachers had multiple copies, but now I definitely understand the effect multiple copies can have. I think leaving little notes in books about the type of book it is and what type of reader would enjoy it is so simple, but genius. I do, however, have a question. I am currently observing a high school classroom and my co-operating teacher firmly believes in reading for fun. He calls it an “independent read” and gives students some class time every few weeks to read their books in class. Unfortunately he does have two assignments for the books. Students are to keep a reading journal (5 in total) before they are collected. They can pose 5 questions, write a summary, draw a detailed picture, make a well thought out and explained prediction and more. Students are also expected to write a five paragraph essay on their independent read by the given deadline. Is this strategy a step in the right direction? Also, for students who are very involved in after school activities or time consuming courses, what is another strategy to guide students to read more, even with busy schedules?

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    November 8, 2015
  3. I’m in favor of any activities which end up creating waiting lists for books. Currently, there are sixteen books in my classroom with their own bright pink waiting list posters. I take one day a month and spread out 75+ of my newest titles and ask the students to mingle with a new book every five minutes–add your name to the post-it inside if you’d like to take it out sometime. It creates a buzz. It reminds students that they have a next book–and it gets them talking and thinking 2-3 next books to read…

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    November 4, 2015

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