From the Classroom: Sustaining Independent Reading Throughout the School Year
Colleague, Rita DiCarne recently posted the above image on her Facebook feed. While my students are already familiar with these stats as well as many of the other researched benefits of reading daily, they still tend to hit a lull in their reading motivations at about this time of year. This is why, when I saw Rita’s post, I took the opportunity to copy the infograph and invited my students to tape them into their reading notebooks and write in reflection. Reminders like the one above, when combined with continuous opportunities to explore and discuss new books, help us sustain that energy for daily reading in and out of our classrooms.
Reading reflection prompts: Throughout the year I invite students to pause and think not just about what they are reading, but why they are reading. Some of the prompts below have lead to thoughtful reflection and meaningful conversations:
- Teacher and writer Kelly Gallagher said, “Reading books helps us to enter the feelings, imaginings, and thoughts of others. We temporarily leave our world for theirs, and when we return, we hope our thinking will be expanded and strengthened. We hope to be enlarged intellectually and/or emotionally.” How has your reading expanded and strengthened your thinking? How have you been enlarged intellectually and/or emotionally by what you’ve been reading?
- Study the infograph on Children who read for fun every day. What do you learn about reading habits as children age? Why do you think this happens? How can we fight against these stats?
- “‘Fiction is a kind of simulation, one that runs not on computers but on minds: a simulation of selves in their interactions with others in the social world…based in experience, and involving being able to think of possible futures,,” cognitive psychologist Keith Oatley is quoted as saying. Literary fiction, in other words, works like a flight simulator, only it trains you to avoid crashing and burning as a human rather than as a pilot.” With this in mind, what training have you gained from your fiction reading so far this year? (Source: New Study: Reading Fiction Really Will Make You Nicer and More Empathetic)
- After listening to an interview with Walter Dean Myers and Christopher Myers, reflect on the comparison they make – “these books are used as fantasy, these books are used as ways that kids can make road maps for their own lives, and if we don’t give them proper road maps, where are they going to end up?” Create a visual of the ways your reading this year has created a road map for you.
Book Flood Activities: I combine these moments of reflection with numerous opportunities to look at and discuss new books throughout the course of the school year. I have discovered it is not enough to merely surround students with lots of varied and engaging reading materials. You have to also give them lots of opportunities to engage with these materials. Below is a brief list of some of the ways I actively immerse students in wading through the classroom book flood:
- Judge a book by its cover – I enlarge several book covers and give students time to walk around the room and evaluate the books based just on their covers. As you can see from the pictures, many students express a desire to actually read the books based on their assumptions. I keep these covers on display for several weeks so students have visual reminders of books they want to read.
- Judge a book by its first page – I photocopy the first page of several books and invite students to react to how these books begin. They do not get to see the covers or know the titles or authors until after they have made their judgements. Therefore, their assumptions are based solely on the writing. For each of the first pages pictured below, I had students listen to the audiobook versions, so they were also judging by the voice narration as well.
- Book displays – I use every surface of my classroom to display books and I regularly change displays based on student interest, reading assignment or activities, new book arrivals, etc. I do this to keep the displays fresh, but also because the books on display do not last long. I also have a rotating display of student recommended reads. I throw a few points towards students for crafting a short write-up and adding to the display. Again, books are rotated in and out of this display, but I keep a running list of all the titles that have been recommended below it.
- Make my reading visible – Not only do I regularly read and discuss books with my students, but I also keep a running visual of the reading I’m currently doing, the reading I’ve done, and welcome suggestions for the reading I should do next.
- Make their reading visible – we begin all of our class reading time with a reading minute. Borrowed from Kelly Gallagher, students lead these reading minutes by briefly telling us the title of a book they’re reading and describing it in one sentence. Then they read for a minute. No more, no less.
An integral part of each of these book flood activities is I always invite students to take the time to add any interesting titles to their running to-read lists in their reader notebooks. The key to sustaining an independent reading habit is to maintain a healthy list of backup and next reads.
How do you fight the mid-year lull in independent reading motivation? What activities spark your students to want to keep picking up book after book?