Reading More to Read Better … What a Concept!

I shared a Reading / Writing lesson a few weeks back and for several reasons I decided to do a bit of an update post. For one it has ended up being a great addition to the “Free Reading” program I have been trying out in my classroom. Like Doug Noon, I too have read Stephen Krashen’s research and that coupled with training I received decades ago in “Whole Language”, and my own 27 years of teaching experience, lead me to give more priority to Silent Sustained Reading (SSR) this year. But recently what has encouraged me further has been on-site discussions we have had as a staff under the direction of our vice-principal about spending more of our 90 minute “Reading Block” time actually reading as opposed to doing activities or skill lessons about reading.

We were asked to evaluate how much time we actually give students to read during reading class. This was very interesting on it’s own because for a number of years now we had been DIRECTED to use the “Reading Series” as written … “we selected it because it has been research based and shown ‘to work’ so you will follow it.” Teacher evaluations were even based on proving they “followed the program”. What came to light was that “following the program” actually translated into doing more skills work (often but not always worksheets) than actual reading … almost 2 to 1. Some teachers even pointed out that on a certain day of the week during reading class when “following the program” they did almost no independent sustained reading at all.

The upshot was that we were told to really work at adding more time to actual reading. I took that very much to heart and jumped in. As luck would have it my loving wife donated over 3,000 bonus points from a book club and I was able to pad my already decent classroom library with over 80 new books. I prioritized SSR time even more so  and gave my students a series of pep talks about the value of reading more on becoming a skilled reader – and a person that enjoys reading (although I know the new books really helped the most) and we were off. I noted right away that students that enjoyed books like “Nate the Great”, because they could finish one and had 12 more or so to pick from, just kept on reading. It took about a week, but at the end of 30 minutes when I would tell them we needed to move on I started to get more groans about having to stop (which I reminded them was a sign that they were becoming “readers”).

To leverage this experience and get them reading even more I started the “Important Book” lessons. I stated in that earlier post that “at risk” students in general (and that was certainly true of too many of my students) often don’t know enough about topics to know to be interested in them. When we started out I had a list of “high interest” topics that students picked from, but that quickly became an option as I encouraged students to learn about things they were, or had always been interested in. Students interestingly enough used our list most of the time … and we at first, at least, kept adding topics to the list. Students just were not used to thinking about “interesting” things they’d like to know more about. They had very little, if any, experience in thinking that way! But as we have done more and more of these hour long online reading research/writing experiences, students have been using the list less and less and have begun to find or notice things they want to know more about.

NOTE that at least in my classroom 30 minutes to read and 30 minutes to write (as opposed to 15 which is hard but certainly less time consuming) seems to work best. 30 minutes gives the students enough time to read and take enough notes to be able to write about. So far the results have been encouraging. Check out Doug’s post as he provides a list and links to some of the other activities and thinking that go well with this approach.

Learning is messy!

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5 thoughts on “Reading More to Read Better … What a Concept!

  1. I wonder if there is a site like Goodreads for younger readers where they could share their recommendations and comments on the books?

    One of our teachers at the high school uses that, and students seem to really like it.

    Our elementary librarians use a wiki where students can post book recommendations, which also has worked fairly well, I think!

  2. Kudos to you–I like your ideas. Here’s an aside–I teach gifted kids and you would think most of them are avid and rabid readers. Not the case–some of them don’t (or didn’t) read at all for pleasure. (I call them the ‘math/science’ kids). Anyway, several years ago I started developing a class library. Many of my older students have out grown the school library or it wasn’t getting the series they wanted fast enough. So I have an “Adopt a Book” drive at the beginning of the year. I also carry a list of all the books with me so I can pick them up cheap at our local library’s book sales.

    Here is an outcome from our class library I didn’t expect but has thrilled me—many of my ‘non pleasure’ readers (mostly boys) have started reading up a storm. AND it’s all about getting the right book in their hands. I guess some parents don’t have a clue what’s “hot” and even some school librarians don’t get the right book to the right kid. So–the point? I don’t know, but I know there is a book for every kid–it’s just finding a good match.

    I want to do something with graphic novels but haven’t started that yet.Keep up the good work.

    BTW I started reading Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins to my 6th graders today–they love being read to, too. It’s wonderful, I read it over the weekend–but for mature readers. I have other great ooks I could recommend if you are interested. N

  3. Brian – During the 2007-2008 school years, the elementary school decided to make reading “for pleasure” a priority with the students and get them excited about reading. I am the 4th grade teacher and quickly got to work developing a fun program that would encourage the entire student population to participate. I have done the BookIt! program for many years, and students do enjoy this program; I wanted to go above and beyond this opportunity.

    I set goals for the entire school – kindergarten through fifth grade. The theme was “Reaching for the Stars.” I found beautiful pictures of Earth, Venus, and Mercury. I turned these into 2’ x 2’ posters and mounted them on the ceiling of the main hallway. The objective for the students was to FUEL our space shuttle through READING MINUTES – I did conversions with the distance.

    We launched off at the beginning of the school year from Earth. As we passed Venus, we had a Greek Day to celebrate our accomplishment. Then as we past Mercury, we had a READING IS HOT HOT HOT party. When we reached the SUN – we celebrated that we had “Reached for the Stars”.

    There were some changes made in our school and the reading program hasn’t taken off the way it did last year. This is basically due to the lack of staff support and the lack of interest. I can assure you that an adult or a small group needs to stay on top of this type of program and keep it energized. However, the energies have been put into other areas. I am still encouraging my students to read and turn in reading calendars. I make sure we have tons of fun each month and reward them with free books from my scholastic points! They also get their yummy pizza coupon.

  4. One of the things that I liked most about this blog was that you mentioned that you want to make reading interesting for your students. Reading can be one of those activities that students don’t enjoy because the topic does not interest them. And encouraging them to do this shows that you really care about their success.