Saturday, February 20, 2010

Reigniting the Fire: Maintaining Independent Reading

One aspect of independent reading that is often overlooked is how carefully it needs to be maintained throughout the year. Things can go from good to poor very quickly.

When we returned from the holiday break, my reading time had stabilized into a calm, focused period with kids engaged in great books. A month later, this same calm time had become fragmented. Kids were returning to their "flitting" habits, randomly grabbing picture books off the shelves or lingering for long periods by the bookshelves. The series books which had been so hotly contested were just languishing on the shelves. Kids weren't updating their book lists or consulting their Someday Lists.

I had a part in this as well. I had drifted into spending the reading time taking care of urgent classroom tasks, dealing with issues from lunch and recess, working with students to get organized, and managing homework problems. Pressured by upcoming state tests, I was also putting the squeeze on independent reading time, shaving off time at the beginning and end.

Clearly, I needed to make some changes! I took a two-prong approach--working with individual students, and meeting with the class as a whole.

Class meeting: We met at the carpet with our reading logs. I asked students, "What do you notice as you look at the books that you have read this year? What do you like? What do you want to change?" The students spent a few minutes talking about this with their partners, and then we shared. I was gratified to see that they noticed the same problems that I did. One girl said, "I've been choosing the easy books. I want to try something harder again."

A boy said, "I haven't been writing down the books that I read, and now I forget them. I wish that I had kept a list." (I give students a reading log because many enjoy capturing their progress...I don't force them to keep it or give them a grade on it.)

When we looked at our Someday Lists, real enthusiasm emerged. "I've read three books from my list!" a girl said. "Can I borrow a pencil? I want to add the rest of the Among the Hidden series to my Someday List," a boy said...and this was a boy who had finished few books throughout the year.

Then, I shared a few books with them. I had chosen a few that were a new level of challenge--an Annie Oakley biography, The Teacher's Funeral, and Time for Andrew. Instead of reading the back or the first few pages, I chose an exciting bit from each one to share. For the Annie Oakley biography, this was the account of how Annie shot her first squirrel. (Hunting is a favorite pasttime of some of my students, and I knew they would appreciate this part!) They were riveted. When I held up the book--a book that had been on the shelves all year, with no readers--ten hands shot up in the air. I gave it to one boy, and told the rest to put it on their Someday Lists.

The whole meeting took about fifteen minutes. Students went away from our conversation with clear goals for themselves as readers, and a renewed interest in reading. I thought to myself, "Fifteen minutes! That's all it took to get us back on track." Even with trying to fit everything in before the tests, I can spare fifteen minutes each week to keep things going strong.

Next time, I'll write about the other part of my independent reading maintenance program: The Let's Get Real Conference.

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