Monday, September 22, 2014

Sticking with Independent Reading

Day 20 has come and gone! Independent reading has settled into a routine--kind of. Sadly, this is the time of year when many teachers abandon independent reading. The initial thrill of start-up has ended, and teachers are feeling pressure to move on to more academic pursuits. It can be easy to skip independent reading "just for today"--and then tomorrow, and the next day, and before you know it, kids just aren't bringing books to class anymore.

But this is the time of year to stick with independent reading!  These are some of the personalities that I have observed in my readers, and how I deal with them. There is very much a sense of Zen in working with readers. There are no hard and fast rules, until there are.

The Flitter
Oh, these are the kids that are giving me gray hair! One day I will get a kid set up with a supportive book talk. They will seem engaged with the text. The next day? No book. "I left it in my desk" or "I left it at home." Even worse, sometimes these readers will grab a new book off the shelf.

It's hard to keep from getting frustrated in these situations. However, these readers need an unfailingly positive atmosphere.  Something about "we read the same book each day, because it makes a complete story" just isn't sinking in. If I don't fix this in fourth grade, it may never get fixed!

A simple "Still-Reading" box is a great help. I have a box in the room for students to keep classroom books in. If kids have trouble bringing books back and forth to class, have them keep their books in the room. It's also important for me to keep track of the books that kids are reading so that they don't slip into flitting day after day. Finally, it is for these readers that I try to stick with read-aloud. Even if they never finish a whole book on their own, they will hear an entire book and get a sense of what a connected work is like.

The Narrow Reader
These are the readers who decide early in the year that they are going to stick with one kind of book. It might be a series, or it might be an author. In my experience, narrow readers are often boys, and they are often on the edge of struggle with grade level text. I've learned that this quirk of independent reading is often quite helpful, and should be allowed as much as possible. I've even gone out and purchased more books in the series for these kids!

The Acquisitional Reader
These readers don't begin to worry me until this time of the year. In the first few weeks of school, acquisitional readers look like they are doing all the right things--they bring books to class and they look like they are reading. Often the books these readers have are big and on or above grade level. But it's around this time that I start to realize that these readers aren't finishing the big beautiful books they are lugging around. They might switch between three books at a time, gaining only hazy representations of the plots.

I deal with each acquisitional reader a little differently. I certainly don't want to squash their enthusiasm! However, I do want these student to realize that they are missing--something. Sometimes I might read a chapter or two with these students, talking about what they are visualizing. Sometimes I will ask them to try out an easier, shorter book for a week or two. Listening to books on CD is often transformational for these acquisitional readers. (I speak from personal experience, as my younger son tends to acquisitional reading sometimes! We're listening to the Heroes of Olympus series in the car, a book that he would never attempt on his own but is enjoying listening to with the rest of us.)

So I go to my cabinet of totally awesome books and offer three supportive book talks. I choose books that are tailored to what I know about the student's interests. They look at each book, make a face, and say, "Nahhh."

This is tough. It's hard to not feel a bit insulted after such rejection. In fact, lately I've been sending it back to these students. "Maybe the books that I have are not interesting for you, and that's fine. But you will now need to be responsible for your book selection, or you will need to read the next book that I choose for you."

And do you know what? Often these students do read the next book that I choose for them.

The Listener
I've had a few students in the last week who have delighted me in unexpected ways. Some of these readers have been very quiet students. I've gone to get them some book choices and they have piped up, "Can I have Amulet?" or "Can I have that book that you were telling someone about last week, where the parents disappeared and there was a castle?" I realized that some kids were listening in on all of the supportive book talks--and, even better, they were silently gathering recommendations.

The Trusting
By Day 20 I have earned some students' trust so completely that I think they would read anything I recommend. I take this trust very seriously and talk about next book selections honestly. "This is a stretch from what you've read before, but I think you might like it," or "This book just came in and I think you'd love it!" Sometimes all I have to do is stand by the cabinet with a book in my hand, no words needed, and 2-3 kids will come over to see what I have for them. These are the best moments.

Happy to read all day
And, of course, every class has the delightful group of students who would be happy to read all day. They choose their own books, carry them from place to place, and bury themselves in the story whenever they get a chance. My main task with these students is to stick with independent reading--and to structure a happy, productive time for everyone.

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