I recently spoke to a group of middle school teachers about independent reading, and there was quite a range of feelings about the topic. Some gushed about how independent reading empowers their students, while others confessed it was the most difficult and frustrating part of their day. They described a wide range of what independent reading can look like, from a station (while other students are in small group or at the computer) to an entire class reading independently at the same time. At one school I visited, they had instituted school-wide Sustained Silent Reading (SSR) at a designated time of day to reduce distractions and interruptions.
No matter what independent reading looks like in your school, it can be a challenge to get students to focus on reading for a designated amount of time. Third grade teacher Kate Umstatter shared some advice in this post on teaching students to stay focused. Ms. Umstatter describes how her class worked up to almost one hour/day of independent reading. Below are the six strategies she’s found to be tried and true:
1. Teach what staying focused looks, sounds, and feels like by modeling what they should do with their eyes, hands, mouths, and feet during independent reading.
2. Relate academic stamina to physical stamina to help students understand what it means to build endurance (in a marathon and with reading).
3. Teach how to refocus by giving guidance on what to do (e.g., breathe deeply) when they’re off track.
4. Use visuals to track reading progress and motivate students.
5. Differentiate by using a variety of strategies and accommodations to help all students increase endurance.
6. Encourage students to reflect regularly by thinking about what keeps them from focusing (sitting by a friend, worrying, hunger) and identifying ways to overcome any issues.
Do you have any strategies that help your students read independently? Share them below.