Guided Reading: Part 1, Getting Set Up

The post below originally appeared in full on Scholastic's Top Teaching blog.

Children have always come to school with a range of literacy experiences and abilities. Teachers continue to struggle daily as they attempt to meet the needs of all their learners. A one-size-fits-all model of teaching will never meet this varied range and, in fact, there is evidence that providing students with the same reading instruction can actually be detrimental to student achievement.

Differentiation

Differentiated instruction is matching instruction to the different needs of learners in a given classroom. The range of instructional needs within one classroom is vast. In order to accommodate these instructional needs, teachers need to provide small group, differentiated instruction. In a differentiated classroom, students are given many opportunities to practice and reinforce reading skills by participating in whole and small group activities. Students are given many opportunities to practice, demonstrate, and extend learning independent of the teacher during independent literacy centers. Teachers will also provide explicit instruction based on student need at the teacher-led table — and guided reading provides a perfect platform for differentiation. 

What Is Guided Reading?

Guided reading is a differentiated approach to teaching reading. It is done in small groups with the goal of preparing students to become independent readers. Guided reading gives teachers the opportunity to observe students as they read texts at their own instructional levels.

Although there are many different definitions of guided reading, Burkins & Croft (2010) identify these common elements: 

  1. Working with small groups
  2. Matching student reading ability to text levels
  3. Giving everyone in the group the same text
  4. Introducing the text
  5. Listening to individuals read
  6. Prompting students to integrate their reading processes
  7. Engaging students in conversations about the text

To learn more about getting started with guided reading in your class, visit Top Teaching!

Attendance: The New Equity Frontier

What’s the single most important word a student can say every day to boost achievement? 

Here.

The act of showing up to school is one of the greatest predictors of student success, from early literacy through graduation, with impact lasting into adulthood. Kids miss school for lots of reasons: sickness, truancy, suspension, and out-of-school barriers. Whether excused or unexcused, absent students miss instruction in equal measure. But new research has exposed just how unevenly this issue strikes our nation’s students.

The federal government has recently been shining a bright light on data that tracks students who are chronically absent, commonly defined as missing 10% or more of school days. In June, 2016, the U.S. DOE’s Office of Civil Rights released an unprecedented report on chronic absence, declaring a national crisis: one in eight students across the nation miss 15 or more days of school a year. That’s over 6.5 million students who missed more than three weeks of school during a single school year.

That groundbreaking report prompted Hedy Chang (Executive Director of Attendance Works) and Robert Balfanz (Director of Everyone Graduates Center, Johns Hopkins University) to probe further. Balfanz explains, "The question we really asked ourselves is: we know there's 6.5 million chronically absent kids in the nation, but where do we find those kids? Because in order to change chronic absenteeism, we have to go where the students are chronically absent, and just a national number doesn't tell us that."

On September 8th, Chang and Balfanz released the results of their analysis in “Preventing Missed Opportunity.”

Their research yielded several dramatic findings:

  • Chronic absence strikes everywhere, occurring in 90% of our nation’s districts.

  • Although it’s widespread, the majority of cases are highly concentrated. Over half of all chronic absenteeism takes place in just four percent of our nation’s districts, and 12% of our schools. 

  • Chronic absenteeism strikes rural areas hard as well as urban. In fact, most of the districts reporting over 30% of students with chronic absenteeism are found in rural areas. 

  • Minorities, students living in poverty, and students with disabilities are disproportionately affected.

Despite those alarming statistics, there is some promising news. Chronic absence can be dramatically reduced when districts, families, and community partners collaborate using proven strategies.

Hedy Chang is one of the nation’s leading champions for increasing attendance as a lever for closing the achievement gap. We spoke to Chang to get her perspective on how families, teachers, and districts can be part of that solution. 

Districts and schools across the country have gotten the message: attendance matters. What are some key steps a district can take to prevent chronic absenteeism?

One huge step all districts and schools should take is to use their attendance data to figure out how much chronic absence is a problem. We offer a free set of tools that can help take a closer look by school, grade, and student sub-groups. Once you analyze the data, you can target your resources where they are needed most. You can look for bright spots with low absence rates, and celebrate those successes.

We’ve also found that sharing the data with school staff, health providers, civic organizations—to name a few—helps everyone to unpack and understand the barriers to attendance and work together to develop solutions.

Are there effective strategies and tools you recommend for families to use?

Yes, in many ways, families are the frontline for tackling this issue. When we emphasize the fact that missing just two days a month impacts a child’s success, that helps frame the issue in a way that’s easy to digest. We recognize that families need a support network, and need to know some ready resources for those times they need help getting their kids to school.

We’ve also found that encouraging family routines makes a big difference. For example, having a set bedtime and reading a book at night can ease the transition to school the next morning.

You mention reading a book at bedtime. We know that higher attendance is linked to higher literacy rates. But can building family literacy also be a strategy for boosting attendance?

Literacy and attendance go hand-in-hand. First of all, children with better attendance have higher reading scores—that’s a known fact. But there is a deeper cycle to look at. When students gain literacy skills and feel more successful, then they are more likely to want to go school.

In addition, we’ve seen that participation in family literacy programs is associated with higher attendance. We think this could reflect the additional boost that comes when parents have a connection to their children’s learning and have a better sense for why showing up to school, as early as preschool and kindergarten, matters so much for their learning and succeeding.

Chronic absenteeism strikes hard in areas of urban poverty, but your research also revealed a high impact in some rural areas as well.  Does the nature of absenteeism vary in different areas? 

Absolutely. The issue of poverty is one constant that contributes to families lacking the resources to address basic needs (such as housing, transportation, food, clean clothes, and health care) that are necessary for daily attendance.

But the way this plays out varies by community. For example, transportation is often a great challenge in rural communities, as well as the sense of isolation that may accompany that geographic factor. Additionally, children with health issues who live even farther away from school often miss school because gaining access to medical treatment requires driving long distance.

With the latest research, chronic absence is now recognized as a barrier to an equal opportunity to learn.  Has this national spotlight on attendance as an equity issue prompted any action at the federal level?

Yes, there’s been incredible movement on the federal level! The White House and U.S. Department of Education teamed up in February 2016 to launch the My Brother’s Keeper’s Success Mentors initiative, and an Ad Council Campaign, both aimed at ensuring students are in school every day so they can learn.   

Do these initiatives have teeth? Will they move the needle?

We really believe so, and we’re already seeing changes. Chronic absence is now a required reporting element in ESSA, the Every Student Succeeds Act. State Education Agencies must release an annual state report card describing how the state is meeting Title I requirements. In addition to measures such as per-pupil expenditures and student achievement, the report cards must include rates of chronic absenteeism, along with incidences of violence, including bullying and harassment. Local Education Agencies are also required to issue report cards to the public that include chronic absenteeism. In addition, under ESSA, states have the option of defining whether or not to use chronic absence as a measure of school quality and student success.  With all of these measures, along with increased funding, we think we will see chronic absenteeism decline dramatically. More importantly, we are hopeful that we’ll see equal access to learning lead to increased academic and lifelong success.

 

In recognition of Attendance Awareness Month (September), this is the first post of a two-part series exploring the impact of chronic absenteeism and looking at solutions.

 

How to Implement a Sustainable Comprehensive Literacy Program

Creating a literacy-rich culture in school begins with the implementation of a strong, sustainable literacy plan. In order to achieve this, literacy leaders must develop a long-term comprehensive literacy strategy that is dynamic, flexible, and responsive to all students’ academic needs—and  which is also steeped in family engagement, learning supports, and ongoing professional learning. 

Literacy instruction “must-haves”

Although balanced literacy instruction will vary from district to district, there are five components that are essential to any program—what I call the reading and writing “must-haves.” They are:

  1. Read and Write Aloud
  2. Shared Reading and Writing
  3. Guided Reading and Writing
  4. Independent Reading and Writing

Messaging

With these elements in mind, literacy leaders will decide on what comprehensive literacy looks like in their particular school or district. Once a vision is achieved, it is crucial to share the plan not only with the central office and school community—but also with students’ families. We know that students reach their fullest academic potential when they are deeply engaged with literacy both in and out of school—and so ongoing engagement with families is essential. Once the message has been shared, the school or district can begin the work of creating a culture of rich literacy.

Building from strengths

No matter what a district’s literacy goals are, no matter what has been achieved or what challenges lie ahead, an important first step is assessing strengths and building from there. So whether a school or district is just starting, or whether strategies have been in place for several years, a flexible and adaptive plan will use existing strengths as a starting point. Going forward, literacy leaders will gather and analyze current data on student reading levels, and make necessary adjustments. In differentiated classrooms, students learn in small groups that constantly grow and change based on students’ mastery of essential skills. This literacy plan is flexible and dynamic: always responsive to current teacher and student work.

Thinking long term

Many districts want to try to implement a plan in just one year. But a strong comprehensive literacy program doesn’t just support the academic achievement of this year’s students, or next year’s—the best program will be scalable and sustainable in the long-term. I recommend beginning in the lower grades (K-2) with building vocabulary, word study, and doing guided reading. Then ideally, by third grade, readers will have already experienced several years of balanced literacy instruction—they are on their way to self-selecting books and doing independent reading with gained student skills. It sounds like a long process, but the goal is that by middle school, teachers will no longer be teaching reading; kids will have developed solid skills over a 3-5 year period.   

Professional development pulls it all together

What makes all of this come together is incredible professional development. Once the plan is implemented, coaches can stay in the district and work with teachers day-to-day, modeling the techniques that teachers need to master. With a multi-year plan for embedded professional development, teachers build expertise that is sustainable, and stays with the district.

Working Magic: International Literacy Day, September 8, 2016

Carl Sagan, American astronomer, astrophysicist, and author, was also a bibliophile who famously suggested that books are "proof that humans are capable of working magic."

On Wednesday, September 8, 2016, governments, organizations, and communities around the world will recognize and celebrate the magic of books and reading. International Literacy Day was founded in 1965 by UNESCO to showcase the life-enhancing learning power of literacy, as well as provide the global community with a "health check" of the status of literacy worldwide.

The focus of the two-day conference is to honor those who have been working to ensure that, by 2030, all youth and many adults will achieve both literacy and numeracy. Additionally, those attending the conference will launch the Global Alliance for Literacy (GAL), which aims to "promote literacy as a foundation for lifelong learning." 

Scholastic, a dedicated promoter of literacy for more than 95 years, recently released the results of the international editions of the Kids & Family Reading Report™ survey in conjunction with International Literacy Day. As those results clearly show, children across the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, and India share much in common when it comes to the magic of reading. 

Students across all four countries overwhelmingly:

  • prefer to choose their own books

  • enjoy being read aloud to

  • benefit from a parent who is a reading role model

  • want to read books that make them laugh.

While we can smile in agreement with these insightful findings, we must never lose sight of the people around the world who are far less fortunate. Vast numbers of both children and adults still can’t read. The UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) reports that there are "758 million adults 15 years and older who still cannot read or write a simple sentence. Roughly two-thirds of them are female."

Perhaps nowhere is the life-saving magic of reading more apparent than in a secret library hidden underground, beneath a bombed-out building in Darayya, a suburb of Damascus, Syria, which has been under siege for nearly four years.

Here, amidst the unfathomable trauma of war, children and adults alike seek safety and solace among the stacks of books—14,000 volumes rescued from homes and offices destroyed by the incessant shelling of the Syrian army. This secret library provides not only hours of reading pleasure in a safe underground haven, but also learning, inspiration, and, most importantly, hope. As one grateful library patron explains to the BBC: 

"In a sense, the library gave me back my life… just like the body needs food, the soul needs books."

Author, historian, and activist Rebecca Solnit has written, “a book is a heart that only beats in the chest of another.” As we celebrate International Literacy Day on September 8th, let us link hearts, pledge to work the magic of books, and promote the joy and power of literacy—and, in the process, create a peaceful world in which all children have an equal chance for full lives, rich with the magic reading makes possible.  

Want to learn more about the Kids & Family Reading Report™, and kids' attitudes and behaviors around reading books for fun worldwide?

Click here to download the infographic!

Reading Roundup: Surprising (Good) News about School Readiness

In the past week, news outlets have been reporting on new, surprising research out of Stanford University regarding the narrowing of the school-readiness gap. The findings include:

  • low-income children are entering school with stronger reading and math skills
  • the achievement gap between low- and high-income kindergartners shrank 10-16%

Below is a roundup of four articles, each with their own take on the good news. 

The Good News About Educational Inequality by Sean F. Reardon, Jane Waldfogel and Daphna Bassok

(The New York Times)

The study's authors share their findings in The New York Times. Key quote: "It’s worth noting that the gap in school readiness narrowed because of relatively rapid improvements in the skills of low-income children, not because the skills of children from high-income families declined." 

Low-income kindergartners are closing the achievement gap, reversing a decades-old trend by Emma Brown

(The Washington Post)

Possible explanation for the academic increases made by low-income children: increased focus on early childhood education programs; low-income families now spend more time reading and doing educational recreational activities with their children; public information campaigns about the importance of rich educational experiences for young children. 

Surprise! Amid Rising Inequality, One School Gap Is Narrowing by Eric Westervelt

(NPR.org)

An interview with the study's lead author, Sean Reardon (Stanford University), who attributes the gains to improvements in the quality of preschool, and family and community engagement. 

Finally, a disturbing trend in education shows signs of reversal by Joy Resmovits

(Los Angeles Times)

Key quote: "Why does it matter? Better-prepared kindergartners often have more success in high school. 'The skills that kids have when they enter kindergarten can be very predictive of how they’ll progress through school,' Reardon said. 'It’s hard for schools to undo the differences.'"

 

New Year’s Resolutions for Literacy Leaders

In coming weeks, we will be featuring posts from literacy leaders who will be speaking at the Literacy Leaders' Institute, presented by Scholastic and ASCD (San Diego, CA, September 22-24, 2016). If you're an educational thought leader who would like to plan and implement a comprehensive literacy program in your school or district, click here to register!

Labor Day is upon us, the season when educators make "new year’s resolutions." Rejuvenated from summer break, we dream big about the year to come and the nurturing environments we will create for our students.

Literacy leaders think carefully about how to provide the daily, abundant access to irresistible books that will propel all readers forward. This week, in the calm before school opening, my colleagues and I have made the following commitments. Going forward, as our calendars brim, we’ll help each other sustain these “healthy habits” that we know will pay off big time! 

Literacy Leadership Actions to Promote Access, Choice, and Volume for All Readers

1. Promulgate research on the importance of voluminous, high-success reading for all students

  • Provide professional books, articles, and blog posts for teachers by champions such as Richard Allington, Stephen Krashen, and Donalyn Miller.

  • Allocate time for text-based discussions at faculty meetings.

  • Broadcast the importance of independent reading to families.

  • Make sure that everyone understands that all readers develop by turning page after page in books that they love!

2. Ensure that students have substantial time to read books of their own choosing in school each day

The Scholastic Kids & Family Reading Report™ found that 33% of children ages 6–17 say their class has a designated time during the school day to read a book of choice independently, but only 17% do this every or almost every school day. We need more time dedicated to independent reading during the day!

  • Open the day with 30 minutes of independent reading.

  • Implement reading workshop.

  • Schedule a school-wide reading break.

3. Model our own reading lives and build social energy around reading

  • Display irresistible books in our offices.

  • Carry books with us on classroom visits to read aloud and/or match with readers.

  • Notice what specific children are reading; talk to them about their books and listen carefully for signs of genuine engagement.

4. Promote knowledge of the latest, greatest books and timeless classics

  • Establish book-talking rituals at faculty meetings.

  • Provide time for teachers and librarians to explore reliable reviews and awards lists (e.g., Caldecott, Newbery, American Library Association, Cooperative Center for Children’s Books, National Council for Social Studies, National Science Teachers Association).

  • Provide forums for students, faculty and families to recommend specific titles (e.g., bulletin boards, newsletters, social media).

5. Budget for school libraries and classroom libraries generously, transparently, and reliably

  • Purchase authentic trade books rather than textbooks or programs.

  • Provide teachers and librarians with clear allocations and time and guidance to place orders.

  • Streamline and demystify the ordering process.

  • Monitor budget across the year; ensure every dollar is spent.

  • Encourage teachers and librarians to keep “wish lists” for books and furniture.

  • Budget for new sections; advocate for additional resources.

6. Help teachers build classroom libraries for the readers they expect and customize libraries for the students they have

  • Build baseline collections over time in each classroom of 1,000+ books with a wide range of genres, formats, topics, and levels matching grade level expectations.

  • Develop an ordering cycle that includes an initial allocation and opportunities for teachers to order books across the year based on new releases and student tastes.

  • Enable teachers to print short texts around students’ interests and timely topics and/or to access them on electronic devices.

7. Support teachers in setting up appealing and navigable classroom libraries

  • Encourage teachers to involve children in making choices about library organization.

  • Provide time for teachers to visit each other’s classroom libraries.

  • Discuss the judicious use of reading levels as a professional tool rather than a means of labeling children.

  • Ensure reading levels are not marked conspicuously on books.

8. Support teachers and librarians in inventorying and weeding their collections

  • Provide time and encouragement for weeding; it is difficult to discard books.

  • Remove books that are dated, inaccurate, or misleading; contain stereotypes; are in poor physical condition (reorder new copies of popular classics); don’t reflect students’ interests and needs; are easily obtained somewhere else; or haven’t been read.

  • Discard these books; resist the temptation to donate them.

9. Promote school library circulation

  • Ensure unfettered access to books by reducing or eliminating circulation limits.

  • Free our librarians to match children with appealing books. Provide clerical support and/or cultivate volunteers to check out, return, and re-shelve books.

  • Keep our school libraries open before school, at lunch, and after school.

  • Promote book returns through family outreach and electronic reminders.

  • Do not block library privileges when children do not return books.

  • Track school library circulation patterns and note trends.

10. Ensure every child takes home books to read every day

  • Reduce or eliminate other homework. Make reading the main event!

  • Communicate with parents and caregivers about the specific books children are bringing home and encourage them to provide a quiet time and place for reading.

  • Extend efforts to connect with hard-to-reach parents; make home visits.

11. Prevent "reading slide" over school vacations

  • Model your own plans to read over vacations and across the summer. Engage kids in planning their reading lives with specific book titles, sources and reading locations.

  • Send school and classroom library books home over vacations and summer break.

  • Seek funds (grants, PTA) to enable low-income children to select and keep books 15 books apiece for summer reading and beyond.

12. Pay relentless attention to striving readers!

  • Develop a list of readers not yet at benchmark in each grade and track their progress.

  • Ensure that each child has abundant, daily access to compelling books in the classroom library; augment with books from the school library and/or other classrooms as needed.

  • Procure accessible books for striving readers that do not appear “babyish.” Nonfiction is particularly appealing and offers navigational choices.

  • Present striving readers with diverse preview stacks (Donalyn Miller); respect their choices.

  • Confer frequently and conversationally to monitor the match.

  • Ensure all of these vital things are in place before providing supplementary services. The best intervention is a good book!

 

 

Make Book Oases, Not Book Deserts

As a child, books seemed to be everywhere. I remember going to the supermarket with my mother, and as she headed down the aisles, I headed to the checkout counter, grabbed an Archie digest and read to my heart’s content. By the time my mother was ready to check out, I had read one whole comic and had another unread one in my hand for her to purchase. 

At home, I stashed books in secret places—under folded towels in the linen closet, behind the cleaning supplies under the sink, and in a boot in the coat closet—as if fearing a book apocalypse. I wanted to make sure that I could always find a book nearby.  To this day I still stash emergency reading material in my bag and on all my electronic devices. I live delightedly tangled in text.

That’s why the latest research about “book deserts” hit me so hard. Researchers went out to six different communities to analyze how accessible books were in the area. The results are stark. In high-income communities, books are common. Available in chain bookstores, boutiques and toy stores, researchers found 13 titles for every child. However, in high-poverty communities, there was about one book for every 300 children. Hence, the term “book desert”—a vast area where books are rare.

Often schools play a major role in providing access to books—especially for children from low-income homes. The Scholastic Kids & Family Reading Report found that 61% percent of children ages 6–17 from the lowest-income homes say they read for fun mostly in school. Only 32% of kids from the highest-income homes say the same. But what happens when schools are closed? Where do children go to bump into a potential best friend book that can be read over and over while spurring a child to read other books?

Books need to be in those spaces and places frequented by children and families: at the doctor’s office, at the park and yes, in the grocery store, so that children can develop the love of reading.  Working with communities to help all children have access to books—all year round—is everyone’s responsibility. More and more, organizations are stepping up to give children access to texts. Enter, Barbershop Books, run by Alvin Irby.

Barbershop Books works to turn local barbershops in reading retreats for children. While children wait, they can check out a great book from the bookcase and, when they are done, they can talk to the barbers about the book—having a true community reading experience. With a staple of beloved Scholastic books, Barbershop Books helps children to become “Well groomed. Well read.” Learn more here: https://barbershopbooks.org/

Books breathe life into communities and we need to be creative in how we support increasing access. For myself as a child, books were alongside the necessities of life at the grocery store. Where are they in your community?

Five Super Reader Commitments to Make the School Year Unforgettable

Earlier this month, Larry Ferlazzo of Education Week's Classroom Q&A asked: what are the best ways to start a new school year? 

Education experts weighed in, including Pam Allyn, Executive Director and Founder of Litworld, and author of Every Child a Super Reader: 7 Strengths to Open a World of Possible. Below is her take on five ways to not only start the school year right, but to make the entire year unforgettable. 

The time is now to make a commitment to turn every child into a "super reader," to give them a sure way to become truly ready for the 21st century world and to experience the joy, pleasure and exaltation of an empowered reading life.

We can do this, first, by depathologizing the reading experience. We have "medicalized" reading instruction so that we are in a constant state of diagnosing children: leveling them, intervening with them, "pushing in" or "pulling out." The language we use to describe how we teach reading can be negative for children, and our methods for instruction can feel more like treating a disease than raising readers. At LitWord, I work with children across the United States and the world, and see children yearning for a positive reading experience, longing to join the literacy "club," and striving to become better at something they know will change their lives. The negative language of low expectations and intervention is inhibitive. It has prevented them from seeing themselves as super readers, from becoming aspirational in their reading goals, and from being bold and fearless in taking risks as readers. It has denied them a place at the reading table.

I'm recommending five commitments we can all make, as teachers, families and administrators to create a Super Reader Community Zone—a  place where all children have the opportunity of a lifetime: to see reading as a fundamental, joyful part of their everyday lives.

1. Use a strength-based approach to reading instruction.

My most recent work, which culminated in Every Child a Super Reader, a book I co-authored with Dr. Ernest Morrell, focuses on creating a positive foundation to build capacity in every reader through what we call the 7 Strengths. From belonging to courage, from confidence to hope, the 7 Strengths provide an escalating framework that helps bolster a child's authentic learning muscles. The strengths are designed to build resilience in our readers, for them to flourish in a community where their natural strengths are valued, and where they can practice taking risks as readers in a safe way. Use the 7 Strengths to build a supportive reading culture, to help children become "Reading Friends," and to foster a community of goal-setting, where children get in the habit of saying, "I am the kind of reader who..." or, "I am becoming the kind of reader who..." Starting off the year, the 7 Strengths can build capacity in your students for the "soft" skills that will make them stronger readers each week.

2. Affirm small steps of progress.

Don't wait until later in the year to reward and affirm reading progress. Take time each day to honor those small steps. "Today I loved how Pedro read for nine minutes; yesterday he read for seven!" Or, "I appreciate how Sarah took time today to help Janelle select a new book in the library." Help your children discover strength-based language too, so that they can also praise each other's small steps as readers. Post on- and off-line the strength steps your students take each day as readers, from how they build stamina to how they stretch to try new genres.

3. Every day, hold 20 minutes of Structured Independent Reading.

I can't stress this one enough! Twenty minutes a day of Structured Independent Reading will change your kids' lives. While we know from the Scholastic Kids & Family Reading Report that one-third of children ages 6-17 (33%) say their class has a designated time during the school day to read a book of choice independently, only 17% do this every or almost every school day. Giving students opportunity to make choices about what they read and to provide them with book boxes (or a personalized file online) for their curated reading experiences helps them to see themselves as dynamic and ever-growing readers. No one should feel stuck in any one level at any time, though plenty of our students do. While I think leveling has a place for instruction, it is not a natural way to read. Every day I read above, below and at my level; and even as an adult, I am always learning how to be a stronger reader.  Structured Independent Reading time helps our kids explore options across a wide variety of texts and build engagement and motivation.

4. Read aloud every day.

There are several important studies showing the many benefits of reading aloud to your students, including the development of vocabulary skills, grammatical understanding, and genuine connection to texts. It is hard to believe how rich its benefits actually are sometimes because reading aloud is so much fun. Kids should be read a wide variety of topics and genres based on their interests and passions. There are enormous benefits to reading both simpler and complex texts aloud to children. The benefits of the simpler texts include how we value the act of rereading books we love, being able to talk about the text in higher-level ways, and modeling the pure joy of reading. The benefits of reading complex texts are the immersion in advanced vocabulary and grammar, and complex ideas, and introducing children to the idea that no text should be one to fear.

5. Forge new literacy connections with families.

This is a new era for relationships as a whole. No longer should we be using Back to School Night as the main way to connect with families. Technology gives us many ways to be in touch with our kids' families, to honor them as full partners along this journey of raising super readers. We can create weekly messages for our families, complimenting student growth as readers. We can set up class blogs and sharing sites to showcase students' work as readers. We can invite parents to virtually experience a reading celebration, or to join a read aloud using Skype or Facebook Live. We can invite parents and caregivers to share their family stories in the same kinds of ways.

Let's make the 5 Super Reader Commitments to make this year one we will never forget. Our children deserve it. And the time is now.

To read the full post, visit Classroom Q&A with Larry Ferlazzo.

Independent Reading: A Reading Achievement Game-Changer

Independent reading—inviting students to self-select books they want to and can read—is a reading achievement game changer. When students read a wide range of books they choose at school and at home, they enlarge their background knowledge and vocabulary, and develop personal literary tastes as they dip into diverse genres. The Scholastic Kids & Family Reading Report found that 91% of kids say their favorite books are the ones they have picked out themselves!

In addition, researchers like Richard Allington, Donalyn Miller, and Steven Krashen point out that the more books students read independently, the more progress they make. Unfortunately, the reality for teachers is that a large number of the students in our classes avoid reading beyond school requirements. This avoidance negatively affects their vocabulary development, background knowledge, understanding, and reading stamina (the ability to focus on texts for at least thirty minutes). If we can help these students want to read—to choose to read at school and at home—then we can boost their reading achievement.

Jenna’s story illustrates how book talks by peers can change attitudes toward reading.

Jenna’s Story

A week before winter holiday, Jenna arrived in my eighth-grade class. During a new student interview, she became angry when I asked her to tell me about her reading life. “I hate reading, and you’ll never get me to read!”

Not wanting to fuel her anger and frustration toward reading, all I said was, “You definitely have strong feelings about reading.” 

Jenna’s comments ignited my teacher’s instinct to help her develop a love of reading. In my heart, though, I knew that at this moment in Jenna’s reading life, I needed to look to her peers for help—the twenty-five students in my class who were avid readers. Luckily, that week, students were presenting book talks on a self-selected book they had read during December. Jenna looked bored and disinterested until Estela discussed a story from Chicken Soup for the Preteen Soul 2.   

“I need to look at that book,” Jenna blurted after Estela finished. “Show me where the story was you talked about.”  I nodded my approval and Estela handed the book to Jenna. Later that morning, during independent reading, Jenna read “Tears in the Bathroom Stall” by John Powel. She checked out the book from our school library, plus Chicken Soup for the Soul:I Can’t Believe My Dog Did That!.  “I want to read them over winter break,” she explained.

Reading these books turned out to be a transformative experience for Jenna. Ideal for a reader who lacked stamina, the stories were short, and linked to issues young adolescents face. During the rest of the school year, Jenna read more Chicken Soup books, and then read several books in the Black Stallion series. She was on her way to developing a personal reading life and continually looked to peers for book recommendations.

At the end of the school year, I do an exit interview with each student and ask them, “What was one great experience this year?” Without hesitating, Jenna said, “I stopped hating reading.”

Research is clear about the benefits of independent reading of self-selected books in elementary, middle, and high school.  So, it seems logical that independent reading would be part of the English Language Arts curriculum in every school in our country. However, too often it is not, and roadblocks persist. Below, I will address some of these roadblocks and discuss solutions.

Roadblock 1: Finding the Time for Independent Reading

“But I don’t have time to let students read self-selected books at school,” and “How can I be sure they’re reading at school and home?” are two concerns I repeatedly hear from teachers. Time and student accountability are two big issues for teachers. The suggestions that follow can help you deal with both.

Try: Scheduling

Scheduling independent reading is frustrating for teachers who have 45 minutes a day to teach reading or reading and writing. If you have 45 minutes for reading, I recommend that you plan in two-week blocks and have independent reading on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and instructional reading the other three days. Over two weeks, students receive six full periods of instructional reading and four for independent reading.

If you have 45 minutes for reading and writing, during the first week schedule instructional reading on three days, writing on one day, and independent reading on one day. Flip the focus for the second week and schedule writing on three days, instructional reading on one day, and independent reading on one day. Play with and adjust this suggested schedule so that it works for you and your students.

Having students consistently read self-selected books at school builds stamina, the ability to concentrate, and can hook them onto reading for pleasure and exploring topics they love.

In addition, invite students to read at home for thirty minutes a night. Avoid asking them to write summaries of their reading or requiring an adult to verify that they did read. Trust your students, and know that some will avoid reading at first. However, like Jenna, they might find a book that brings them to reading via a student book talk, or by hearing a peer talk about a beloved book. I urge you to look at the glass half-full because no one can force a student to read. The desire has to come from a place deep in their hearts—a place that compels them to read.

Roadblock 2: Student Accountability

The need to have students complete a project for each book they’ve read seems to be widespread.  A project for every book read punishes your best readers and saps the desire to read, read, read! Again, independent reading is a matter of trust between adults and students.

Try: Book Talks

To address accountability and harness the power of peer influence, I like to have students present a book talk on their independent reading near the end of each month, and spread these over two to three classes, depending on the number of students. Just imagine the power in monthly book talks: if you have 25 students in a class, then in ten months, everyone will hear about 250 books! This is an ideal way to feature peer-to-peer recommendations.

Introduce Book Talking

Use a completed read aloud text to show students how you plan and deliver a two-to-three minute book talk. Model how you follow the book talk guidelines to take notes on a 3-by-5-inch index card [see sample notes below]. Point out that retelling is not an option, and that you will stop a student who retells the book and help him or her address the guidelines for the book talk.

Notes for Book Talk  

  • Coretta Scott King: I Kept on Marching by Kathleen Krull, Bloomsbuy, 2016
  • Biography
  • Played a key role in civil rights movement besides supporting her husband, Martin Luther King, Jr. A powerful singer, she gave concerts to raise money for the civil rights cause; she marched, she demonstrated. When her husband died, she carried on his work
  • Her husband, Martin Luther King, Jr. influenced her life: inspired her to fight for civil rights—called him her “cosmic companion.” They believed their cause was much greater then themselves.

Have students plan their first book talk during class so you can provide support. Then, invite them to practice presenting the book talk to a partner so they feel comfortable referring to and elaborating on their notes.

Two Book Talk Formats

Below you’ll find two book talk guidelines—one for fiction and one for nonfiction. Notice that the guidelines ask students to select specific information as well as think at high levels.

Book Talk 1: Realistic Fiction

✦   State the title, author and genre.

✦   Identify three narrative elements—such as setting, problems, and conflicts—and explain how each one is realistic.

✦   Choose an event or character that you connected with and explain the connection.

Book Talk 2: Biography, Autobiography, or Memoir

✦   State the title, author, and identify the person the book is about.

✦   Explain what this person did that changed the world, the environment, saved lives, or in some way helped people.

✦   Choose a person or event from your book that shaped this person’s life and explain how.

Grading Book Talks

You can use students’ notes on index cards and their presentation to give a grade. However, I suggest that you don’t grade the first two book talks. Instead use these as trial runs for students. Offer feedback that enables them to improve. After all, the goal is for students to experience success.

Closing Thoughts

Independent reading of self-selected books can ramp up students’ reading achievement and develop their ability to concentrate on reading for more than thirty minutes. When students reading independently at school on a regular basis, they are more likely to read outside of school (Donalyn Miller, 2011). Developing students’ personal reading lives is a lifetime gift that enables them to explore other cultures, learn information, and visit palaces in the past, present, and future that they could never go to in one lifetime.

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