All Children Deserve Access to Authentic Text

Children are linguistic geniuses. By the time most kids enter school, they have already learned at least one home language with all its many intricate complexities including thousands of words. As children become readers, the opportunity to experience the rich, alluring language of literature can set them on the path to becoming joyful, lifelong readers. In this literacy journey, the key is providing young readers with opportunities to read text that inspires and engages them—right from the very beginning—to think and feel deeply about the text on the page, to make connections between the print and their own lives, and to imagine lives beyond their own. In other words, all children deserve access to the joy and many pleasures of authentic text.

What do we mean by authentic text? Authentic text is real, living language written to engage readers and draw them in; it may entertain, inform, or persuade. It invites active reading, robust problem-solving, and deep analysis because it comprises conceptually rich, compelling ideas and language from life. Early literacy expert Lesley Morrow defines authentic texts as, “A stretch of real language produced by a real speaker or writer for a real audience and designed to convey a real message of some sort.” Unlike contrived text, authentic text is never written or assembled for the purpose of teaching reading or delivering a set of skills.

An important distinction between authentic and contrived text is how readers engage with it and children learn from it. When it comes to literacy instruction, both authentic and contrived text can be used to teach reading strategies and skills. But while contrived text requires the teacher to mediate between the text and the reader to ensure learning, authentic text can instruct on its own because of its rich content and language.

Furthermore, authentic text provides natural scaffolding for the reader—the structure and patterns of real language support comprehension. Authentic text helps students understand how language works in the real world, and invites them to take part in that world by moving in, out, and through the world of ideas and living language.

Children need time every day to read authentic books: real books featuring funny, scary, enchanting stories by authors children can find in the bookstore or library. And children need books that they can sink their teeth into and discuss and debate with their peers. Early literacy instruction that incorporates authentic text supports young readers’ ability to learn language and vocabulary, and ignites their love for authors, illustrators, topics, and genres.

While interactive read-alouds and independent reading enable our students to lose themselves in the pleasure and glory of literature, children also benefit immeasurably from small group instruction with authentic text. Years ago, British educator Margaret Meek pointed out that what “readers read makes all the difference to their view of reading.” All the more reason to invite students to read text that engages their imaginations, stirs their emotions, expands their knowledge, and encourages them to ask new questions about the world.

Reading makes us smart. Indeed, the biggest differentiator between those who succeed in school and those who don’t is independent reading. An analysis of 99 studies that focused on the leisure-time reading of authentic text by students from preschool to grade 12 and college students found that print exposure created an upward spiral of literacy confidence and competency. Students who practiced voluminous reading got a boost in oral language sophistication, reading comprehension, and technical reading and writing skills. For each year of independent reading, students’ skills improved, bolstering their overall achievement (Mol & Bus, 2011).

The enriching effects of authentic books are especially important for those youngsters who are challenged by reading. As Steph Harvey and Annie Ward write, “Striving readers, who are often reluctant to read at all, deserve and need engaging text rich with meaning to lead them into the world of language” (Harvey & Ward, 2017).

Our students deserve to feast on the robust language and complex linguistic structures of authentic text while solving crimes with Dog Man (Dav Pilkey), delighting in words with the Word Collector (Peter Reynolds), and dancing in the rain with Tessie (Come on, Rain! by Karen Hesse). Let’s make sure that all children love reading so much that they define themselves as readers—both at school and at home—assuring that they will want to develop and refine remarkable, rewarding, and long-lasting reading lives of their own.


Harvey, S. & Ward, A. (2017). From Striving to Thriving: How to Grow Confident, Capable Readers. New York: Scholastic.

Mol, S. & Bus, S. (2011). To Read or Not to Read: A Meta-Analysis of Print Exposure from Infancy to Early Adulthood. Psychological Bulletin. American Psychological Association. Vol. 137, No. 2, 267–296.

Meek, M. (1988).  How Texts Teach What Readers Learn. London: Thimble Press.

Morrow, K. (1977). “Authentic Texts and ESP.” In Holden, S. (ed.). English for Specific Purposes. Modern English Publications.

Why Fluency?

Timothy Rasinski is co-author of The Megabook of Fluency, a winner of the Learning® Magazine 2019 Teachers’ Choice Award for the Classroom. He joins EDU to answer the question "why fluency?"

I have been an advocate for reading fluency ever since I was an elementary school intervention teacher in the late 1970s and early 80s. I still recall working with students who were experiencing significant difficulty in reading, and not making much progress with them by using traditional instructional approaches in word recognition and comprehension. It was quite frustrating to provide what I thought was the best instruction possible, and yet see my students continue to struggle.

Fortunately for me, I was working on my Master’s degree in reading education, and one of my professors had his students read some recent professional articles that were just then coming out on this topic called reading fluency. I recall that I was not even sure what reading fluency was. Nevertheless, the articles described repeated readings and assisted reading where students read a text while listening to a fluent and expressive rendering of the same text as ways to develop fluency. I was intrigued by this research (and also frustrated by my lack of impact with my own students), so I decided to try the methods described in this professional reading. Lo and behold, these students who had previously been making minimal progress, despite my best efforts, began to take off in their reading. Not only were they reading more proficiently, the success they were experiencing from working on fluency led many of them to see themselves as true readers.

Nearly forty years later, I am even more convinced that reading fluency is essential to success in reading. I view reading fluency as a link or bridge between proficiency with words (word recognition and vocabulary) and reading comprehension. Fluency involves decoding words so effortlessly, efficiently, or automatically that a reader’s cognitive energy is freed from the task of word decoding and can be applied to the more important task of text comprehension. Fluency also involves reading with a level of expression (prosody) that reflects and even amplifies the meaning of the text that is being read.

Research has demonstrated again and again that fluent readers are good comprehenders, and those students who struggle with fluency very often manifest difficulties in reading comprehension. Indeed, studies have found that a large percentage of third- and fourth-grade students who perform poorly on  high-stakes silent reading comprehension tests also have difficulties in one or more components of fluency. Poor fluency leads to poor reading comprehension. 

Fluency is critical. Yet, the problem with fluency is that it is often taught and nurtured in order to make children read fast to improve their oral reading fluency (ORF) scores. When readers try to read as fast as possible, how are they able to read with meaningful expression? Short answer: they can’t! As a result, many teachers dismiss fluency as nothing more than speed-reading instruction. 

The approach to reading fluency that my colleague Melissa Cheesman Smith (read her post on joyfulness in fluent reading here) and I take in our new book The Megabook of Fluency is that reading fluency should be joyful, engaging, and authentic reading that focuses on both developing automatic word recognition and expressive and meaningful reading. It is so exciting to see students rehearsing poetry, performing songs, and playing with and reciting written language in various ways to reflect different meanings. Their faces tell us that fluency can be fun, and our assessments tell us that the approaches to fluency that we advocate in The Megabook of Fluency can lead to more proficient readers who see themselves as the readers we want them to become. 

Independent Reading and Choice

When students self-select books to read, they have opportunities to read what interests them, what they care about, and at the same time, they discover what kinds of books they enjoy. This year, I learned a humbling lesson about self-selecting books for independent reading: it doesn’t always work the same way for striving readers as it does for proficient and advanced readers.

In January, I started working with a group of fifth graders who were reading at a mid-first grade level. They consistently selected books far above their reading level. Each time this happened, I gently suggested to a student to save the challenging book for later and then offered three books for him or her to consider. The student always checked out the book he or she couldn’t read. I pushed my feelings of discouragement into the recesses of my mind. At least three times a week, I gave a mini-talk on how reading books with ease independently offered the practice that could improve fluency and understanding.

Obviously, students needed to save face in front of peers who were reading long books. That was a problem in their regular language arts classes, but not in our extra reading class. I fought my desire to tell them what to select, knowing the change had to come from them. This pattern remained the same for several weeks, and I learned to live with it.

These students were part of an extra reading class called “Pathways” that met daily for 73 minutes. Two of my colleagues and I taught this class of twenty-four students who read two to four years below grade level.

One day, after the read-aloud that always opens the class, I told students: “In this class you’re always safe. Everyone will celebrate choosing books you can read and enjoy.” That comment seemed to be a tipping point because during independent reading time, several students selected books they were able to read and enjoy. However, it took six weeks for all students to feel positive about selecting books they could read with ease.

I share this story to emphasize that it was essential that students, not teachers, made the decision to choose books they could read. Moreover, some students need time to trust that no one will make negative comments about books they select. By giving them time, by explaining they are safe in our class, we open the doors for students to develop an independent reading life. If we believe that self-selection develops responsibility and independence, then giving students control over this aspect of learning is crucial to their reading development.

It’s important for teachers to know this: books for independent reading shouldn’t be leveled. Leveling can prevent a student from selecting a challenging book that the student has strong background knowledge about and truly desires to read. I’m reminded of an eighth grader who wanted to read Laura Elliot’s Under a War-Torn Sky. He knew a great deal about World War II, and desperately wanted to be part of the group reading Elliot’s book. Though a challenge, his strong desire overcame any obstacles, and he willingly reread sections until he understood them. In addition to choice, there are other things that create joyful reading and allow students to spread the word about a beloved book to peers.

Time for Reflection

Have you ever closed the last page of a book and wished you hadn’t finished it? The need to revisit events, to be that character and think about the character’s decisions claims your mind and heart. You don’t move. You feel compelled to mull over and relive favorite parts. Time to reflect, returning to and thinking about events and characters brings satisfaction and pleasure to readers. Remember these moments in your reading life and offer students time to reflect and savor parts of a book that touched them deeply, to discuss the book with classmates, and to recommend engaging books to others.

The Power of Discussing Books

Reading is social. That’s why students love talking about books with a partner or in a small group. Discussions reveal a range of interpretations supported with evidence from the text. In addition, students practice active listening as well as organizing their thoughts, so they can communicate their thinking to peers. Discussions move students deeper and deeper into the layers of meaning of a text and move them from literal, superficial interpretations to inferential thinking. Besides discussions, it’s beneficial to offer students ways to advertise to others books they couldn’t stop reading. Doing this provides students with a list of books their peers enjoyed. Moreover, peer-to-peer recommendations for reading offer students choices they might never have considered.

Advertise, Advertise

What follows are four ways students can hear about and explore books their peers enjoyed—books they can check out to read.

1. Elevator Talks: Marketers use these short talks to sell a product in sixty seconds by honing in on its excellent points. In school, students set up an appointment with their teacher when they complete a book and want to present an elevator talk. Have students jot some notes they want to include in the brief talk. Then, they have sixty seconds to sell a book to classmates.

2. Book Log Conversations: Every six weeks, set aside ten to fifteen minutes of class time for students to review their book logs and choose a book to share with their group. It could be an abandoned book or a book the students loved. Groups hear about books and have the option to note the title and author if it’s from the school library or check it out of their class library.

3. Graffiti Wall: Students enjoy writing short book recommendations to peers. Place a large piece of construction paper on a bulletin board or a wall and have a marker pen nearby for students to post beloved books. These short reviews are positive, point out one important reason why the book was a great read, and recommend the book to one student or a group who is passionate about the topic or author.

4. Class Blog: Set up a class blog and invite students to post original book trailers they created and/or short book reviews. Students read the blog to explore books classmates posted and also to add a comment to a peer’s post.

Students love choosing their books. Recently, I interviewed a group of sixth graders about reading, and several told me that they don’t enjoy reading a book that’s “required.” They want choice because that’s what motivates them to read. Moreover, when students have time to sit back and reflect on a completed book and also discuss it with a partner or a small group, their motivation to read can soar. Because peers value their friends’ opinions, it’s also beneficial to advertise books so students observe what peers enjoy and can explore books they might not have selected on their own.

This post is part of an ongoing series on independent reading. Read more:

Today, Choose Joy: Joyfulness in Fluent Reading

Melissa Cheesman Smith is co-author of The Megabook of Fluency, a winner of the Learning® Magazine 2019 Teachers’ Choice Award for the Classroom. She joins EDU to discuss the relationship between joy and fluency in reading.

I am terrible at crafting. I don't know if I’m terrible because I don’t like it, or if I don’t like it because I’m terrible at it. Either way, it is not something I choose to do for fun. I find joy in things that I am good at.

Perhaps joy comes from the ease of, satisfaction from, or comfort in doing the task. Playing the piano creates joy for me. While I’m no concert pianist, I enjoy it because I am good at it, which then makes me want to do it more. This, of course, then makes me better at it, which creates a remarkable cycle: We enjoy, we practice, we become better. Then we enjoy even more, and the cycle continues. This can apply to anything we learn in life from music to sports to reading.

I recently read Braving the Wilderness (Brené Brown) where she writes, simply, that joy matters.

Success is important because we have to help kids find opportunities for joy in what they do at school. When we consider the cycle, kids will find joy in reading when they do it often and become better at it. Research supports this.

There are so many opportunities for joy! Since the most proven way to become better at something is to do it often, we can take advantage of this. This is a fluency term known as repeated reading: practicing the same text over and over to become “better” at it. This is fluency, through which we help readers find joy! There is an intrinsic joy in doing something well, in learning, in accomplishment. Reading fluency is no exception.

The Megabook of Fluency brings the best of the best in strategy and text to bring joyfulness to reading by making readers more fluent in an engaging way.

Reading fluency embodies a series of factors to help readers become more fluent using the EARS model.

  • E – Expression: Reading confidently with expression and tone that matches the meaning of the text. Students have to really show understanding of the text in order to make their expression match.
  • A – Automatic Word Recognition: Students can use strategies to learn to read words automatically as they become more familiar with them and have many opportunities for practice. 
  • R – Rhythm and Phrasing: Students learning to read words with appropriate pauses as well as in chunks - phrase-by-phrase instead of line-by-line helps them read naturally with rhythm.
  • S – Smoothness: Reading with flow and without hesitation or mistakes comes from practice. Reading with smoothness is the mark of a fluent reader, but only comes with practice.

These elements of EARS have been thoughtfully developed throughout the book through 50+ fluency strategies. How can you NOT find joy in this excerpt of a song, “Mom, You Aren’t Fourteen!” included in the book: Do you want to run away / When your mom thinks it’s Broadway / And she tries to sing the songs / just to act like she belongs; / half the words she says are wrong /Oh, why is this song so long /Mom, you aren’t fourteen!

How easy it is to bring the joy of reading with engaging and research based strategies such as this included in The Megabook of Fluency in both theory and practice. The teacher will begin the cycle by finding the appropriate strategy, using the provided text, and the kids are ready for…. joy!

Create Lifelong Readers During National Poetry Month (enter for a chance to win a copy of the book!)

Georgia Heard is the author of Poetry Lessons to Meet the Common Core State Standards. She joins EDU to discuss the power of poetry to create lifelong readers.


We are giving five readers the chance to win a copy of Poetry Lessons to Meet the Common Core State Standards. To enter for a chance to win, leave a comment below telling us your favorite poem to read with students. One entry per person. All entries must be submitted by 5:59 p.m. ET on April 20, 2018. U.S. residents, 18 and over, please. See the complete legal rules here.

I don’t remember reading poetry as a child but I remember hearing poems. My mother recited nursery rhymes and verse such as: “Pease porridge hot/Pease porridge cold/Pease porridge in the pot/Nine days old,” and “Mairzy doats and dozy doats and liddle lamzy divey….” She didn’t sit down and explain the meaning of “Pease porridge hot" or “Mairzy doats.” It was the sound of my mother’s voice, and the music of the words, that made me fall in love with poetry.

In my book Poetry Lessons to Meet the Common Core Standards, I share numerous ways to guide teachers and students in reading, understanding and appreciating poetry. My goal is to help students fall in love with poetry, and National Poetry Month is a perfect time to help grow this love and appreciation.

Explore What Students Already Know About Poetry

Teachers often introduce poetry without first finding out what students already know and feel about it. Teachers can start a poetry exploration by asking students to share their thoughts and prior experiences with poetry; the questions below can prompt a discussion:

  • Do you enjoy reading poetry?

  • Do you have a favorite poem or poet?

  • Are poems easy to understand?

  • How do you feel about poetry?

By starting with a conversation, teachers can gauge students’ prior understanding and knowledge of poetry which will inform future instruction.

Read Lots of Poetry

Read. Read. Read. Students need to hear and read poems–lots of them: poems that rhyme; poems with a rhythm that make us clap our hands and dance to the beat; poems that paint vivid pictures and images of, for example, waves breaking on the shore or the whisper of fall leaves; funny poems that will make us belly-laugh; poems that speak to all feelings, such as sadness at losing a beloved pet, shyness, or feeling lonely.

Teachers can read both classic and modern poems that offer a variety of styles and forms. Poetry can be a window into diverse experiences and worldviews that may differ from students’ own, and can foster empathy and shared trust in a classroom and school community. Encourage small–group and partner reading as well as whole-class reading of poems. During independent reading time, teachers should make sure that there are plenty of poetry books and single poems available for students to read.

Read A Poem Aloud Every Day

Teachers can carve out a specific and predictable time every day to read a poem aloud: first thing in the morning, after students have unpacked and are getting settled, after lunch when they return excited and revved up from recess, at the very end of the day before making the transition to home. It only takes a minute or two to read a poem. Students can choose a poem they would love to read aloud, and then practice reading the poem before presenting it to the class. Poetry is a powerful way to help students develop oral fluency. Choral reading is also a fun and supportive way for students to read poetry aloud.

Look for opportunities to include poetry in other contexts, such as during science or social studies.

The sample schedule below shows when poetry might be read aloud during a typical elementary school day:

  • Morning Meeting/Start of Day or Class: Poems about morning, waking up, poems about school-related topics

  • Language Arts: Poems about reading, writing, listening, speaking, books

  • Math: Poems about numbers and math

  • Lunch: Poems about food, lunch, eating

  • Science: Poems about science (solar system, rocks, growing seeds, etc.)

  • Social Studies: Biography poems, poems about historical and current events

  • End of Day: Poems about homework, evening, nighttime, sleeping

Grow an Understanding of Poetry Together

Middle and high school teachers can share a poem at the beginning or end of class. Keep copies of the poems , and when students love a particular poem give a copy for them to keep.

As students listen to poems, ask them to point out what they notice and what elements of poetry the poet might be using, and then add those to a growing What We Know About Poetry chart.

Invite students to respond to a poem by writing a brief response, or personal reflection, in their notebooks and then share and discuss these responses with the class.

Encourage deeper reading by rereading and discussing one poem over a period of several days.

In no time, students will grow an understanding, and a lifelong love and appreciation of poetry that will spread way beyond National Poetry Month.

Registration Is Now Open for the Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge

The Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge is now open for teacher, public librarian, and community partner registration!

Is your school new to the Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge? Here's what you need to know:

  • Now in its 12th year, the Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge is a free online reading program dedicated to stopping the "summer slide" by encouraging kids to read over the summer. Beginning May 7th, kids can log their reading minutes online, earn digital rewards when they complete weekly reading challenges, and access free resources including videos and printables.

  • Every year, kids participate in the Summer Reading Challenge together on behalf of their school, public library or community partner organization. Pre-register the students in your class or group now, and they'll be all set to start reading on May 7th.

  • This year, in honor of the 20th anniversary of the U.S. publication of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, the theme is A Magical Summer of Reading. Our brand-new, mobile-friendly website features the artwork of Jim Kay from the Harry Potter Illustrated editions.

Need to register for the Challenge? Just go to the Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge website at and log in with your Scholastic credentials, create a new account, or sign in with Clever. Once you've logged in, you can access your Classroom Dashboard to add your class (or multiple classes). You'll be able to track your students' reading progress all summer long, and edit or print class lists as needed. (Teachers: Make sure you hand out all student account credentials before the end of the school year.)

The Summer Challenge site includes free resources for educators:

  • Free printables, like a reading pledge, a reading log, motivational letters to send home to parents, and reading certificate to help your students make a reading commitment and stick to it

  • Book lists for all ages, including downloadable versions in English and Spanish

  • Videos featuring authors reading aloud from their titles, educators and experts 

At the end of the summer, we’ll recognize the “Best in State” schools in all 50 U.S. states, Washington D.C. and the U.S. territories, along with the Top 10 Libraries and Top 10 Community Partners. Each winning location will receive a Celebration Kit, complete with a special plaque and other fun materials to help them host an end-of-the-year event.

Last year, kids read over 138 million minutes. Visit to learn more and sign up today!

Twitter Chat Recap: #SummerReaders with Pam Allyn

Yesterday @ScholasticEd hosted a Twitter chat with Scholastic author and Founder of LitWorld, Pam Allyn. We asked Pam all about helping kids become #SummerReaders, from explaining why it is so important for kids to read when school is not in session, to helping them to get excited about reading and how to get families and the community involved. At the end of the chat, Pam also shared some of what she plans to read this summer: books, magazines, poems and more.

To learn more about helping students become Super Readers, check out the professional title Every Child a Super Reader by Pam Allyn & Dr. Ernest Morrell, and don’t forget that pre-registration for the Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge for educators, librarians and community partners begins on Monday, April 9th, 2018.

Below is a recap of the chat: 

Is There a Silver Bullet for Literacy?

Patricia Scharer is the editor of Responsive Literacy: A Comprehensive Framework.

Some educators boil reading down to “the simple view” of D x C = R, with D for decoding and C for comprehension.

Certainly, word recognition and decoding are essential, but it’s not as simple as this equation. In fact, decoding itself is not at all simple. It involves phonological awareness, an understanding of letter-sound relationships, and learning how to use knowledge of letters and sounds to figure out unknown words. However, for example, the rule we all learned as children “when 2 vowels go walking, the 1st one does the talking” only works 45% of the time!

I’m wary of this notion of a “simple” view, which could be expected to work like a “silver bullet”—the answer to teaching all children to read. We hear about this all the time: it could be a new technology, teacher’s manual, or set of materials. Buy this and your students will succeed! The problem is that we have never, ever found this silver bullet in technology, a teacher’s manual or a set of materials. Wouldn’t it be nice if learning to read English could be made simple using a silver bullet? Unfortunately, it’s never that easy.

What a child needs to learn to read varies from student to student. Some children come to school as fluent readers; for other children, regular classroom instruction enables them to learn to read and write successfully. But for about 20% of students, regular classroom instruction won’t meet their individual needs. We need to provide all students with a highly qualified teacher who can support each child in the areas in which he or she needs it, and build on their strengths as they learn to read and write.

I think we have all had enough experiences with the latest trends to agree that teaching all children to read is certainly not simple. So, for want of a silver bullet, below is what strong literacy instruction would include if I could create it:

  1. Assessment—we need to carefully select the most powerful and appropriate assessment measures to learn as much as possible about each student. Naming letters in 60 seconds may be quick, but we are left with many questions about the child: how many of the upper and lower case letters can the student identify? Are there confusions like reversals? The assessment must be rich enough for the teacher to plan instruction. I won’t know enough about a child in 60 seconds to help her learn the alphabet. So, the first part of my plan is quality assessment that the teacher can use immediately to plan instruction.

  2. Quality teachers—The Reading Recovery i3 study identified four attitudes and dispositions which are key to excellence: openness to change, strong interpersonal skills, strong work ethic, and a belief that all children can learn. I think we can all agree on these four qualities, but my focus is on the belief that all children can learn. I worry that sometimes, in the face of budget cuts and fiscal uncertainty, that we move resources to the middle of the class and the children who need it most are provided with resources that aren’t sufficient to meet their needs. Providing a volunteer to a struggling reader is like handing the heart attack patient to the candy striper. For more than 30 years, Reading Recovery has shown that more than 70% of the very lowest-achieving first graders can not only learn to read and write, but can accelerate their rate of learning, rising to the class average, in 12–20 weeks. A core belief held by Reading Recovery professionals is that all children can learn. In fact, Marie Clay believed that if a child isn’t learning, it’s because we haven’t yet figured out how to teach him! Children need the special skills of a highly trained teacher.

  3. Ongoing professional development—I don’t know of anyone who believes that initial university training is enough to become an expert teacher. It’s a start, but there’s so much to learn! The comment I hear regularly from newly-trained Reading Recovery teachers is that they really didn’t know how to teach a child to read until after their year of initial intensive training. Two professional development days a year on assorted topics are not enough. I believe that there are three components to quality professional development: a shared understanding by the staff that we are all life-long learners; a commitment to regularly-scheduled study sessions; and the support of a highly qualified coach who works intensely with teachers in classrooms.

This is what I call a silver bullet: powerful assessment, quality teachers, and support for them to continue to learn as professionals.

And there’s proof that it works.

A federally-funded study by Gina Biancarosa and Anthony S. Bryk in Literacy Collaborative schools was the first to document the positive relationship between the amount of coaching and teacher change, and teacher change and student achievement. The 17 schools in the study had a highly trained Literacy Collaborative coach; a commitment to 60 hours of PD in the 1st two years and at least 10 hours every year after that; and the books and materials to support implementation of a responsive literacy framework. By the 3rd year of implementation, students were learning, on average, 32% more each year than they learned during the baseline year.

It’s not easy. It’s not quick. It’s not cheap. But it works.

Conferences and Conversations About Independent Reading Matter

Curled up on a comfortable chair, I opened my book. Time seemed to pause after I re-enter the story, and I was hooked. An hour later (it actually feels like minutes) the phone rang. My annoyance quickly disappeared. My friend Meg was calling, who was reading the same book. That’s the only interruption to my reading I welcome—talking about the book. I relived parts of the story with Meg, a friend who also loves the book.

Reading is social. A need to share emotions, fears, and predictions is part of reading. Conversations bond readers to books because talk can affect their hearts and minds. To share ideas with others—to talk about books in a group or conference—not only improves recall and understanding, but also invites readers to organize their ideas so listeners understand them.

Teacher-Student Conferences

Conferring with a student is your opportunity to get inside the student’s head and understand how he or she thinks about fiction and nonfiction. You can discuss questions as well as provide the support that improves a student’s reading skill.

During the first six weeks of school, it’s important for you to hold two rounds of conferring with each student and build relationships, gain insights into students’ reading process, and prepare them for conversations with a peer. Help students understand that by practicing with you, they’ll be able to have meaningful conservations about books with a classmate.

You can find the time to hold three- to four-minute conferences with students while they complete instructional or independent reading. I recommend reserving two weeks at the start of the school year to complete one round of conferences, take a break, and complete the second round.

Set aside time to know your students and forge relationships with them throughout the year. You’ll gain insights into their learning lives that can help you decide what kinds of questions to pose and discuss during conferences as well as what kinds of interventions students need. Document each conference by noting the date, listing what was discussed, as well as your reactions and lingering questions.

You will have students, English language learners and those reading two or more years below grade level who you’ll want to meet with frequently in order to build their fluency, improve comprehension, and develop the self-efficacy needed for students to choose independent reading at school and home. Suggest books they might enjoy, but remember the choice to read one is always theirs. Schedule these conferences as often as needed.

Conferring With Students

Conferring about independent reading with students helps you know their interests as well as their ability to:

  • recall details;

  • use details to infer;

  • identify themes in fiction and nonfiction;

  • identify main ideas in nonfiction;

  • make connections to other books, movies, and videos; and

  • share their enjoyment.

A goal of conferring about independent reading is to discover the kinds of thinking students do as they read. Refer to and adapt the questions that follow, always keeping in mind the best way to interact with that student grows out of your relationship with them and your knowledge of their strengths and needs.

Questions Encourage Conversations

An easy way to offer students a choice of which question to discuss with you or a peer partner is to write each question on a 3-by-5 index card. Students can choose a card at random or look through the deck and select one or two that interests them. There will be times when you set the conferring agenda because you’re intervening to scaffold a student’s reading.

Enjoyment Questions

  • Why did you choose this book?

  • Why did you enjoy the book?

  • To whom would you recommend the book? Explain why.

  • Can you identify the genre and its structure? Is it a favorite? Why or why not?

  • What have you learned about people?

Questions/Prompts for Literary Elements: Fiction and Biography

  • Who is the protagonist? What problems does he or she face?

  • What are three antagonistic forces? Explain how each one affects the protagonist?

  • Can you show two different kinds of conflicts the protagonist faces?

  • Do other characters affect the protagonist’s decisions and/or actions? Choose one and show how.

  • What changes the protagonist? Discuss events and/or other characters that cause a change and explain the change.

  • Name three personality traits you observe in the protagonist. Use text evidence to support each trait you identify.

  • Name two themes in your book and explain how details in the book support each theme.

Questions/Prompts for Informational Texts

  • Why are you interested in the information this book presents?

  • How did you develop an interest in this information?

  • What new information did you learn?

  • Choose a favorite photograph or diagram and discuss why it spoke to you.

  • How does what you learned affect people’s lives today?

Student-to-Student Conversations

Student-to-student conversations use a lens that differs from teacher-student conferences. Such conversations are social, not prescriptive, and students set the agenda. I recommend pairs converse about books on a class blog, taking turns asking questions and writing their answers. This provides you with written text and allows students to have conversations while the rest of the class reads silently.

To keep track of students’ conversations, ask them to post on an excel spreadsheet on your computer: name and date, the title and author of the book discussed, and the name of the conferring partner.

After students converse about a book, encourage them to write a review on a class blog or school website. When peers advertise books and recommend them, it often develops a desire, among other students, to read the book.

Closing Thoughts

Offering opportunities for student-to-student conversations about completed books shows you value reading and recognize reading is social. Encourage students to have reading conversations with different partners so they learn about the kinds of books that interest classmates. Continue to use teacher-to-student conferences to model conferring and talking about books as well as to provide support and interventions for those who need it.

This post is part of an ongoing series on independent reading. Read more:


Empowering Students and Families to Address Summer Reading Loss in Greenville, SC and Stoughton, MA

Over the past two years, we have been proud to partner with Public Education Partners and Greenville County Schools in Greenville, SC to examine the benefits of access to books and engaging families on summer reading. Last year we were able to institute a similar summer initiative and research through partnership with Stoughton Public Schools in Stoughton, MA.

The findings from both Greenville and Stoughton, described below, reveal that when children and their families have the resources they need to read all summer long, we see increased volume of reading and confidence in students, overwhelmingly positive sentiments from families, and fewer students experiencing a loss of skills while school was out.

Make Summer Count (MSC) 2017

For the second consecutive year, Scholastic and Public Education Partners (PEP) have collaborated to study the effects of access to books and family engagement on students’ and families’ attitudes, beliefs and behaviors around summer reading. The heart of this work has been Make Summer Count (MSC), a summer reading initiative that since its 2014 launch has been led, managed and sponsored by PEP in Greenville County Schools (GCS) in Greenville, SC.

MSC consists of two opportunities for literacy engagement for more than 18,000 students and their families in grades 1–6 across 29 higher-needs elementary schools in Greenville, SC:

  1. MSC Book Celebrations help students build home libraries by allowing them to self-select 10 free books to take home and read over the summer.
  2. Family Reading Nights are events where families can learn strategies to support their children’s reading over the summer, and where children receive additional books to take home.

The biggest takeaway from the two years of data (2016  and 2017) is the consistency in the findings, which highlight positive trends in family engagement as well as positive student attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors regarding summer reading.

Among the findings from 2016 and 2017:

  • Over two consecutive summers, MSC students reported reading more than 14 books, compared to the national average of 12 books. Students reported reading 14.7 books in 2016, and 14.2 books in 2017.

  • Students across both years, who began the summer with fewer than 10 children’s books in their homes, reported increases.

  • For the second year, more than 75% of students agreed they were better readers in the fall because of the reading they did over the summer: 83% in 2016; 79% in 2017.

  • Across 2016 and 2017, more than 96% of families agreed that the books their children received from MSC contributed to them reading more over the summer.

  • In 2016, 98% of families agreed that reading books over the summer would help their children during the school year. In 2017, 100% of families agreed to a similar statement.

Summer Reading Spotlight: Stoughton 2017 (SRS)

Based on the success of Make Summer Count and the positive findings from the research, Scholastic collaborated with Stoughton Public Schools (SPS) in Stoughton, MA to develop, implement, and research the impact of a similar summer reading initiative called Summer Reading Spotlight: Stoughton 2017 (SRS), which reached students in grades K–6 across five elementary schools. Similar to MSC, Stoughton students had the opportunity to build their home libraries by self-selecting 10 free books to take home and read over the summer, and families were invited to participate in Family Literacy Nights.

Each school participating in the research was in one of two groups that received the same opportunities, but at different points in time. The “summer book” schools received resources—books and family literacy nights—before the start of summer, and the “control” schools received the same resources in the fall. In total, about 1,700 students self-selected 10 free books and had the opportunity to participate in one of five Family Literacy Night events.

In addition to exploring students’ and families’ attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors about summer reading, SRS also included an exploratory review of students’ literacy levels as measured by standardized test scores provided by the district.

Key findings revealed that:

  • Fewer “summer book” students who were striving readers experienced summer reading loss than students in the “control” schools: 21% vs. 30%. In addition, fewer “summer book” students who were advanced readers experienced summer reading loss than students in the control schools: 34% vs. 43%.

  •  Fewer “summer book” students reported not reading over the summer (6%) in comparison with 14% of “control” students.

  • Eighty-seven percent of “summer book” students in 3rd grade agreed they were better readers in the fall because of the reading they did over the summer, compared to 77% in the “control” schools.  The current state and federal focus on reading proficiency by third grade further highlights the importance of this finding.

  • Eighty-five percent of families agreed that the books their children received contributed to them reading more over the summer, and 94% of families that attended Family Literacy Nights agreed that they were a good way to connect families and schools.

To learn more about the Make Summer Count 2017 and Summer Reading Spotlight: Stoughton 2017 research, download:


Subscribe to EDU RSS