Making time for independent reading at school

Independent reading can ramp up students’ reading achievement and help them become proficient and advanced readers. As a middle school principal, I want students to find independent reading so enjoyable that they choose to read at school and at home!

The big question administrators face is, What can we do to support independent reading and improve the reading stamina of all students? 

First, I recommend you meet with your English department or ELA teams and review the three layers of reading:

  1. The interactive read aloud asks teachers to think aloud while reading a text that’s the same genre as students’ unit of study. The teacher makes visible how he or she infers and/or reacts to a text;

  2. Instructional reading happens at school so teachers observe students and support those needing help.

  3. Independent reading of self-selected books happens at school and at home.

Many administrators might be thinking that their school does not have time to add independent reading to the instructional piece. While reading this blog, I’m asking you to suspend that belief. Let me be your guide and help you make independent reading an integral part of your school’s curriculum.

I have wrestled with the challenges of finding more time for independent reading. Soon after I adopted the goal of creating a school-wide culture that values this type of reading, I reached out to staff and collaborated with them to find solutions.

To create a culture of readers, it is helpful to understand the current role of independent reading in your school. To assist you and your staff, I pose five questions, share my thoughts for each one, and close by providing suggestions for finding the time.

Since the culture and scheduling needs of each school are unique, your responses and reactions will vary. However, I’m confident that you will figure out how to build a school community that values independent reading.

Question 1: Do you see an independent reading book on students’ desks when you visit classes or complete a walkthrough?

Students should always have an independent reading book on their desks so when they complete class work, they can read. In fact, I encourage you to have students check out two to three independent reading books and keep these in a cubby or locker. This way, when they finish one, another is at their fingertips.

Access to books is a pathway to independent reading. All teachers including those who teach social studies, science, and math, should have class libraries. Having books available in class can make a difference. Find funds to provide starter class libraries: 400 books for ELA teachers the first year and another 400 books the next school year; 100 books for content teachers the first year and 100 books the next year. Continue adding new books on a range of topics, genres, and reading levels that match the needs of your student population. 

Making the time: Having books readily available diminishes the time students need to visit the library to find new books. Class libraries also provide opportunities for teachers to feature and introduce authors and genres bi-monthly. Time gained can transfer to more choice reading at school.

Question 2: Do all ELA teachers promote independent reading?

The goal is to get all teachers of reading and English promoting independent reading.  If staff that teaches reading celebrates and honors independent reading, then students feel their message and recognize the high value they place on choice reading.

Making the time: Set aside time to build teachers’ understanding of how independent reading supports achievement. Develop a unified voice among teachers, and they will find the time for independent reading. Do this by sharing with teachers the research on independent reading. Post articles on Google Docs for teachers to read, comment on, and share with colleagues. Discuss the research at faculty and team meetings. Encourage teachers to write a letter to parents explaining the importance of independent reading to their child’s literacy growth. Invite teachers to have students read thirty minutes a night at home.

Question 3: Are teachers reserving time for students to choose an independent reading book and read it at school?

Encourage teachers to set-aside twenty to thirty minutes of a reading class twice week for independent reading. When students read at school, the message they hear is that independent reading is truly important. If schedules don’t allow for this, then consider studying them and making changes that support independent reading.

Making the time: Some principals take a few minutes off each period or block and create a daily mini-period dedicated to independent reading. This is a great strategy for it guarantees independent reading.

Question 4: Is reading only part of the ELA classroom?

Reading is not something that’s just done in English class. Students read in all subjects and they need to learn, through teacher modeling, how to read and think in each subject. If all teachers set aside some time for independent reading related to their subject, just imagine the message it would send to students and parents!

Making the time: An excellent way to help all teachers find time for independent reading is to have those doing it send an email to the entire staff explaining their schedule adjustments. However, revisit independent reading frequently at team, department, and faculty meetings to ensure it’s alive and thriving.

Question 5: What are you doing as an administrator to encourage independent thinking?

Here are questions I urge you to tape to your desk so you see them and reflect on them frequently.

  • Do my teachers know how I feel about independent reading?

  • Have I clearly communicated my vision of all English teachers supporting and celebrating independent reading?

  • Is independent reading a priority at my school? 

  • Have I helped teachers understand that students don’t need to write a summary, essay, or complete a project on each book?

Making the time: Like me, your challenge is to champion change. One way is to plan with a teacher and find the time for you to read silently with a class. You can also reserve the first ten to twelve minutes of meetings for you and a few teachers to share a favorite book.

Closing Thoughts

Show teachers the benefits of making time during the school day for independent reading. Educate staff and families about reading, and find funds to bring more books into the school library and classrooms! When you have developed among students and staff an “I love to read!” mindset, you’ll know that your entire school values independent reading. Remember. Continue. Promoting. Independent. Reading. 

 

This post is the first in an ongoing series about independent reading.