What is Independent Reading?
Independent reading is when students sit and read to themselves for extended periods of time with a self-selected text. The history of independent reading has been centered on acronyms like DEAR (Drop Everything and Read) and SSR (Silent Sustained Reading) and the current trend Daily 5. These independent reading initiatives have 2 things in common: “(1) some element of choice and (2) extended time to read” (105). Sometimes the trend has been for teachers to sit and read a favorite book to be good reading models to students. Sometimes the trend has been for teachers get “lots” of work done when students are busy reading. While these are occurring, students start getting rowdy after a short time and the session falls apart. The teacher didn’t get any work done and students didn’t get much reading completed, either. As a result, teachers would add an accountability piece by assigning students to reflect on their reading, write a summary or record their reading for the day by jotting down the title and pages read. I have been guilty of applying these practices over the years because I didn’t know any better or because it was the latest trend. Like I said in my Guided Reading post, I don’t think I was damaging students, but I was doing students a huge disservice. I was not treating Independent reading like an instructional context that leads to lifelong readers. I wasn’t instilling in my students how to “dig into a new text for their purposes” or allowing them to “discover their power and the power of books” (103).
Who’s Doing the Work?
The authors of this book want teachers to help students become lifelong readers through the Next Generation Independent Reading. During NG Independent Reading, students are “reading a lot of authentic texts for meaning and pleasure…” (106). They are “practice(ing) integrating (the) skills and strategies using self-selected text that match…their reading interest and their abilities” (103). Next Generation Independent Reading is the final stage along the gradual release of responsibility model. Students have seen the strategies modeled and have practiced them during Read Aloud and Shared Reading. They have used the strategies independently while being guided by the teacher during Guided Reading. Now is time for them to be released and read for the sake of reading.
During Next Generation Guided Reading, the teacher and students have specific jobs:
· Conferring with students
· Taking anecdotal notes: what and how students are reading
· Observing students individually and whole class
· Self-selecting texts
· May be reading more than 1 book at a time
· Selecting text across a range of levels depending on the reading purpose
· Articulating the tricky spots and how they resolved the problem
· Spending most of the time actually reading
Misconceptions about Independent Reading
Here are a few misconceptions about Independent Reading that stood out to me. They stood out to me because I think I have been guilty of hosting these misconceptions throughout my years of teaching.
- Limiting student text selection to a reading level. Coming to the understanding that assigning a student a reading level is not beneficial to them has been a big deal for me. I fell into the trap and limited students to a specific reading level. I would say “You are only a level M. You can read from this tub.” This has “ultimately rob(bed) students of reading energy” (117). The past few years I have seen a surge of articles and posts on Twitter, Facebook and blogs I follow about reading levels. The bottom line: Reading levels are meant for teachers use only. When teachers assign reading levels to students they limit a student’s ability to pick a “just right” book. We are teaching students that they are only allowed to read what we tell them to read. In addition, students cannot go to a library or book store and choose a book from their “reading level shelf”. The author’s say that teachers should let students pick several books and to be working on them simultaneously. The analogy they use spoke to me: “On a given airplane ride, we are likely to have a novel, a research article and a magazine in our carry-on” because at any given time we will spend some of the time reading each depending the brain’s stamina (117). This analogy spoke to me because the same reading materials can be found in my carry-on bag. If adults can have an ongoing reading list and juggle several books at one time, why can’t students?
- Practice makes perfect. The more you read the better you get, right? Michael Gladwell (2008) certainly sold me on the 10,000 hour rule in Outliers. If you do something for 10,000 hours you are destined to be exceptional. So… I’ve been operating under the assumption that all I have to do is to get students to read an abundance of text and they will become great readers with lifelong learning habits. However, the authors argue that “better practice leads to more progress” (118). They continue by saying if a student is reading tons of hours at a superficial level then they have only practiced getting better at reading superficially. Okay, maybe I should modify my practice makes perfect motto. Monitoring student independent reading to make sure it aligns with the skills and strategies students have learned during Read Aloud, Shared Reading and Guided Reading is the power. Understanding how student integrate print and meaning and ensuring they are engaging in an abundance of meaningful reading will lead to greatness.
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