Whenever I am in a group of English teachers and we discuss our classroom practices, I share that the best thing I have done for my students over the last six years is to offer them ten minutes of free, choice reading at the beginning of every class. I even offer to share the research demonstrating the validity of this practice because I believe in it so much. They challenge me by saying that they cannot afford to give up the classroom time because they have so much material to cover. I completely understand this as I only have 45 minute class periods myself, but I can’t imagine taking this time away. It is a challenge, but it is non-negotiable. The conversation inevitably turns to how I assess this choice reading. I dread this question because it puts me on the defensive. My answer is that I don’t. I am always met with disbelief, disapproval, or peers that tell me their kids won’t read if it is not for points, a prize, or a grade. This has not been my experience. It works for me and my students and I see the results in their improved reading, writing, and speaking skills. Additionally, they are completely engaged on a daily basis. They enter class and open their books right away. They share their favorite books with me and even show me passages that they particularly enjoy. You can hear a pin drop during those ten minutes and they groan when it’s over. That’s enough assessment for me.
I consider Donalyn Miller, Terry Lesesne, Kelly Gallagher, Penny Kittle, Stephen Krashen, and Kylene Beers (among others) to be experts on this topic and all are a huge influence on the way I run my class. I have drunk their Kool-Aid and it is my favorite flavor–literacy. In his book, Readicide, Kelly Gallagher asks readers to put themselves in their happy reading place at home. He asks, “Do you finish your book quickly so you’ll have more time to write a report, make a poster, or build a diorama?” Of course not. Adults do not do this, and children should not have to either.
My students do a great deal of formal and informal activities with the books that they read. I require them to keep a reading log including the author, title, genre, rating, and rationale for their rating. I want them to look for patterns to learn what they love and where there may be areas for growth. I have them write a literacy letter to me each marking period. They tell me what they are enjoying reading and why, and I respond to their letter. They do book talks, book trailers, and book recommendations one another. We have book swaps and book floods, write reviews for bulletin boards, make graffiti walls of favorite quotes, and use the texts as examples for mentor texts. I just don’t grade their reading in any way. These activities are naturally motivating and they always complete them. The bonus is that the children are always reading. I almost can’t keep up with the requests for book recommendations. They get so excited when I tell them I tweeted the author to tell them how much they loved the book. They take their books to other classes and read when they finish their work. (To the point where a colleague complained that all the kids wanted to do was read, and another colleague replied that there are worse problems we could have.) What more can I say? This system just works for me.
I don’t know whether this will work for you, but you truly have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Signing off for now. I am sure there is a twitter chat I am missing.
Yay! Congrats on your first post. Can’t wait to learn with you.
Awesome post Cheryl ! I love it! I see some pirate teaching here, where you swim upstream, go out on a limb, but more than anything your passion for yours students’ learning and love to read! I would to have you as a teacher for me.
I agree with you 100% Cheryl, and I know we are in a growing group of teachers that believe whole-heartlessly in independent reading. I have to defend it all the time, for I am the one teacher in my dept who believes in it. We believe in it because we see the positive results! We see our students become “wild readers” (love the term Donalyn Miller). It really works!
Sorry if I sound behind the times….But some logistic questions: do you have books for them to choose from? What grade do you teach? What do you do if they don’t have a book?
Not a skeptic at all, but wondering how to envision it in a practical way.
I have several hundred books in my classroom and the library is down the hall. I rarely have a child without a book, but when I do, I tell them this is the opportunity to preview books on my shelves for their next read.
I love reawakening a love of reading in my students – I don’t have a dedicated time every day, but I’m constantly willing to share books, do talks, and encourage kids to try new titles. They are often amazed to find out how powerful a strong story is.
Love learning with you, Cheryl. Keep up the good work.
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Thank you, Amy. Happy to learn with you as well.
I love that I happened upon this blog (post)! Cheryl, thank you for being so brave…and so darn loud about it! I’ve been engaging in Independent Reading with my urban high schoolers for nine years now.
Nine years in and I am still in awe at how moving, captivating, inspiring, and ground-breaking (let alone, life changing!) this practice is. It’s complete music to my ears when students silently ‘ignore’ me when I tell them it’s time to shift to our lesson.
I also love how this practice has lit (at the very least, rekindled) my own literacy fire…I’ve never scoped out library sales, friends’ bookshelves, laundry basement lending libraries, stoop sales, etc. the way I do now.
Feel free to also join myself and my absolutely favorite iconic educators across the US working through the Reading Writing Workshop model (based on Penny Kittle’s work) at http://www.ThreeTeachersTalk.com. We’d love for you to engage with us there too!