Meaningful Independent Reading – What Does it Take?
Theresa London Cooper
Stamina is one of the skills many students lack when taking reading tests; they simply are not accustomed to reading for sustained periods of time. We can help them build stamina early through independent reading as early as grade one. How can teachers make independent reading meaningful? Following are some suggestions.
At the beginning of the school year, have students spend three minutes reading without interruptions as you monitor what they do. Increase the time by one or two minutes every two weeks. I assure you that this scaffolded process works. Allow me to share an experience I had with a first-grade teacher. We worked together, leveling the books in her classroom to make sure all students had “just right books.” She talked with her students about independent reading and the expectations for them during this time. She modeled it for them. The teacher used a timer and her students began reading for three minutes a day. By the end of the year, they were reading independently for 20 minutes. The second and third-grade teachers had a great deal to build upon. By the time these first-graders get to third grade they will be much better equipped to engage with the texts they encounter on the reading tests.
Because our goal is to have students read independently, it is essential that we establish and maintain a student-friendly classroom library. What constitutes a student-friendly library? Just right books are critical, and that means teachers must know their students’ independent reading levels and their interests. Running records will help you identify your students’ strengths, challenges, and interests.
Students should spend time reading everyday. Take a look at your schedule to determine how many times and how much time during the day students can read independently. Set up a routine that is doable, practical, and comfortable for you and your students. Make sure to include a way of collecting data from your observations.
Here are some other tips on how to make independent reading meaningful:
- Make sure to establish a focus for students during their independent reading time that holds them accountable for what they do.
- Give them opportunities to choose and practice previously taught reading strategies.
- Provide time for them to share what strategies they used. This is critical to their learning and it gives you an opportunity to make an informal assessment.
- Students should have ways to monitor their own progress. They can use charts, graphs, and logs. Find out what your students’ interests are and give them options on how to monitor themselves.
- Expose them to different genres and forms of literature like menus, telephone books, and magazines.
- Post a chart that remains visible throughout the year of “What Good Readers Do.” Add to the list below based on what your students know:
- Make predictions.
- Use background knowledge.
- Self-monitor, self correct, self question.
- Use fix-up strategies - rereading and adjusting reading rate.
- Figure out unknown words using context and/or recognizable parts of words to determine meaning.
If you have not developed a systematic way of implementing an effective independent reading period, why not start now? What is already in place? What must you establish?
See also: "Building Stamina and Motivation in Reading at School and Home" by Linda Mandracchia
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