Recently, I tearfully watched the Class of 2016 walk across the stage. In some respects, I couldn’t believe they were graduating already. I just had them as freshmen! When I think back to how I instilled reading in their lives four years ago, I wish I could have done better. I didn’t know what I know now. I’m sure a lot of teachers think this way, for we are always revising and making changes each year. Below are some of my thoughts for what I plan to keep, as well as what I plan to implement.
Independent reading time will be given EVERY DAY. This is a non-negotiable for me. I see my students 4 days in a 6-day cycle, and this year I will only have them 55 minutes on those 4 days (instead of 60 minutes like last year). Those 15 minutes of independent reading are vital. For most of my students, they will not receive independent reading time again after 9th grade, so I need to instill that love of reading as best I can.
Choice is allowed, and encouraged. I want my 9th graders to read what interests them, even if a title is below their reading level. Why? Students first need to gain confidence in their reading abilities. Only then will they be willing to try more challenging books. I’ve watched this happen year after year. A 9th grader may start in September with a book by Kate DiCamillo, and by June that same student is trying titles by Laurie Halse Anderson or Marissa Meyer. Also, I know the type of reader I am, and I enjoy books by DiCamillo, Anderson, and Meyer! Learning can always take place, even if the reading levels of the books vary from time to time.
Book talks will be part of our IR routine. I did more book talks last year than I ever have before. I also had more students read consistently than ever before. I know there is a link! So many students read titles this year that they never knew about. How could they? They need to be introduced to the titles available to them.
Book passes will be done at least once each marking period. Book talks are important, but I found that book passes worked wonders as well. They give students the opportunity to discover new, interesting titles on their own. Book passes are basically speed dating with books. In about 20-30 minutes, students review 20 or so books. Often times, to-read lists grow quite lengthy after a book pass.
Books will continue to be visible in my classroom. Last year, I worked quite hard to find ways to display books so students could see more than the bindings. I got two front-facing bookshelves, and I bought display stands for books so I could put some on top of bookshelves. I also started displaying every book I read throughout the year in an ever-growing display instead of just my current title. I can’t tell you the amount of times students would ask about the books I read, or the ones that were on display. I am already looking into adding to my displays for next year.
You can see the covers of the titles I read right under the ceiling.
My first front-facing bookshelf.
Staff Signs – Students need to know that they are not the only ones in the building reading. Teachers read too, and not just English teachers! Last year, I sent a template to teachers (see below) so they could display what they were reading on their doors, and some teachers decided to use it! I plan to send it out again in September, so any new teachers who want to use it can do so.
New Changes for 2016-2017:
Student Book Talks – As mentioned above, book talks will take place every day, but I plan to make sure I am not the only one giving them. Last year, a few students (both current and former) were willing to go up in front of my classes and share their favorite books. If students view me, their teacher, as a trusted resource for great books, they will definitely trust their peers as well. I plan to designate certain days for student book talks, and sign-up sheets will be posted in the classroom.
Grading and Incentives – I am required to grade my students’ independent reading in some way. I don’t use Accelerated Reader or other testing programs though. Instead, it’s simply based on if students are reading during their given class time. This is what I care about most. If students read consistently during class, they will likely start reading more often outside of class. Next year, I am looking to give an extra incentive of some sort. My plan is to email Study Hall teachers to get them to not only promote reading in their Study Halls (instead of listening to music or napping), but also send me names of students who read and/or share their book titles with others. I want to make this easy on Study Hall teachers, so I am still working how to implement this one. If you have suggestions, please feel free to let me know!
Conferences and Writing Notebooks – I hate to admit this, but I was quite inconsistent with my reading conferences last year. I know how important they are, but so much always seemed to get in the way. I planned to confer with students during their 15 minutes of IR time, but part of that time I used for keeping track of the titles and page numbers of the books students were reading. Then students would need book recommendations, or someone would come in late, or a student would need redirection. Next year, I plan to confer more, but also add in writing notebooks. In the past, I always used notebooks for separate writing lessons and quick writes, not IR. This year I’d like to give students writing time at least one day each week so they can share how their independent reading is going. This way I can give them written feedback if they are struggling, and they can reference these notes in the future. I think this will help me get inside their heads more, but I know conversations are still vital. If you have conference or notebook suggestions, please share!
What does independent reading look like in your classroom? Please feel free to share a comment below.