Guest Blog by Autumn Riley, Campus GT Specialist and English I Teacher at Mansfield Lake Ridge High School in Mansfield ISD
Total silence can be deafening in a classroom because the noiselessness can feel so uncomfortable, especially when you are used to hearing moving pencils and chatty students, but if you can fall in love with Independent Reading time in the classroom the silent moments can be your absolute jam!
A few years ago, I read Donalyn Miller’s The Book Whisperer, and I started trying to incorporate independent reading time into my high school classroom. But #realtalk – I struggled; I struggled a lot. For so many reasons, the silence of my independent reading time crawled by uncomfortably for me. (I watched the timer on the board creep down, and I even started shaving seconds off by starting the timer for smaller and smaller time chunks.) Independent Reading time was a chore, even worse – it was just something I was checking off the list and then, moving on with my lesson. For me, integrating Independent Reading into the high school English classroom felt like a thing that other people could do, but one that I just couldn’t. In a big way, this struggle was because I had failed to account for the realities of what buying-in to Independent Reading would take.
If I could go back in time, I would tell myself to embrace the struggle. I would tell myself that Independent Reading can become not only manageable but enjoyable, and I would tell myself that there would come a time that the precious minutes would race by and my students wouldn’t want it to be over.
By no means is my Independent Reading instruction perfect, but Independent Reading has become my jam! Here are some things you might consider as you incorporate this designated reading time into your classroom. (And, if you already have designated Independent Reading time in your classroom: 1. Go you! 2. Maybe some of these tips/tricks will make your life a little easier.)
Strategies to Make Independent Reading Your Jam
- Take your students to the school library
Libraries are majestic and often underused places on secondary campuses. Plan a library day with your classes once every two or three weeks, and be consistent! The year we began doing this in our English I classes, our campus library circulation tripled. Students really enjoy getting to roam and select books.
- Create a classroom library
In addition to visiting the campus library, have books available in the classroom. While it is ideal to have every student come to class with a book, we know that just won’t happen every day for every student. (I mean life happens.) Having options on hand makes that particular struggle much easier to navigate.
- Read with your students and TO your students
Stop and read that tip again. Yep! I am telling you to read with your students. I used to spend Independent Reading time grading or trying to conference with students, but now, Independent Reading time is sacred. I walk around being an active monitor and MODEL of what reading looks like. (That’s right I’m telling you to walk around reading in your room for ten minutes each and every class!!! That’s 30 minutes of reading built-in to your day.) This has so many perks – I could really write a whole other post about this topic alone!!!
- Make time for conversation
Students want to talk about what they are reading, so don’t shut them down. Build extra time in for students to talk about books. This can be out loud conversation or reading reflections, but don’t neglect the power of this time. Giving students the power and community to share books can be transformative in your classroom culture. Have you ever seen high school boys fight over who gets a particular book next from the library? Because I have, and it is seriously one of the coolest feelings.
- Accountability & Reading Conferences
Independent Reading is something that can be tough to hold students accountable for because you want it to be something they WANT to do and not something that they HAVE to do. Working through that balance can be tough! One thing I have students do in class is complete a digital reading tracker through Google Forms. (Check out these Sample Forms to give yourself an idea of what those can look like: Sample Form #1 & Sample Form #2.) Google Forms allow you to send responses to a Spreadsheet in Google Sheets. This will allow for easy data sorting.
Additionally, you can add columns to the Google Sheet you generate for your form responses. This is something I am still working on adding to my data logging. Here you can record notes about conversations that you have during reading conferences.
Independent Reading isn’t something to add on top of your instruction. It’s not a cherry on the top of a beautiful lesson plan. If done with intention, it becomes a key component of your instruction and leads to authentic conversations about author’s craft moves, text genres, and so many other things.
If it scares you a little bit to give up class time to “just read”, I would encourage you to revisit the idea and add it your daily routine in the fall.