by Heather Rocco (@heatherrocco), Educator Collaborative Consultant
In this post Heather Rocco, the leader for the Advanced Coaching Think Tank called “Supporting the Shift to Independent Reading in Secondary Classrooms, Grades 6-12” explains how opening a curriculum to allow more reading choices invites students to participate in their learning.
Independent reading is a highly regarded best practice on the elementary level. Elementary teachers make time for students to choose books and read them in their classes. As students advance in school, though, they have fewer reading options. The books they read are largely determined by their teachers. Teachers assign reading rather than invite them to read. However, if we want students to find joy and inspiration and value in the time they spend reading, we must allow them to choose their books. This shift is the best first step to integrating independent reading into your instruction.
Dr. Maya Angelou said, “Any book that helps a child to form a habit of reading, to make reading one of his deep and continuing needs, is good for him.” I, of course, agree with her. If you want your students to develop a true interest and place value on reading, your cannot micromanage students’ independent reading book choices. When launching independent reading, you should never say, “You can pick any book you want as long as it is a science fiction novel written within the last 30 years.”
No. No. No. Please…no.
Students who hate science fiction will lack motivation to read. Reading a science fiction book, to them, is a chore. You do not want independent reading to become another school assignment. You want it to become a way of life.
So, let students choose books they want to read. This is particularly important during the first few months of independent reading as we want kids to embrace the habit of reading. If students want to read seven science fiction books in a row, so be it. Students who love sports biographies can read five if they choose. Have students who are fascinated by World War II? Let them grab books that feed that interest. As long as they have a book in their hand and their eyes crossing the page, you should let me have at it. As they move through the year, you may want to make other recommendations and encouragements, but these should be borne out of their interests (but that discussion is for another blog post or a future Think Tank discussion…so you should join my Advanced Coaching cohort…wink, wink).
Find the Right Book
Some students, though, find the book selection process really challenging, especially if they haven’t read a book in years. Here are some ways you can help them find the right book:
- Have a reading conference with the student. Ask her questions about the last book she read and loved (even if it was from third grade). Find out what her passions are and/or what she may want to explore as a career. Ask if there is a book she has always considered reading, but they didn’t have the time or access. If she said she never read the Harry Potter series and feels like she missed out, encourage her to try it now! Take good notes during this conference (maybe even audio record it) as it will help you make good book recommendations in the future.
- Listen carefully…aka Eavesdrop. As students walk into your classroom, they may be engaged in conversations with others. Notice the topics of their conversations. When you notice students frequently discuss hockey or music or video games, you can make recommendations to those students based on their interests.
- Ask his friends. When a student is really struggling to find a book, sometimes he doesn’t even know what options exist. Ask his peers to make recommendations for him. You can say, “I’m just getting to know Eric, but you know him best. He wants to find a great book to read. What type of book do you think he’d enjoy?” I’ve found peers make excellent recommendations for each other, and students are more likely to read what their friends suggest.
- Find a role model reader. If a student is a fan of a particular celebrity, athlete or even a classroom teacher, ask the student to find out what books this person loves to read. She may be inspired to read The Art of War by Sun Tzu when she learns its Shannon Sharpe’s favorite book. Or he may be inspired to try Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott when he knows it is a book Amy Poehler rereads frequently. There is a great web page called favoriteof.com that has curated a collection of celebrities’ favorite books. You can send them there to explore options.
Whatever it takes, make sure you get the right book into the student’s hands. Helping every child find a genre, style, writer, or book he or she loves is essential to establishing a successful independent reading program. Most importantly, however, it is essential to a student’s development as a reader and a human being.
Would you like to write for the Community Blog? We’d love to have you!
Visit Write for Us to learn how!