Independent reading is a standby in every elementary school classroom, but are you making the most of that time? For teachers, independent reading time should be more than keeping children occupied for those few crazy minutes when they come in from lunch recess. These five independent reading tips are essentials for creating successful readers.
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Independent reading is essential for young readers. But this time is much more than having children read for a few minutes while the teacher takes attendance or gets everyone sorted after a long, playful lunch. Independent reading is not “calm down time,” as a colleague of mine put it once.
And, frankly, if that is how independent reading time is being used, then you’re doing it all wrong.
What is Independent Reading?
Let me be completely clear here. Independent reading has a very specific purpose. It is an opportunity for children to practice reading skills they are learning in a safe text that requires limited or no assistance from a teacher or adult. This reading can be done for pure enjoyment or can be assigned as nightly homework.
There are strong associations between reading independently and achievement in reading. Many researchers believe that independent reading plays a key role in the development of reading fluency, which makes sense since practicing skills is bound to make one better at it. But researchers also believe that independent reading has a positive impact on vocabulary, background knowledge, and even spelling.
Five Tips for a Successful Independent Reading Time
So we know that independent reading is important for developing readers, but it’s not always easy to put that time into practice in the classroom. Here are five reading tips that are guaranteed to help make the most of that time.
Be an Involved Teacher
Like I already said, independent reading time is not busy work. As children are reading, the teacher should be instructing smaller groups of students. He should be scaffolding for future reading lessons and teaching students how to choose appropriate books for reading.
(For independent reading, the best books are those where children have a strong interest and can read 95% of each page’s text without mistakes.)
Invest Some Serious Time in Independent Reading
Ten minutes after lunch while half your class is getting a drink doesn’t count as independent reading time. Imagine you are taking piano lessons. How much time do you think your piano teacher would require you to practice each day? I’ll tell you…a minimum of 30 minutes, probably preferably an hour.
So a few minutes of independent reading because your math lesson finished early and it’s about time for P.E. just doesn’t count. If independent reading has such a positive impact on other reading skills as researchers say they do, then shouldn’t teachers be offering fair amounts of reading time?
Offer a Broach Range of Texts
Teachers no longer expect all their students to fit into the same box. In fact, differentiated instruction gets pushed more and more as the years go by. One of the easiest ways to provide your students with differentiated instruction is to offer them a classroom library with a broad range of texts. There should be a broad range in content as well as levels.
Allow for Text Talk
It used to be that independent reading was referred to as SSR, or sustained silent reading. How misguided that was!
Today we know that as little as ten minutes talking about text can drastically improve comprehension and other reading skills, like making inferences. Both small-group and large-group conversations can contribute to critical thinking, metacognition, and problem-solving.
Differentiate Independent Reading
This is especially true for English language learners and struggling readers. These students need help selecting books, more support during reading, and more strategy instruction. Most importantly, they need more independent reading time than other students. This is because poor readers tend to spend less time reading both in and out of school.
Their progress depends on reading practice, which if they don’t get at home or in an after school program, they must get at school. And offering independent reading time only after an assignment has been completed doesn’t help either since ESL and struggling readers seldom finish work early enough to benefit what it extra time for their classmates.
This means there are less opportunities for them to participate in independent reading than that of their peers.
Independent Reading Time Isn’t Optional
Effective independent reading programs certainly will increase student achievement, but when implemented properly and consistently they also can motivate children to discover a love of reading.
With a newer push for children to perform on standardized tests, independent reading time has been cut short, with teachers and administrators thinking that direct skills practice is using limited time more wisely. This is not to say that such skills practice is not important, but rather that those skills should be taught in conjunction with independent reading, not instead of.
What are your favorite reading tips?