My Dream: All of my students have a book in their hands at all times and run to the library for the next great book choice as soon as they finish the previous great book choice.
My Reality: A handful of students run for the bookshelf; a handful of students walk to the bookshelf, and a handful of students have to be pointed in the direction of the bookshelf.
Since not all students are avid readers, it is nice to have an accountability system in the classroom to track and encourage independent reading. It does not have to be a daily reading log (insert opinion here-- I
loathe and detest dislike daily reading logs for upper elementary readers).
In the primary grades when students are learning to read, a daily reading log works well, so students can improve fluency and build their sight word banks. In the older grades when students are reading to learn, I am in favor of more independence when it comes to free reading.
There are many options that do not involve the teacher (and parents) tracking a daily reading goal, which turns reading into something a student HAS to do not something a student GETS to do. There is a big difference in the mind of a student, and motivation is a huge piece to building readers.
1. Have students Track Completed Books, not daily minutes or pages. When students finish a whole book, they log the book title and pages (and maybe reading level too). This works well for all level of readers. Some students may read one longer book or many shorter books. Teachers can monitor by informally checking with each student once a week to ask about book titles and how far along in the book the student is. When a book is complete, the student records the book on their Student Reading Log; the teacher logs the book too. Everybody has a record.
2. Have a short class book chat each day and assign students specific days to present a book. Students read aloud a short passage from their book that they pre-select and briefly discuss what is good (bad?) about the book, character(s) they like, events that are exciting (sad, funny...). Students must have something new to present each time it is their turn. Depending on how many students go each day, a student would need to present a book chat about every two weeks. That would encourage continuous reading. This 5-minute task also provides practice with oral reading fluency and public speaking.
3. If you use the Accelerated Reader system at your school, assign each student a point goal for each month or grading period (or week). Students can self monitor to reach their point requirement. Easier books have lower point values, so students would need to read more books. If a student chooses a more challenging book, the book might take longer to read but provide more points. Teachers can differentiate reading levels by assigning different point goals to low, middle, and high readers. Set benchmarks throughout the time period (earn X amount of points by this date).
4. Require brief assessments when students complete a book to quickly check for comprehension. Complete a short recommendation form; take an AR test, fill out a Book Buddy Bookmark. Avoid big projects or lengthy writing assignments for independent book choices. Save those projects for the books and stories you read as part of language arts class. First of all, that is too much grading for a teacher. Secondly, when students know they will be required to "think deeply" about a book in assignment form, they read less. It interrupts the pure enjoyment (and free part) of a "free" reading book choice.
Other Book Motivator Ideas
- Allow students to set a personal reading goal. I love Penny Kittle's Book Stacks for middle and high school readers or the idea of a "Tower of Books."
- Write Read Me Blurbs about a book (or even a hashtag style comment) on strips of paper and insert the paper on the shelf with the book, so other students may read the comments to encourage new book choices.
- Each time a student completes a book, he/she can write the book title and author on a piece of paper and add it to a jar or container of some kind. The teacher draws book titles from the jar and that is the book that the teacher will read next. A student may not add titles to the teacher jar unless he or she has read the book.
- Have students keep a Book Journal. At the end of a block of time (one month, one grading period...), review the book titles and make assessments about the styles of books, book author choices, length/difficulty of books, plots, likes, dislikes, and improvements in reading abilities from the previous book journal reflection. Keep the reflection on its own page in the book journal.
Please share any of your student independent reading ideas in the comments below and happy reading this school year!