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Teaching Tip: Independent Reading... with Books Students WANT to and CAN Read!

Teaching Tip: Independent Reading... with Books Students WANT to and CAN Read!

There are many research studies that show a strong correlation between the amount a student reads each day and reading achievement. The good news is that teachers understand this and are making sure their students read for a significant amount of time each day. One way they’ve increased time for reading is by giving students less busywork (such as worksheets) and setting aside time for independent reading. Many teachers do this by providing each student with a book box filled with reading material to use during independent reading time. This ensures that students do not need to spend their reading time hunting for books and are ready to read right away.

During one of our recent Office Hours, Jan Richardson said there are two criteria for books to be selected for a student’s book box: first, the books should be ones they want to read, and second, the books should be ones they CAN read.

I have noticed that when I look in the book box of a proficient reader, I find a selection of books and other materials they CAN read, as well as WANT to read. Some of the books are easy, and some have a few challenges. None of them are too hard. Then when I look in the book box of a student who is struggling to learn to read, I find a box stuffed with interesting magazines, chapter books, nonfiction books—all things they WANT to read but unfortunately CAN’T read because they’re much too difficult. This means that during independent reading, instead of reading, the student is flipping through and looking at pictures, reorganizing the books in their box, or spreading the books out in some kind of arrangement on the rug. Almost no time is being used to actually read.

I know teachers who give great mini-lessons on how to select a just-right book. But to maximize learning, we need to monitor what students have in their book boxes. Take time to sit down with each student and check what they have placed in their box. Help them evaluate each book by having them read a few lines. Explain that no matter how interesting the topic or pictures are, the books also have to be something they can read without help. Then provide opportunities for students to listen to those books they are interested in that are beyond their reading ability, either through partner reading or listening centers.

Let’s value a student’s ability to choose but keep in mind the importance of helping them make good choices when it comes to independent reading books.