Some days you feel like a rock star teacher. Your lesson goes off without a hitch. Your students ask poignant, critical questions. They submit quality assignments. You think, “I’ve have got this!” But other days you feel like you are banging your head against a wall, repeatedly. Or at least I do.
Let me explain. I try to give my students about 15 minutes every Friday to read their independent novels to support their success. Last Friday was no different. Except that a student confidently bragged she scored 100% on her last reading quiz from reading Sparknotes and not a page of her novel.
Ugh. “Seriously?” I thought. Then my next thought was “You mean you wasted the last nine Friday’s reading time when I could so desperately use that time to teach you and you scored perfectly?”
Therein lies the independent reading conundrum. To read independently or not to read independently?
I know this answer: Yes! Our students should read independently. But that’s where my reading road comes to an end. I have questions and theories but zero answers. I have ideas and loose opinions, but after six years of teaching, I still don’t know how to best tackle the beast known as independent reading.
That’s where you come in. I would love your opinions on my burning reading questions.
Conundrum #1: Reluctant Readers
I believe some kids read without hesitation because they love it; some kids read because it’s a part of their grade, but others don’t or won’t read because they see no value in it. Much like PE, some students want to be athletic and fit, so they excel in running the mile weekly. Some kids understand running the mile is part of their grade and therefore participate in it regardless of their opinion. Other kids hate running and are angry running is part of the class and therefore doddle down the track every week not worried their grade will take a hit when they don’t finish. So the question becomes: Should I worry about the student who won’t read or is this simply par for the reading course?
Conundrum #2: What does “Independent” Really Mean?
The dictionary defines independent as “free from outside control; not depending on another’s authority.” So does independent mean we give kids complete autonomy to select books? This is where I struggle. I believe many students will select books far too easy simply, so they can breeze through them when we give them complete control over their selections. But on the other hand, when I give them lists, aren’t I going against what it means to read independently? I haven’t tried the total choice method. I’ve used thematic and random lists, and I’ve tried lists a 1,000 titles long and lists with as few a four books. None of these seem to impact readers. What’s the best way to give kids choice?
Conundrum #3: Accountability
I have tried three methods for holding kids accountable, and I still don’t know which is the best. I’ve tried book talks, timed writing assignments, and reading comprehension quizzes. I used to think kids couldn’t cheat their way through, but based on last week’s comment, apparently, I stand corrected. What is the best way to hold kids accountable for reading?
Conundrum #4: Purpose
Why are we asking students to read independently? To create lifelong readers? Improve reading comprehension? Provide students with diverse perspectives? Facilitate discussions? Serve as foundational and focused writing assignments? Or simply to read for the sake of reading? I would say yes to all of these purposes, but I struggle to find the time to devote to all of these equally important purposes and the ability to assess them. Last, I grapple with how to create a love of reading in every student regardless of purpose. Are we aiming at too many targets when it comes to reading?
As I sit at my house with a stack of books I am dying to crack open, I wonder what’s the best way to approach such a vital skill? I also wonder if I am fighting a battle I just won’t win, and therefore should I abandon the war? I hope it doesn’t come to that. So how can we tackle independent reading while maintaining our sanity? I ask you, the experts in the field, to weigh in. What are the methods and best practices for inspiring readers and not cheaters?