Independent reading time can be incredibly powerful when you make it purposeful and accountable. It is an amazing chunk of time that gives the teacher an opportunity to meet with small groups or confer with individuals, while students are doing THE NUMBER ONE THING THAT IMPROVES READING ABILITIES, which is…
BUT, an effective independent reading time period does not just fall into a teacher’s lap. You probably already knew that, right?
A teacher needs to set up and maintain independent reading time expectations that WORK.
Usually, this is done in the first few weeks of school.
However, if a class is struggling to maintain independence or focus mid-year (or even in the final month of school), it’s definitely not too late to reteach (or teach for the first time) the expectations of independent reading time.
(pssst… at the end of this post, you can download an activity that will give your students 25 ways to get sucked into a text during independent reading. Don’t forget to snag it before you leave!)
As teachers, we know that we’ve got A LOT riding on us using our time effectively. We only have 180 days to move our students up X number of reading levels.
Sometimes it feels like we need to rush through setting up expectations so that we can start getting into the nitty gritty of assessing, teaching our small groups, conferring… and the hundreds of other teaching tasks we need to get to in a day.
YOU CANNOT TEACH READING IF YOUR INDEPENDENT READING EXPECTATIONS ARE NOT PERFECTLY IN PLACE.
Your students need to be able to do more than recite the expectations. They need to be doing them CONSISTENTLY. If they are not doing them CONSISTENTLY yet, give yourself a pep talk because you are going to need to teach and reteach the expectations UNTIL. THEY. MEET. THEM.
Many teachers can set up these expectations in 3-4 weeks. Well, I’ll be honest and say I HAVE HAD MANY YEARS where I needed to spend the first SIX WEEKS of the school year setting up expectations.
During those first six weeks, I was not yet meeting with small groups.
Nope. I needed to be close to my students to set the tone for the behaviors I expected to see. I would do a little conferring or individual assessing while the other students were working on the expectations for independent reading time, but I did not want to invest time in a reading group if there was a chance that it could distract me from guiding the whole-class expectations.
If it’s April, and my class (who used to be focused during independent reading) suddenly develops spring fever, I step back from teaching small groups to reteach the expectations for independent reading time.
Don’t be afraid to take the time to reteach the expectations as many times as you need to for your students to be meeting them CONSISTENTLY at any point in the school year.
Your goal is to build up your classes’ independent reading stamina so that they can stay engaged in texts for a continuous amount of time.
This doesn’t happen on day one. You need to slowly build up your classes reading stamina. Spend some time and effort building it up, because it WILL pay off when you have students who can work independently because that’s when you’ll be able to run groups or do conferring.
The beginning of the year is typically the easiest time for setting things up RIGHT. However, don’t hold back from doing this at any time of year if you need to,
I explicitly teach ONE expectation each day. To teach it, I model what I want, I give students the opportunity to practice it, we redo it over and over until it is meeting my expectation.
The procedures I am talking about are things like:
- how to choose a good spot to sit and read
- what you want the student to do if they finish their book early
- what do you want the student do to if they don’t like a book and don’t want to finish it
- your quiet signal for bringing everyone back to to the rug
- how to handle bathroom breaks
- and more…
HOW MUCH INDEPENDENT READING TIME?
For me, I personally LOVE having 40 minutes of independent reading time each day because it allows me to fit two 20-minute small group meetings in. But here is a more specific gauge based on grade level:
- KINDERGARTEN: 7-30 minutes
- 1st GRADE: 15-35 minutes
- 2nd GRADE: 20-45 minutes
- 3rd-5th GRADE: 40-55 minutes
Really take your time helping your students master the expectations for independent reading time. Repeat the procedure lessons for multiple days if needed. JUST get to where the students have a real grasp of your expectation…
…because this will be the key for you being able to confer and run your groups effectively.
So we are going to look at everything as a continuum with your independent reading. The end goal is expecting each student to be engaged while reading independently, without distraction. When students are at that point, we are going to give them choice in the books they read and where they sit. You are going to give some freedom…
…WITH SOME ACCOUNTABILITY.
This means that you still expect the student to demonstrate their understanding of a text or show you that they can apply a strategy you have taught.
You can use exit tickets. For example, if you teach an interactive read aloud about noticing inner and outer traits of a character, then you can use a quick exit ticket that the student completes showing the character traits that they noticed in a book that they are reading independently.
READING NOTEBOOK RESPONSES
If you use any kind of reading notebook, you can have the students jot a note in their reading notebook. It’s similar in nature to the exit ticket, but it’s almost no prep on your part. You can just write a note up on your whiteboard saying what your expectation is for them to do a notebook response to while reading independently.
Another option is to use sticky notes and what I call a show what you know board. After my interactive read aloud, I release my students to their independent reading time and I tell them what I expect them to respond to during independent reading. They jot down a note on their sticky note saying how they applied the strategy. Then they put it on our show what you know board in front of their name or number. This helps me get a quick visual of who has applied the strategy and who might need a little nudge.
No matter what, I want the accountability practice to be quick. I don’t want students spending the whole period writing a response or filling in a worksheet or ANYTHING like that. I just want a quick check in to know that the student is trying to apply the skills we are working on.
You cannot underestimate being FLEXIBLE here.
I don’t collect accountability tasks EVERY DAY.
It may be that you ask your students to show you how they applied a skill like identifying the main idea of a nonfiction text, but they are really into reading their fiction book. Well, there is no immediate need to disturb their reading yet. Allow a few days for the completion of the task.
This can be a give or take here (depending on your classroom norms). I generally give an exit task with about a 3 day turnaround time expectation.
BUT if a long time goes by, say a week passes and you aren’t getting any accountability tasks from a student, check in with that student using a conference.
If you are needing a little help with initially teaching expectations at the beginning of the year, or if you are reteaching expectations mid year, then READ-O might be able to help you establish and guide procedures while your students complete up to 25 reading tasks independently.
You have a little bit of flexibility with it – are you expecting a blackout? Or is regular horizontal, vertical, and diagonal lines? What’s your prize? YOU can make it work perfectly for YOUR classroom!
Use this game to keep EVERYONE in your class reading, while you are guiding expectations.
You can download the file by filling in the information below: