Reading for Fun? Check. Reading for School Credit? I Hope So.

My grade 7 PLC has joyfully embarked upon a reading journey with our students (see previous Book Love entry). What do I mean by that? Well, we are systematically putting the reading back into our English curriculum. This may sound like a no duh! kind of situation to some people, but not to us. Time for independent reading has been mostly squeezed out of the school day.

About five years ago, maybe more, most schools in our district stopped having Sustained Silent Reading (SSR). I think this happened for two reasons:

1) Teachers were not really enforcing the independent reading time. Some classes did it and some did not. Some teachers enforced the rule that every student read and some didn’t. Some teachers modeled the habit by reading themselves and some did not. I could go on.

2) We experienced the combined fallout from No Child Left Behind and the National Reading Panel Report (2000). This report, authorized by Congress in 1997, basically  states there is not relationship between independent reading and reading improvement. However, in the same section—Chapter 3: Fluency—the authors admit that the research done on the topic was extremely limited in scope. Here’s what it says: “The panel was able to locate relatively few studies on this topic, and these tended to address a narrow range of procedures. The studies examined the impact of encouraging independent reading on overall reading, rather than on reading fluency, per se.” They conclude by expressing a need for more rigorous studies on the impact of independent reading.

Even though we know students who read widely and—dare I say it—read for pleasure outperform their non-reading peers, schools seized upon the National Reading Panel report as an excuse to give up silent reading time. The National Reading Panel says it doesn’t work, so we might as well skip it. However, this makes no sense. Students need time to read and we know that if we don’t provide the time at school, many kids will simply not do it.

Here’s the bottom line: I am not proposing that students spend the entire school day, or even the entire English class period reading. It isn’t independent reading and nothing else.  Instead, my PLC is embracing a systematic independent reading program combined with direct instruction on reading strategies to improve their overall comprehension and fluency.

Our classroom readers are reading for fun, AND for improvement. Here’s how:

  • Access to books: No matter what, we visit the school library every two to three weeks. We train our students in the routine of browsing and then sitting down to read. We also train them to return during library hours when they finish books in the interim between visits.
  • Time: The majority of the homework for English 7 is reading. Students are required, cajoled, an encouraged to read 30 minutes seven days a week. They have a very simple form to fill out after reading (from Donalyn Miller’s Reading in the Wild). It’s important to note that we want students to spend time reading, not doing what educator and book whisperer Donalyn Miller calls “reading -related activities.”

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