As a middle school teacher of reading, writing, speaking, and listening (a deliberate reference to the former NYC English Language Arts standards for those in the know, and don’t worry, I’m not defending them) I often find myself defending the practice of consistent, purposeful independent reading. A conversation typically goes like this:
Other Educator: Well, you have an hour on Friday, so you can complete x and y.
Me: Actually, I have independent reading at the beginning of class, and we debrief that after. So I have about 35 minutes. I can comfortably teach and assign all the tasks for x, but y will have to wait.
Other Educator: Well, x and y are important to z, and we have to z by NEXT WEEK, so why not just drop reading for the day.
Me: Independent reading is an essential component of our week.
Other Educator: It’s just reading. You can make it up AFTER z.
Me: … [head explodes]
This exchange inevitably floors me. I am the first to admit that I am not aware of the exact routines, structures, protocols, etcetera that might drive a math classroom or a science classroom, but two months into my third year of teaching, I am sure that independent reading works for my kids in English class. I teach in a whole district school, serving kids from some of the least – and most – affluent neighborhoods in my entire borough. I teach students who have been to Europe multiple times and students who have to take a bus an hour and a half to our campus in a pretty suburb. Some of my students can discuss high school level texts with ease, while for some of my students, Captain Underpants is in the zone of proximal development. Providing kids with time in school to read on their own allows them to be in reading-level appropriate books at least part of the time (I also teach whole class novels and literature circles, but that’s a different story), and helps kids build the routines of reading. I aim to begin class with this quiet reading time three times per week, in order to supplement the half hour Silent Sustained Reading (SSR) my entire school settles down to on Tuesdays and Thursdays after lunch. This is not wasted time; kids generate work (in the form of sticky notes that I frequently assess on a rubric) as they read, and I either assess the class as a whole through observation and record-making, or use this time to conference with individual kids. Very occasionally, I sit down and model the practices of good readers with kids, choosing a seat near a group of strugglers, taking out my own independent book, and completing the exact same tasks I ask of them (sticky note making, recording new words, etcetera).
Sorry, no, I cannot put off reading until next week. My kids need to read today. They also need to read tomorrow, and the day after, and so on. Until they can all read and discuss grade-level texts in a sophisticated way, z probably does not matter as much.
Do you allow time for independent reading in your classroom? Why or why not? What structures do you use?