Independent Reading = Connected Learning

Marsha Clements at English Companion Ning questions current practices of teaching reading, reminding us that independent reading is so important in the development of lifelong readers.

I teach the curriculum required from a terrific series, The Language of Literature by McDougall Littell with Judith Langer and Peter Elbow among the many senior consultants. We base our reading discussions on reading strategies and the Washington State’s “stem” questions for standardized test preparation.

However, half my class period is MOTT, ND : My Own Topic Time, Notedly Displayed, modeled after  Jim Burke’s Weekly Paper. Students’ papers (as hard copy, blog, or wiki) are due the 1st and 15th of each month, and after the third paper, students create a presentation to share in groups about what they have learned.  Of course, because they are reading what they want to read, they share daily.  It’s almost difficult just keeping them reading because they want to share and discuss the fiction/nonfiction/poetry they have chosen. And on days when my text lesson starts to go over time, the students begin to fidget and look at the clock.  They want their own reading time.  I love it! They love it.

And, yes, one student slammed his book shut one day and called out to his peers, “Wow. I just finished my first book.”  Eighth grade. One book. How will kids ever learn to read well if they don’t read? And how will they learn to love reading unless they are allowed to read what interests them?

I agree: Bring back Sustained Silent Reading (SSR), or as Dr. Marvin Oliver (1973 !) called it way back in time: HIP (High Intensity Practice): read 20 minutes, write 5 minutes, share 5 minutes. Find more research at NWREL , at the Internet TESL Journal, a Houghten Mifflin Report on Independent Reading, A PowerPoint, and an American Association of School Librarians on Independent Reading.

I realize some differences exist in the procedures of these formats, but the important issue here is to get kids reading. Common sense tells us that if we read more, we’ll be better readers. And if we’re better readers, we’ll be better writers from the information we’ll possess and from the modeling of other writers.

Now, as an aside, kids today really are reading: txt messages, My Space, video game instructions and cheat sheets, and other online connected and networked venues. And they do all of this without us, and perhaps without a thoughtful eye towards what and how those interactions affect others. Part of our responsibility is to bring them into the global world with a sense of responsibility and ethics. What better arena to venture into social etiquette than through an online discussion on books they’ve chosen to read?

That said, think of how much our students miss because they don’t know a reference to a book or idea on which adults have knowledge (Viet Nam, Moby Dick).  These are the connections and issues that arise when sharing student chosen books. I am amazed at the simple ideas that my students don’t know because they haven’t interacted on intellectual levels with adults; they have been drilled and “strategied,” but not engaged and compelled in the true queries of literate readers. If we have these discussions on their books, on their terms, we’ll be helping them with their online presence as well. See the video from Meridith Stewart’s classroom. These conversations on student chosen books both in class and online would offer them another path to engaged and lifelong literacy.

Wouldn’t it be refreshing if all our students found the local bookstore as the place to hang out — SSR indeed, and lifelong learning…
Photo Credit: Flickr by bookworm2

Thank you, Marsha Clements, for renewing the conversation.  Won’t you join us at the English Companion Ning?  Would you implement, and how would you implement Independent Reading time?

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