Can Silent Reading Be Meaningful for Students?

We’ve heard it all in regards to programs like D.E.A.R., SSR, Independent Reading Time, etc.

“It’s a waste of instructional time.”

“It doesn’t work.  Students aren’t really reading, they’re faking.”

“SSR-oh, you mean the time each day that a teacher checks email?  Get rid of it.”

The question still remains, is there a place for students to read independently, a book of their choice, every day during class?  And the answer is, indubitably, yes.  From the works of Pam Allyn of LitWorld, Ernest Morrell, Donalyn Miller, Penny Kittle, Richard Allington, not to mention the whisperings of my own soul, the research behind this practice is conclusive. According to the article by Richard Allington referenced in my last post, students must read something they choose every single day.  This is fundamental in any quality classroom literacy program.  Period.

So, to the teacher reading this, I feel the frustration.  With all of the demands and expectations consistently put on the classroom teacher, how can this possibly occur everyday?  The assemblies, last minute meetings, being summoned to duty, grades, CASSPP preparation, picture day, fire drills, curriculum guides, pacing, essential targets…the list goes on and on.  I have said this before, the struggle is real.  And as much as I prescribe to this belief of students reading everyday from a  self-selected book, there were many years that I did not make this happen.  (Side note: We have to forgive ourselves in those instances and then, aspire to do better tomorrow.)

I will share what finally worked for me in achieving my dream of a meaningful independent reading time that occurred every single day.  Here’s the shortlist.

  1. Write it in your planbook.
    • I mean, legitimately and intentionally select a block of time that will be labeled IRT (independent reading time).  For me, it was in the morning.  The first 45 minutes at my school site was the intervention/ELD block.  The next 15 minutes was IRT.  As soon as the students returned from their designated groups, they didn’t wait in a line outside my door, they entered quickly and quietly, picked up their books and started reading.  (Waiting in line took up too much time as the students were all returning at different times—and minutes matter!)
  2. Decide what YOU, the teacher, will be doing during this time. Then, DO IT. 
    • Resources that guided me were:
    • As alluring as it may be, this was not the time that I completed the endless list of things that we, teachers, have to do. This was the time that I did the following:
      • Walked the room with my class sheet, conferencing with students, recording anecdotal data.  My routine was based off of “Rick’s Reading Workshop”.  Implementing this routine was one of the most powerful things I have ever done as a teacher.  I found out more about these students in 15 minutes than I had in entire months.  Don’t hesitate–just try it.
      • When I wasn’t ‘walking’ the room, I was conferencing with students using their Reader’s Notebook as my guide.  (Please see post regarding Donalyn Miller’s 40 Book Challenge for more information.)
  3. Stick to it.  The entire year. 
    • No matter how tempting it might be—do NOT abandon this routine.  The beginning of the year is rough, as is implementing any routine with students, but it WILL pay off.
    • There will always be something that can ‘pop’ up and masquerade itself as more important.  So, yes, you will be enticed to throw it out for more math time, perhaps.  Don’t.  Nothing is more important.

There you have it.  Please share the routines and resources you have used to give students more access and choice for reading.


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Rick’s notebook where he records all the student data collected during this time.  Provides another option instead of data sheets.  I like it.

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Published by Cortez Corner

Literacy instructional coach turned site administrator. Misser of the classroom. Reader. Wannabe writer. Barely blogger. Podcaster. Dormant Poet...I just know it.

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