Finding the Pathway to Independent Reading
by Wendy Seger
Last June during our Cornerstone Literacy Summer Institute we discussed the significant changes that have occurred between the independent reading occurring in the 1990s to that of the present. Many of us remember the extraordinary event when an entire school staff paused to “drop everything and read.” We knew then that student choice of text and time to read was important to a child’s development as a lifelong reader. However, we soon discovered that merely providing the opportunity for DEAR (Drop Everything and Read) and SSR (Silent Sustained Reading) was not enough to develop proficiency at reading.
In the last two decades, we have learned much about the importance of independent reading and what it should look like in the classroom. A 2010 International Reading Association publication, Creating Lifelong Readers Through Independent Reading by Barbara Moss and Terrance Young, provides a useful summary of some of the major studies regarding independent reading. In this professional resource, we learn that research points to a positive link between the amount children read and their reading achievement (Allington, 2006). A 2004 NAEP study (Perle, Moran, Lutkus & Tirre, 2005) found that students who read daily and voluntarily reported higher reading scores than those who did not. Schools with higher-achieving students schedule more opportunities for real reading and writing than those with students achieving at lower levels (Cunningham & Allington, 2007). Students are more motivated to read, read longer, and read with better comprehension when given access to high-interest text (Guthrie & Greaney, 1991).
However, Moss & Young (2010) indicate that some of the most important research regarding independent reading puts a focus on the active role of the teacher. Teachers who enjoy reading themselves and can model reading behavior will more likely inspire their students to become lifelong readers. In fact, a teacher’s personal reading habits can significantly affect student achievement, motivation and reading engagement (Applegate & Applegate, 2004). The indication is that teachers who do not read are less able to meet the learning needs of his/her students. In contrast to a deficit model of teaching, our goal is to learn what we can do to build the capacity of our students to become independent problem solvers when they read.
Today we seek to provide four important components into our classroom practice of independent reading: structure, accountability, teacher feedback, and student motivation. In several classrooms in our districts, student self-selected reading is part of the literacy block and is referred to as structured independent reading. In these classrooms, students are taught how to write meaningful responses to the text, how to have useful conversations about the text, and given opportunities to discuss their thinking with classmates. However, as more teachers desire to make this change in their classroom practice, they may struggle with how to make the shift from one teaching paradigm to another. “Where do I start?”
The good news is that we have already been moving in the right direction to develop reading independence with the implementation of The First Lessons. The most recent research of reading experts such as P. David Pearson, Cathy Collins Block, Gerald Duffy, Elfrieda Hiebert, Linda Gambrell, Ian Wilkinson, and Stuart McNaughton give support to the processes and structures suggested in The First Lesson essentials. In each essential, specific teacher moves are suggested to create an inquiring, learning community of readers.
In the Cornerstone Literacy Winter Conference, we looked at classroom artifacts of student work from both Districts as a result of such teacher moves. Here are seven suggestions to consider in anticipation of a deeper implementation of independent reading:
- Establish a Reader Identity for your students so that you will know what they like to read.
- Establish Routines & Rituals of how explicit instruction will be delivered.
- Show students How to Select a “Just Right” Book.
- Explain how Reading is Thinking, that readers continually monitor their understanding of the text as they read.
- Provide a system for students to keep track of what they read with Records of Reading.
- Create norms for Talking About Text so that their conversations are meaningful.
- Model how to Write About Text so that students know how to show their thinking.
Many may recognize the seven essentials from The First Lessons represented in the suggestions. By “opening these doors”, you will provide the beginning structures and systems of accountability necessary to make independent reading successful.
Once an environment to support independent reading is established, the next steps are to build the students’ stamina for more extended periods of reading. Students need to know how to continuously monitor their comprehension and what to do when meaning breaks down. They also need to build a cadre of reading strategies that they use fluently and flexibly (Block & Duffy, 2008). How does this happen? What teacher moves will help build stamina for independent reading in striving readers?
Another part of our work during 2011 Winter Conference was a study of the published article, Instructional Approaches That Significantly Increase Reading Comprehension, of the research of Cathy Collins Block and other colleagues (Block, Parris, Reed, Whiteley, & Cleveland, 2009). The article describes how the research systematically compared six different reading approaches with the goal of increasing the ability of students to reading silently with comprehension. Each approach was implemented during 20 additional minutes added to the daily literacy block instruction. Additionally, the approaches included reading at least seven pages of continuous text, student choice in text selection, and teacher availability for interaction with the readers. The table that follows lists the approaches tested in the study with a brief description of the characteristics.
|#1 Workbook Practice||Independent, silent repeated practice of skills by reading short workbook passages|
|#2 Individualized Schema-based learning||Silent reading of a full-length book combined with teacher monitoring and personalized mini-interventions as needed during reading|
|#3 Situated Practice||An explicit teacher-led lesson of a comprehension strategy; following the lesson, students are instructed to practice this strategy independently during silent reading|
|#4 Conceptual learning||Silent reading of two student-selected, same-topic, nonfiction books read back to back|
|#5 Transactional learning||Silent reading of a fictional text related to a thematic unit followed by group discussion of the text|
|#6 Basal readers||Silent reading of a basal textbook story followed by the accompanying pencil-&-paper basal activities|
We worked together on Thursday afternoon of the conference to learn more about each approach, how they support readers, and which ones were more effective in the study. We considered how they function as tools with the context of a gradual release of responsibility model. As part of our Continuous Professional Development (CPD) model of professional development, we experienced the most effective approaches as adult learners. Our objective for the afternoon was to offer concrete examples of effective reading instruction that can be implemented immediately upon returning to the classroom.
Review of the essentials of The First Lessons is a good starting point for trying these research-based techniques. Visit the Summer Institute session about implementing The First Lessons at Cornerstone Literacy website (www.cornerstoneliteracy.org) under “Events-Summer Institute.” Continue with questions; join us in our efforts to “Listen, Learn, and Lead” so that our students will experience greater reading independence.
Wendy Seger is national literacy fellow for Cornerstone Literacy.
Allington, R.L. (2006). What really matters for struggling readers: Designing research-based programs. (2nd ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
Applegate, A.J., & Applegate, M.D. (2004). The Peter effect: Reading habits and attitudes of preservice teachers. The Reading Teacher, 57(6), 554-563.
Block, C., & Duffy, G. (2008). Research on teaching comprehension: Where we’ve been and where we’re going. In C.C. Block & S.R. Parris (Eds.), Comprehension Instruction: Research-based Best Practices. New York: Guilford Press.
Block, C., Parris, S., Reed, K., Whiteley, C., & Cleveland, M. (2009). Instructional approaches that significantly increase reading comprehension. Journal of Educational Psychology, 101(2), 262-281.
Cunningham, P.M., & Allington, R.L., (2007). Classrooms that work: They can all read and write. (4th ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
Guthrie, J.T. & Greaney, V. (1991). Literacy acts. In R. Barr, M.L. Kamil, P.B. Mosenthal, & P.D. Pearson (Eds.), Handbook of Reading Research (Vol. 2, pp.68-96). New York: Longman.
Moss, B., & Young, T. (2010). Creating lifelong readers through independent reading. Newark, DE: International Reading Association.
Perle, M., Moran, R., Lutkus, A.D., & Tirre, W. (2005). NAEP 2004 trends in academic progress: Three decades of student performance in reading and mathematics. Washington, DC: National Center of Education Statistics.