There’s a reason I use the word “growing” in the title of this post and not the word “teaching.” Teaching reading is only one part of the whole process of growing readers. I use the word “growing” to give the connotation of planting a seed and caring for it as it takes on a life of its own.
I believe reading is the one most important skill children need to learn to become successful students and successful in life. Reading is the cornerstone to learning all other subjects and skills, whether it’s in math, the sciences, the arts, or trades. If someone is able to read, that person can learn anything.
However, unless a person develops a love for reading, the process will always be drudgery, and learning other things will seem tedious as well. Our technologically advanced world requires literate, creative thinking problem solvers. They need to be able to read all types of text on all types of devices.
After reading The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller, I set out to teach reading with a new intent. My purpose in teaching is to create good readers who love the written word, whether it’s fiction or nonfiction, and who become well educated through reading. Think about it. What better way is there to gain a wide range of knowledge than by reading? For students in my socio-economically depressed area, reading is the only way. They don’t have the opportunity or funds to go to the theater, museums, or cultural events. It’s rare for one of my students to have ever traveled outside the country except for the few who visit relatives in Mexico. The only way these children will learn about the world around them is through reading.
Here are my five steps for growing readers, in order of importance.
Give them uninterrupted time to read.
Set aside a dedicated thirty minute block of time to do nothing but read every day. Thirty minutes seems to be the optimum amount of time for daily practice of new mental skills. Thirty minutes is also just enough time to really get into a book and get enough out of it to enjoy it. I tell my students that I’m their coach. If their soccer coach teaches them a skill, he or she requires them to practice it. The coach would never say, “Here, let me make that goal for you. Let me kick the ball for you.” No, the coach requires them to practice until they reach mastery, and then they practice some more. The same applies to reading. This thirty minute block of time is their reading practice time.
Don’t let anything get in the way of their reading.
Give them truly uninterrupted time. Don’t allow anyone to use that time to catch up on late assignments, to chat with friends, or get distracted from reading in any way. We call our time DEAR, (Drop Everything and Read.) I do mean drop everything, and I am religious about doing just that. Along the same lines, I refuse to allow the frenzy of test prep and pressure to horn in on our reading time. Always keep that time sacred.
You read too.
Yes, you, Teacher. Set the example and show them how enjoyable reading can be. I choose to read books my students will enjoy. Sarah Weeks, the author of So B. It, Regular Guy, Pie, and many other books, has become a favorite in my class this year, and right now I’m reading Pie. Three students saw me start reading it yesterday, saw the author’s name, and immediately asked to read it after me. There’s always a waiting list for books by our favorite authors. Last year it was Gary Paulsen. Next year, who knows?
Have plenty of books in the classroom at all levels of reading.
Students come to me in the fifth grade reading at levels varying from 2nd grade to 10th grade. I have hundreds of books in my room, perhaps thousands. I’ve lost count. They’re organized in tubs by genre. I buy genre stickers from Demco, a library supply company, and all the books are labeled. This makes it easy for the students to find and replace their books. There’s something for everyone, at every level. I’m a pro at finding books on the cheap. I haunt library book sales, where I can buy books for a dime, and I’m a regular volunteer and shopper at the Scholastic Book Fair Warehouse. This week I picked up over fifty brand new books for my classroom for $35.00.
Teach explicit reading strategies.
You might wonder why this is the last item on my list. It’s important to teach explicit reading strategies, but only if you give the students time to practice those skills in an authentic manner. I teach a skill, use a short reading passage to practice, then set them free to read and apply that skill in their own books.
As a result of using this method to grow readers, I’ve seen my students go from struggling readers at the beginning of the year to expert readers by the following Spring. This time of year, the students are begging for longer reading time. When I give them a five minute warning for the end of the reading time, they look up from their books, eyes in another world, and they use the five minutes to cram the last few words in as they come back to the real world. It’s a lovely sight to see.
If you’re interested in reading The Book Whisperer, you can visit Donalyn Miller’s blog to learn more about her methods.
Do you have any other ideas for growing readers? Is there something you do in your classroom that works well? Please share.