Many observers still do not realize what it takes for a teacher to offer independent reading during school hours. There are so many standards, so much curriculum, so many activities and projects to do before the school year ends. Many teachers ask, “How am I supposed to do independent reading, too?” I have employed a three-step process for the reading class in May that prove my students have learned the standards and can read independently during school hours.
Step One: Just Do It! Let’s face it. Tests are over. Students and teachers alike want to get down to the true business of learning now. I expect my students to “show what they know” in May. We have learned how to choose books, find a place to read, read with stamina and purpose, and talk about books with friends. My assessment? Their grade? “Read during reading time.” Period. Also, let the students CHOOSE. It’s important. They won’t have the teacher over the summer, and they need to know how to read on their own. Plus, assigned reading is boring (to students). They know what they like now. Let them live their own reading life.
Step Two: Keep it up! Teachers must be able to keep up with the times, especially in the classroom library. Our school library closes many days before school ends, so I must be willing and able to provide good reading materials for students all the way until the last day of school. My favorite way to gather books in May is through Scholastic Book Club bonus points and clearance sales. I save my bonus points (usually) until May, and then restock the classroom with fresh finds for students to enjoy as they wind down the school year. (Note: Garage sales start in May as well. Teachers can find reading books economically at these sales, although many titles are worn out. At least you can have them in the classroom for a little while! The public libraries sometimes have “Friends of the Library” sales in May, too. Check it out!)
Step Three: Give a grade. Yes, I give grades in reading class in May. Don’t be afraid to assess independent reading time. Students must show that they remember and use the mini lessons, strategies, and standards that we spent all year learning. Grades are based on choosing a just-right book, finding a place to read, reading and talking about their choices, and conferring with a teacher. I’ll never forget the time (a long time ago) a student was recommending a book to me, and I missed the main character’s name during the conference. I asked, and the student replied, “That dude who was…” (I didn’t say this out loud, but I thought, “Dear! Unless the name of the main character was “Dude,” I’m pretty sure you didn’t read the book!”) My students know (this year) that 1) I’ve read the books (most of them), and 2) I will ask about theme, how the setting “sets” the mood of the story, how and why they think the characters change over time, and how many stars they would give the book (or “two thumbs up”). They know I love to read and I want to share reading time with them. It’s supposed to be fun, but it’s still school.
Hint: As a reading teacher, the teacher is also responsible for reading during reading time, and sharing good books with students. Passion is powerful! (Lucy Calkins said that.) Read a good book today. What do you say?