Finding Minutes for Reading


This is the 4th post in a series that began after hearing Lucy Calkins in Chicago on January 25th.  The ideas expressed in this post are not from Lucy’s presentation but instead come from work with teachers in my area.

Recapping the Series:

  • Common Core:  A Promise?  A Failure?
  • Volume of Reading?  How much is “enough”?
  • Are my students reading enough?  This post introduced a course of action to consider the current status of reading in your classroom that included:
  1.  Honestly assess current reality of “Volume of Reading” (looking at three readers)
  2.  Review schedule / organizational framework for minutes that can be re-purposed for “Volume of Reading”
  3. Set a goal
  4.  Implement the plan with additional re-purposed time
  5. Set measurement times to collect formative data to determine whether “on course” to achieve the target

And today’s call to action:  2. Review schedule/organizational/instructional framework for minutes that can be re-purposed for “Volume of Reading.”

In this post, I am asking you as the teacher to reflect on both your efficiency and effectiveness as a teacher.  What is working?  What is not?  How do you know?  should be constant questions circling through your brain as you search through your day for minutes that you can re-purpose for increased student reading.  Do note that not all of these will necessarily apply to you and your classroom.  If you are not interested in change, please go read something else.  This post is specifically designed to make you consider time utilization across the many facets of your day!

Mathematically, why does this matter?  I am going to include a second grade comparison for each item listed below.  I will be assuming an average second grader reading approximately 100 words per minute.  So if “5 minutes are found” that will allow the student to read approximately 500 more words.  There is a possibility that if “20 minutes are found” across the day, the student could read 2000 more words and be more likely to be on target to meet the promise of the Common Core English Language Arts Anchor Standards!

A. Talk less; Watch and listen more. Students read and write more!

You have a relationship with your students so conversations with students are critical.  Greet them at the door for personal messages that the entire class does not need to hear. Establish routines for efficient collection of information  such as lunch choices, changes in after school transportation or receipt of communications from home.  Shifting the focus for “Sharing” after 1st semester in first grade to focus on something that the student has read or written will enable all readers and writers to know that “literacy is the focus” in your classroom!  Who is doing the work in the classroom?  Is the teacher the “main talker”?  If you believe the person talking is doing the learning . . . what are the implications for your classroom? (5 minutes found at beginning of day and 5 minutes after lunch = 10 minutes or 1000 additional words read)

B. Shorten mini-lessons or focus lessons! 

Consider how many times across the day that you provide explicit instruction including modeling.  How long are each of those focus or mini-lessons?  If they are more than 10 minutes for first and second grade, shorten them.  If they are more than 15 minutes for all other grades, shorten them. Multiple shorter focus lessons are typically more effective if students are then immediately applying those actions in their own reading and writing.  Using a gradual release of responsibility model allows for more student reading and writing during a “guided instruction/productive group work” phase.  Consider using visual prompts that keep you on track with only the critical components as you strive for students to become independent readers and writers.   And remember that the mini-lesson or focus lesson does not always have to be “first” in the instruction.  Not sure about the effectiveness of your mini-lesson or focus lesson?  Video record your mini-lessons for one day and review later with a critical friend to discuss the content and length. (shortening 2 mini-lessons each day = 5 minutes found or 500 additional words read)

C.  Consider whole class instructional activities.

How long does whole class instruction last? How often during a day do you use whole class instruction?  By the end of the instruction, are 80% or more of the students successful which would indicate that your core instruction, in this case whole class instruction, is effective?  If not, consider including more partner work where students are reading or writing to/ or with a partner.  With this structure the teacher can check the understanding of even more students, saving precious moments for all. Students will also be able to spend more time reading and writing if they are not waiting for response time in a large group setting. (Students are reading more during instruction so 5 minutes found = 500 additional words read; each time whole class instruction is used!)

D. Reduce the number of worksheets.  Doug Fisher (Gradual Release of Responsibility) calls them “shut-up sheets.” Many worksheets are typically an “assessment” that is completed individually that addresses the question, “Do I know the answer the teacher/publisher wants?” (Honestly, name the last 5 worksheets that you filled out in real life!) If students are reading and writing A LOT, they should have text that invites deep discussion and even argumentation with the author or characters.  Students should have learned some content from the text which would be the ultimate goal from the Common Core English Language Arts Anchor Standards. (Continue for other accountability measures) ( 1 worksheet = 10 found minutes = 1000 additional words read x the number of worksheets across the day)

E. Stop round robin and popcorn reading immediately.  Most students do not follow along.  We know that because students tell us that it is wasted time while they count out their parts.  (Besides, it was not effective for us when we were in school either.)  Do not slow down the whole class to go at the pace of the slowest.  Round robin/popcorn reading is not an example of hearing good models of reading either.  For many students it is a very frustrating, cold read.  Instead, add in more partner work.  Read to someone / partner reading is a better structure that will maximize learning for both students working together, especially when the listener has to summarize the events before he or she begins reading!  Small individual accountability routines could include “pair-share” or “numbered heads together.” (20 minutes found / 2 readers = 10 minutes each student= 1000 additional words read)

F. General classroom management – Consider when all students are waiting in the hall in a line to go to the restroom, get a drink, etc. If you have 25 students and this takes 5 minutes, that is a total of  125 minutes of student time gone.  What would be a better structure?  Don’t forget to ask your students for input!  Involving them in decisions fosters independence.  Other considerations might include responding to some of these questions:  Do students have to wait to ask the teacher for specific tasks like sharpening a pencil or going to the library to get a resource. (Accountability – physical “passes” that are taken with them as the student completes the out of classroom task)  How can these tasks be handled efficiently and maximize both teacher and student time and energy? Consider the “flow” of classroom tasks and activities.  Is there a workshop model in place that allows students to move seamlessly from task to task? (10 minutes found across day = 1000 additional words read)

Pick one and get started.   Removing inefficient time barriers to reading is a critical task that teachers can undertake immediately that will result in increased time for reading for ALL students!

Where will you start?

4 responses

  1. Thank you! This is a great list of suggested ways to find more time! I want to also point out that there are so many great things to read – go find them! Use your AEA Media Library. One new story every day in Student News Net!

  2. Kris,
    There are many fabulous resources and here, in Iowa, the AEA media library is one of the best! That is so critical in an era of declining budgets because students need to be reading a lot of text in order to meet the promise of the grade level standards in the Iowa Core/Common Core.

    Thanks so much for your comment and the links!

  3. Have you found 5 – 10 minutes? Now do you need more books for your students?

    Check out this link for additional ideas about reading materials:

  4. […] made suggestions on how to find more time for student reading. […]

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