Tag Archives: Book Whisperer

Slice of Life 23: How much reading is enough?


(During March, I am blogging daily as a part of the Slice of Life Story Challenge!)  Special thanks to the hosts of the Slice of Life Challenge:  StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnna and Beth.   More Slice of Life posts can be found at  Two Writing Teachers .

I LOVE to read.  I LOVE reading.  I typically READ just about anything. Reading is my preferred activity over cooking, cleaning, or crafting. I could be considered a voracious reader by some.  I read quickly when I am reading for fun.  I will read almost anything but I do not like vampires, fantasy or science fiction very much.  When I find an author that I like, I devour ALL their texts.  When I find something I really like, I may reread it.  There are times during the year when my reading life seems to suffer.  While writing blog posts every day, I do have less reading time. Is it “okay” that my reading seems to have an ebb and flow?  How much should I be reading? What should I be reading?

I believe that I need to be familiar with authors and texts in the field of literacy.  I have my favorite authors and this year they all deal with loving literacy:  Chris Lehman and Kate Roberts, Donalyn Miller, Penny Kittle, Kylene Beers, Dorothy Barnhouse and Vickie Vinton, Jim Burke, Kelly Gallagher, and all the authors of the fabulous Units of Study in Writing from Teachers College. My reading of YA varies according to the favorites of students in the buildings where I work.

How does reading play out for our students?  How much should they be reading?

In Book Whisperer, Stacey, Tara, Dana, Betsy, Anna and Beth. More Slice of Life posts can be found at Two Writing Teachers Donalyn Miller challenges her middle school students to read 40 books per year.  That is basically one book per week, including reading over holidays and school breaks.  A student who has developed those “reading habits” is likely to be successful as they move through life.  In Reading in the Wild, Donalyn is more specific about the “habits” that students need in order to be life-long readers.  Those numbers seem to make sense because a student will “be in the story” and stay connected to the text in those time frames.

For our struggling Middle School and High School students in Second Chance for Reading, I have suggested teachers set 30 books per year as the goal for students.  If teachers have expectations and are carefully monitoring student work, 30 books is ambitious for students who have been less than successful in reading for years. It’s doable, a stretch but yet highly possible if the habit of reading becomes a part of a daily routine.

But is that “good enough” for our children? How long to read a book?

I was following the Twitter stream from the Saturday reunion at Columbia’s Teachers College and several tweets caught my eye. Exactly what books should students be reading and for how long?

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So taking Hatchet and spending a week and a half on it would fit with Donalyn Miller’s goal of 40 books per year. Is this happening?  Are students allowed to read a book like Hatchet in a week and a half?  I believe this also fits with the belief behind CCSS Reading Anchor #10:  “Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently. Yet, it seems like I should be doing more in order to have teachers and students consider the “sheer volume” of what they are reading.

Are there books that should be “whole class” books in grades 3-6?  If yes, what would be the characteristics of such a book? And how “many” of these would a child read during any given year?

I remember working on Language arts curriculum 20 years ago when teachers wanted certain books to be on a “protected list” so teachers in grade 3 would not use a book reserved for grade 4 because then it could not be used for prediction.  But what is the real goal of a “class book”?  If it truly is to have all students explore specific texts, will the class read at the same pace? Is it about the “activities” that accompany the book and its reading? What about a book club approach?

This tweet of a quote from Kelly Gallagher caught my eye:

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So Kelly would agree with Donalyn Miller that students should not be spending forever on a class book.  Dragging a novel out into 9 weeks’ worth of work turns it into a “9 week worksheet”!  That belief has also been espoused by Richard Allington who has said that students need to read “more” in order to be better readers!

Are there some books that every fourth grade student should read?  That would be a great source of conversation for a team of fourth grade teachers.  What literature is that important and that interesting for the students?  The same question would apply for informational text, poetry and drama.  Those decisions can and should be made at a local level.  The caution would be in “not allowing” a whole class text to be the only reading at the time and also not to be drug out as Gallagher’s quote reminds us.

How much should a student read every day?

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The original source of this quote is not listed but think about this for a minute.  To stay on the same level (maintenance), a student needs to read just right books for an hour each day and a common expectation in about 3/4 of a page per minute. So a quick check by a teacher 5 minutes into a silent sustained reading time would suggest that all students had read at least 3 pages.  If a reading log/goal setting page includes the page started, a teacher could quickly move about the room conducting a visual scan.  This would be data that could allow the teacher to form groups to discuss goals and purposes for reading.

The goal would not be public humiliation.  I have used “bribes” for reading – pizzas, food, parties, etc. in order to encourage students to read more.  Sometimes the food begins as the “reason/purpose” for reading until a student becomes “hooked” on reading and then begins to ask for books for gifts!  Students do not need to take quizes to show their understanding of books.  Carefully remove barriers or practices that are “counter-productive” to reading MORE!  Consider how you can help your students be daily readers who will carry that habit over into the summer even when you, the teacher, are not around!

How much are your students reading?  How do you encourage them to set HIGH expectations for their own reading?
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