“Readingis powerful. It creates compassion, moves us to action; transports us to other worlds, and sometimes transforms us. It affords the opportunity to get lost in a book ~ to be so engaged that we lose track of time, of place, and of everything but the power of text” (Moss and Young, p. 1).
I, personally, love this feeling ~ of “getting lost” while reading a book. To literally be taken into another world or another time just through the power of imagination driven by words on a page. Reading independently brings this power to life.
Reading independently or silently to oneself, should be the main goal of any structured reading program. One reads to gain information; to improve upon a particular skill; and to find enjoyment in certain topics. “Most of us spend more time reading silently than we do orally. We read newspapers; recipes; directions; books; magazines; and letters silently every day of our lives. Most of the thoughtful reading done by adults, and children, is silent reading” (Stoodt, p. 264).
However, reading independently does not develop on its own. Independencein reading comes with a strong foundation of basic reading skills and essential knowledge. Once established, students must be motivated to read silently. Teachers can help create this motivation by: giving students adequate time to read; reading aloud regularly to students; giving incentives for reading; and being a positive model for engaged, enthusiastic reading (Moss and Young, p. 19). “Interest in literature precedes appreciation. Interest develops as a result of one’s opportunities with reading a variety of materials and through listening to interesting stories” (Stoodt, p. 323).
Good books give children much of the motivation and the wherewithal to learn to read and models that show them how to write. Good books offer children delight; mystery; charm; an experience of awe; and companionship (Temple, Martinez, Yokota, and Naylor).
Students who read exciting and enjoyable materials read for a longer period of time. Through reading, students build a greater base of vocabulary words. “The bulk of vocabulary growth during a child’s lifetime occurs through language exposure, not direct teaching” (Moss and Young, p. 12).
There is evidence that shows independent reading is probably the major source of vocabulary acquisition beyond the beginning stages of learning to read. Research shows that students who read widely can learn the meanings of thousands of new words each year (Houghton Mifflin). The typical vocabulary program teaches an average of 700 words per year, the remaining 2,300 words students need must be gained through incidental reading (Moss and Young, p. 12).
A student’s success in reading is evaluated by the ability and extent of understanding the content that has been read. Not only does a child need to understand the meanings of the words he has read; but the author’s intent of the story as well. “Reading comprehension is the essence of the reading process. Comprehension and learning are one in the same. New experiences are combined with what the child already knows ~ he is ‘making sense of the world’. We comprehend by relating the unfamiliar to the already known” (Stoodt, p. 162). Only when reading becomes more than words, sounds, and letters does the reading process take on meaning (Alexander, p. 192).
In order to create meaning from stories being read, children do have to extend the connection between what they know and what information is being presented within their reading. Readingindependently builds background knowledge or schema. Reading a variety of materials exposes students to diverse topics in which they can use in future readings. Research findings indicate that a student’s reading ability is dramatically influenced by the amount of schema they have about that topic (Houghton Mifflin). A schema is the way knowledge is organized and structured by the mind. Schemata (plural) become internal explanations of events, objects, or situations (Alexander, p. 157). When reading, a child uses what he knows to transform abstract thoughts into concrete objects. “Developing students’ domain knowledge through early independent reading experiences help younger students create schemata for topics they will find increasingly demanding in upper grade-level texts” (Moss and Young, p. 12). The extensiveness of a child’s schemata will influence what points of the story may be understood or recalled. Schemata enable the reader to relate the content to their previous experiences and knowledge (Stoodt, p. 186).
Once a child has been inspired to read stimulating materials through which he has increased his vocabulary and understanding, his growth in reading achievement will improve. Research clearly shows that the reading of meaningful, connected text results in improved reading achievement (Houghton Mifflin). “Students who engaged in independent reading did much better on standardized reading tests than students who only had reading instruction” (Moss and Young, p. 15). “A substantial emphasis should be placed on engaged, independent reading to learn. All reading tests require speed, fluency, and comprehension. These can only be achieved through motivated; extended; and engaged reading” (Moss and Young, p. 16).
To summarize this portion, reading independently has five main benefits. First, children develop an interest in books and a motivation to read after being read to; watching others engaged in reading; and being offered stimulating materials. Second, children acquire a greater knowledge of new words through reading. Third, if a child is interested in reading and he has an understanding of the ideas being presented, then he is learning. Fourth, reading independently builds a background knowledge that will connect the known to the unknown, creating a better understanding. And, fifth, a child who reads for pleasure reads more often. More reading leads to more knowledge. A greater knowledge base will allow for higher reading achievement scores.
Incorporating Independent Reading into the Daily Schedule:
Teachers face the challenge of incorporating the practice of independent reading into their already strict daily schedule. “Independent reading is just one component of a quality reading program, but it is a critical one ~ not a substitute for direct instruction of basic skills, but a critical support for students learning to read as well as reading to learn” (Moss and Young, p. 3). One way to include independent, daily reading practice is through the use of literacy stations. Before beginning, the teacher must be assured that the students have reached a level of reading readiness that will allow for independent practice. After assessment, the teacher must teach new reading strategies by modeling for whole class; guide students in practice; provide time to use the new strategy; and allow for student application of the practice. “We work with students to describe a new skill; model it; practice it; talk about the skill again; and repeat the practice until it becomes habit. Repetition is the key to success in helping students develop good literacy habits and independence” (Boushey and Moser, p. 46). Once the desired behaviors have been established, independent reading can take place within a literacy station. Gail Boushey and Joan Moser developed a system of literacy stations known as “The Daily Five”. They begin each new school year by setting guidelines for reading habits; behaviors; and routines that allow for students to engage in reading. They have named their “Daily Five” stations as: Read to Self; Read to Someone; Listen toReading; Work on Writing; and Word Work. “Read to Self” involves a number of deliberate and planned actions throughout the day. ‘Read to Self’ seems simple and basic, however, specific teaching techniques make ‘Read to Self’ a powerful tool for enhancing ALL literacy skills” (Boushey and Moser, p. 46).
Creating the Space:
In order to be able to read freely, students need to have access to an attractive classroom library. “A classroom library should be an inviting space; roomy; and well lit. Some plants give life to the space. Comfortable chairs invite you to sit down and look through a book. Books are arranged by topic; author; or genre. Many books are facing outward, their covers displayed, inviting you to look closer” (Diller, p. 30).
In our kindergarten classroom, our library space is rather small and I’m not sure you could describe it as “inviting”. We do have tubs of books that are sorted by subjects and authors and have been carefully labeled. There are small, circular cushions to sit on, but children usually just sit on the carpeted floor. Working within a fine arts school, with a hectic schedule, we are afforded very little time for reading independently.
I would love to have at least ¼ of our classroom space specifically devoted to the library. I can envision a rectangular area; with lush carpet; and fluffy, large pillows (about 5 of them). I would prefer to have 5 different colors so I could assign each child a specific color when his turn comes to visit the library. Bookshelves, at kid-level height, surround the area on three sides. Stacking baskets fill the shelves with classroom sets (6 of each) of alluring books that the children often fight over. Green plants are located on each corner giving a feeling of comfort and home. Stuffed animals and puppets rest in large tubs on either side of the library space. One shelf has been reserved for supplies such as: sticky notes; drawing materials; bookmarks; and colored paper in various sizes. Attractive posters, with celebrities reading, are located around the area.
Creating the Collection:
To begin this project, of renovating our classroom library, I thought about the types of books that were needed. I used an Interest Inventory to see what kinds of books my students would read. I sent the Interest Inventory as a homework assignment, to be completed with the help of parents. The results of the Interest Inventory showed that my students enjoyed animal stories; stories about famous people and athletes; funny stories about kids like them; and scary stories. Since the Interest Inventory, I have been searching more for books that meet their tastes. At present, I do not have any of these types except animal stories. And, these are older copies, with out-dated information that have been “inherited” through the years from retiring teachers and/or parents. To increase the volume of books in our collection, I have researched several websites that provide books, reasonably priced, within these interest areas. I like www.reallygoodstuff.com; www.reading.org; www.cbc.org; www.chickenspaghetti.com; and www.hbook.org. I have read reviews of books on sites like www.readingyear.org; and www.bookmoot.com. On blog pages like www.readingyear.org, one can read posts from teachers who have purchased and used books considered for use in the classroom and in the library area. Reading from these sites have caused a bit of excitement, I have a wish list already made!
Key Components of an Effective Independent Reading Program:
To make efficient use of our updated classroom library, the structure of our current literacy program would need to be updated as well. I would schedule these 5 important components: whole group introduction through “book talks”; interactive read-alouds; opportunities for reading; sharing; and teacher/student conferences. “Providing time for the practice of reading skills through pleasure reading is a central focus of an independent reading model” (Moss and Young, p. 68).
As stated earlier, children need to be motivated to read. “The 21st century child chooses from TV, the computer, video games, and movies on DVD. Children have more choices for entertainment, and often books are not considered as entertaining” (Diller, p. 29). Using the method of “book talks” can provide a way of eliciting a child’s excitement to read a particular book. Teachers can use strategies such as: cliffhangers; first sentences; grab bags; internet research; and ten questions to encourage their responses (Moss and Young, p. 70). Once a particular type of book has been introduced, teachers should read the book, or a book within that same genre, aloud to the whole group. Students should be encouraged to not only listen, but interact with the text being read. For instance, teachers should gain student attention with open-ended questions; predictions; and character descriptions. Then, students would be given ample time to read those books that interest them. I want my students to ask, “Is it my turn yet to sit in the library”? They would look longingly at the neat shelves of books with colorful displays and already have a book in mind to grab once there. Depending on the child’s reading strengths, I would allow him to either read the book by himself or pair him with a partner with similar abilities. Together, the pair could participate in partner reading; echo reading; or choral reading. That’s why, for my classroom, it would be important for me to have at least 4 copies of each book. After reading time, I would allow each child to take that same book home to read with their parents/guardians. We use a Reading Log that will be signed by parents; list the time spent reading; and draw a face 🙂 or 😦 to indicate how well the student liked his chosen book.
The reading and reading log are considered as homework. Each child would have an opportunity to create a project that summarizes their book of choice. For example, he could create an art project; use puppets; or act out the story himself. He would have a chance to share his project with his classmates. My hope is that they would then want to read that same book next. On the next day, I would check the reading log and ask the child to re-read his book to me. During this time, I will check for accuracy and comprehension, but will notice the amount of enthusiasm with which the child reads the book. I like to make sure that the book and the child are a “good match”. We will talk briefly about his thoughts; his errors; and the story in general. His responses and output will be used to help guide him into another great book.
Linking Literacy Instruction with Independent Instruction:
Working with younger readers can be trying at times. Allowing them the independence to read can be rather testy. Oh, they think that they can really read, and some of them can, but for most children, we have to help them to understand that reading is more than just reading the words. They have to make sense of what they have read, in every aspect. Through the years, I have found some worthwhile strategies that will help younger readers become more independent readers. Using word work; word sorts; and simple sight word games, children can create a stronger vocabulary. Beginning with initial and final sounds; medial vowels; word families; and ending with primer sight words, one can gradually build word knowledge with practice and fun. To improve fluency and expression, repeated readings works well with younger children. They love the challenge of beating the timer and watching their graph for success. And, believe it or not, kindergarteners can obtain a strong grasp of story structure. If you begin early in the year, and “train their ears” to listen for hints about characters; problems; solutions; and order of events, they eventually begin to hear those items in their own reading. They can accurately plot the events of the story using tips from the beginning; middle; and ending. Reading responses from kindergartners can be amusing, while being accurate. They interpret our world differently, and have respect for those things that we’ve forgotten. Younger children do really well in creating responses through art projects; music or raps; and drama. They love to use paint; markers; and craft items. And, I’ve recently found out that they especially love “Reader’s Theater”. Reader’s Theater is an excellent way to retell a story through reenactment.
Alexander, J. Estill. Teaching Reading, 2nd edition. Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Company.
Boushey, Gail and Joan Moser. (2006). The Daily Five: Fostering Literacy Independence in the Elementary Grades. Portland,ME: Stenhouse Publishers.
Diller, Debbie. (2003). Literacy Work Stations: Making Centers Work. Portland,ME: Stenhouse Publishers.
Houghton, Mifflin Company. (1997). “The Effects of Independent Readingon Reading Achievement”. www.eduplace.com/rdg/literacy/in_read
Miller, Jan. (2010). “Supporting Students As They Read Independently”. www.readwritethink.org
Moss, Barbara and Terrell Young. (2010). Creating Lifelong Readers through Independent Reading. Newark,DE: International Reading Association.
Spear-Swerling, Louise. “Suggestions for Fostering Independent Reading”. (August, 2005). www.ldonline.org
Stoodt, Barbara. (1981). Reading Instruction. Hougton Mifflin Company.
Temple, Charles; Miriam Martinez; Junko Yokota; and Alice Naylor. (1998). Children’s Books in Children’s Hands. Boston,MA: Allyn and Bacon.