Drop Everything and Read
I love when entire schools set aside a time for silent reading in classrooms. We have the responsibilty as educators to provide time for students to read. Silent reading builds vocabulary as students use context clues and activates and builds prior knowledge as readers learn more about the world outside of their own experiences. However, just providing the time and place, and even the book, does not necessarily mean that students are reading effectively. First of all, teachers must monitor the choice of reading material. Students will often choose a book that is too difficult for them (or too easy if they can get by with it.) Once I was working with Jasmine, a second grader. When I entered the classroom the entire class was engaged in SURF - Silent, Uninterrupted Reading Fun - and Jasmine was intently reading and turning pages. When I asked her later to tell me about the book, she "couldn't remember" what she had read. She had literally comprehended nothing. The book was too hard. Although there are numerous diagnostic tests available for teachers, the easiest routine for kids is the "five finger rule." Students choose a book, read one page, and count the words they don't know on that page. Four fingers indicate "challenge" level and five fingers indicate frustration level. Three unknown words or less is the key when students choose their own books.
And the reason I asked Jasmine about her reading is one of the most important components of silent reading. Teachers must be conferencing with the students in order to monitor progress. It doesn't take long for kids to learn how to stare at a page and turn periodically, without having read a word. Only a purposeful conversation about the reading will encourage reluctant readers to push forward.
Here's Jasmine writing about her reading.
There is little value to "round robin" or "popcorn" reading that is predictable. In other words, students will rarely listen to their classmates read aloud, especially if they are counting to see which paragraph they themselves will have to read. It is important to hear kids read aloud, but again, this activity works better in a conference setting or in small groups.
Teacher Read Aloud
Students should hear expressive reading every day. Not only should teachers be modeling the correct cadence and intonation, they also should be modeling "thinking aloud" as they read. I once had the opportunity to ask every student in my school one question - "What do you do when you read?" Ninety percent of them had the same answer - "I look at words." I told them that if I place a book in front of my cat's face, she would "look at words." Is that reading?
Reading has to be interactive for comprehension to take place. Good readers do it without effort. For example, let's say I read about a girl who loves her pink dress. I should automatically think something like "I had a pink dress when I was little. It had little white flowers on it." There. Not only have I heard the "voice in my head" talking about the book, I've also made a connection. Both of these strategies aid in comprehension. But our poor readers don't do this skill automatically. That's why it's good practice to make our read alouds interactive. Let's say we read the same book aloud, and the little girl loves her pink dress. As teachers, we need to interrupt the reading and ask "Girls, does anyone have a pink dress/remember having a pink dress?" etc. By thinking aloud OUT LOUD, we are training our young readers to use this strategy silently.
Another strategy to make reading interactive is called Annotating the Text. Students can write their questions while reading, list unknown words, and make comments on the text. This practice helps to make reading "hands-on" and interactive....more than merely "looking at words."
Watch the Movie (Visualizing the Text)
I tell my students that they should be "seeing" the movie version of what they're reading in their minds as they read. Some of the most reluctant readers can "see" an entire basketball game when someone describes it play-by-play. I tell them that they should do that for their reading as well. Take the author's description and make a mental picture of it. This type of interaction not only increases comprehension but helps the student remember what was read.
These are the thoughts I had while Walking for Reading today. My dream is that someday the Jasmines that we teach will be fluent readers who read for pleasure as well as for information and not, as 25% of my students indicated in a recent survey, "because my teacher makes me."