Should students read 20 minutes a day?

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Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

While initially thinking about this question, I wanted to clearly state “no”. No, we shouldn’t be assigning students to read 20 minutes a day. Mandating a student to read can make this practice feel like drudgery, equated with homework and its ilk. But this issue deserves more attention; it’s not that simple.

Yes, I do know the effect that voluminous reading has on achievement and building a lifelong habit. If you Google the phrase “read 20 minutes a day”, you will get page after page of articles, posts, and videos praising this practice. Reading log templates sometimes accompany the content. One has to get to the seventeenth page of search results before they can find the first article that questions this practice.

The article I found on the seventeenth page is worth reading. Can Reading Logs Ruin Reading for Kids?, written by Erica Reischer for The Atlantic, cites two studies that demonstrate the potential negative effects of assigning reading to students and using reading logs (a common practice when assigning daily reading).

  • When rewards or mandates are used to coax kids to read, they may lose their internal motivation to read independently.
  • In comparison to students who were assigned to read daily, students who are encouraged to read voluntarily showed an increased interest in reading independently.

Still, I understand teachers’ interest in holding students accountable for reading regularly. We know that some kids will not read regularly without some level of expectations. So maybe the answer is “no”, but what can we do? Consider the following alternatives to assigning 20 minutes of reading per night.

Co-create Reader Expectations with Students

If we can build learning community norms with students, then they will likely have more ownership in what is decided. (Teachers are the same way.) Today, I happened to visit a few classrooms that were engaged in this discussion. One group decided that, instead of expecting 20 minutes a day, they would read 100 minutes a week. “Some evenings, we get really busy,” acknolwedged the teacher.

Confer with Students

Students cannot fake their understanding of a book when we ask them thoughtful questions about what they read. With conferring, students can connect with a couple students each day during independent reading time to discuss what they read, offer personalized instruction regarding skills and strategies, and craft goals for the future. The accountability piece can still be a reading log, just as long as students know they are responsibile for maintaining it for that next conference. Teachers generally keep some type of conferring notebook to organize their notes.

Bonus: Check out this Edutopia article for more information on reading conferences.

Reader Responses

High school English teacher and prolific writer Kelly Gallagher shares his solution to balancing engagement and accountability with independent reading. In his book Readicide: How Schools Are Killing Reading and What You Can Do About it (Stenhouse, 2009), Gallagher describes his use of “one-pagers” (pg. 82) to evaluate student comprehension. These brief written responses can reveal students’ understanding of what they read. Skills such as prediction and persuasive writing are also assessed with these one-pagers.

Gallagher understands as a practitioner that fine balance between student engagement and classroom expectations during independent reading.

If the teacher infuses the recreational reading experience with too much accountability – chapter questions, worksheets, double-entry journals – then the experience ceases to be recreational. However, if students are never held to any accountability, many of them will not start reading.

Co-creating reader expectations, conferring, and written responses to what students are reading seem like reasonable improvements to the tired practice of assigning a set amount of time for students to read daily. What works for you? What do you struggle with? Feel free to share in the comments.

Feedback After an Evernote and iPad Workshop

I recently hosted a one hour technology session for district staff. The topic: Using Evernote on the iPad to Confer With and Assess Readers.

Afterward, I emailed each participant a survey via Google Forms to gather feedback. The last question I posed was, “What is one way you see using Evernote with the iPad in your current teaching position?” Here are their responses:

“I plan to have students read and record them, then play back. I am working on fluency with a lot of kids and I would like them to hear themselves. I’m not sure on the conferencing part/note taking yet, but we’ll see as I mess with it. With things like this I don’t make plans, I just jump in and see where it takes me.”

“I plan on recording students’ one minute reading fluency assessments and then embedding a picture of the actual passage they read with miscues and self-corrections marked. I am also going to take a pic of a page in their independent reading book and record them reading as part of my ‘running records on the fly'”

“I plan to record running records and allow students to hear themselves read, both immediately after reading and later on in the year (to show growth).”

“Photograph and save student work samples using hash tags so that I can easily access them later.”

“During running records: record students’ reading of the selection in order to score/check the record at a later time. This allows for me to focus on fluency during the assessment as well as have documentation of the students’ reading at that point in time.”

“I plan to use this when I conference with my students. It is my hope to try this today!”

“I could see myself taking a picture of what a student is working on and sharing it with the classroom teacher.”

“In Reading Intervention, I could record a students’ reading of a passage and replay it for them to hear. Together we could discuss strengths and weaknesses and set goals for improvement.”

“I plan to use Evernote by making notes as I meet with students during guided reading groups. Each group is reading a different book that they were able to choose. I will use it to create a notebook for each group. – Jot down their predictions and record audio of students reading and/or our group discussions at the end of each chapter.”

“I don’t have my own iPad, so I don’t see myself continuing with this. Maybe having your own iPad should be a requirement for this course.”

“I find this to be effective for my guided reading. I can keep all of my notes together instead of having a post-it here and a post-it there. I can view my notes from home too without having to bring my notes home with me.”

“I started using Evernote the next day. I took pictures of student tradition writing and them recorded their voice reading it. Next I am going to use volunteers to display on reflection and go through the process of editing on the SMARTboard.”

I am scheduled to run this workshop again for Central Wisconsin reading teachers in January. This information is invaluable to me as I think about how I will change my instruction to better meet the needs of the participants.