Silent Reading vs. Independent Reading: What’s the Difference? (plus digital tools to assess IR)

During a past professional development workshop, the consultant informed us at one point to end independent reading in our classrooms. “It doesn’t work.” (discrete sideway glances at each other) “Really. Have students read with a partner¬†or facilitate choral reading. Students reading by themselves does not increase reading achievement.”

I think I know what the consultant was trying to convey: having students select books and then read silently without any guidance from the teacher is not an effective practice. Some students will utilize this time effectively, but in my experience as a classroom teacher and principal, it is the students that need our guidance the least that do well with silent reading. For students who have not developed a reading habit, or lack the skills to effectively engage in reading independently for an extended period of time, this may be a waste of time.

The problem with stating that students should not be reading independently in school is people confuse silent reading with independent reading (IR). I could see some principals globbing onto this misconception as fodder for restricting teachers from using IR and keep them following the canned program religiously. The fact is, these two practices are very different. In their excellent resource No More Independent Reading Without Support (Heinemann, 2013), Debbie Miller and Barbara Moss provide a helpful comparison:

Silent Reading

  • Lack of a clear focus – kids grab a book and read (pg. 2)
  • Teachers read¬†silently along with the students (pg. 3)
  • No accountability regarding what students read (pg. 8)

Independent Reading (pg. 16)

  • Classroom time to read
  • Students choose what to read
  • Explicit instruction about what, why, and how readers read
  • Reading a large number of books and variety of texts through the year
  • Access to texts
  • Teacher monitoring, assessing, and support during IR
  • Students talk about what they read

You could really make the case that independent reading is not independent at all: it is silent reading with scaffolds, and independence is the goal. The rest of the book goes into all of the research that supports independent reading, along with ideas and examples for implementing it in classrooms. The authors also cite the Common Core Anchor Standard that addresses independent reading:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.10
Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.
Maybe this information will be helpful, in case you ever have a principal or consultant question your practice. ūüôā

Assessing Independent Reading

The challenge then is: how do¬†I assess independent reading? Many teachers use a paper-based conferring notebook. If that works for them, that’s great. My opinion is, this is an opportunity to leverage technology to effectively identify trends and patterns in students’ independent reading habits and skills, which can inform future instruction. Next is¬†a list of tools that I have observed teachers using for assessing independent reading.

This is an iPad application that allows the user to draw, type, and add images to a single document. The teacher can use a stylus (I recommend the Apple Pencil) to handwrite their notes. Each student can be assigned their own folder within Notability. In addition, a teacher can record audio and add it to a note, such as a student reading aloud a page from their book. This information can be backed up to Google Drive, Evernote, and other cloud storage options.

In my last school, one of the teachers swore by this tool. “If you don’t pay for it,” she stated one day, “I’ll pay for it out of my own pocket.” Enough said! Teachers who use the Daily 5 workshop approach would find CC Pensieve familiar. It uses the same tenets of reading and writing to document student conferences and set literacy goals. Students can also be grouped in the software based on specific strategies and needs.

Teachers can set up a digital form to capture any type of information. The information goes to a spreadsheet. This allows the teacher to sort columns in order to drive instruction regarding students’ reading habits and skills. Also, the quantitative results are automatically graphed to look for classroom trends and patterns. We set¬†up a Google Form in one grade level in our school:

I’ve written a lot about using Evernote as a teaching tool in the past. It is probably the tool I would use to document classroom formative assessment. Each note can house images, text, audio, and links, similar to Notability. These notes can be shared out as a URL with parents via email so they can see how their child is progressing as a reader. Check out this article I wrote for Middleweb on how a speech teacher used Evernote.

The previous digital tools for assessing independent reading are largely teacher-directed. The next three are more student-led. One of my favorite educational technologies is Kidblog. Classrooms can connect with other classrooms to comment on each other’s posts. Teachers can have students post book reviews, book trailers, and creative multimedia projects from other applications.

Whereas Kidblog is pretty wide open in how it can be used, Biblionasium is a more focused tool. It can serve as an online book club for students. Students can make to-read lists, write reviews and rate books, and recommend titles to friends. Like Kidblog, Biblionaisum is a smart way to connect reading with writing in an authentic way.

This social media site is for book lovers. Although 13 is the minimum age to join, parents need to provide consent if a child is under 18. Besides rating and reviewing books, Goodreads allows readers to create book groups with discussion boards around specific topics – an option for teachers to promote discussion and digital citizenship. Students can also post their original creative writing on Goodreads by genre. Check out this post I wrote about how to get students started.

What is your current understanding of independent reading? What tools do you find effective in assessing students during this time? Please share in the comments.

Encouraging Summer Reading with Authentic Experiences

It’s June. Many are itching to call it a year. The local swimming pool is open, and it’s much more inviting than that next page in the textbook –> for the students as well as the teachers. Three months from now, our kids will arrive back after a much-needed break, take a reading screener, and the results will tell us what we already know. Here’s the deal: Some kids leave school and read a ton, and some do not read at all.

How can we encourage the latter to engage in habitual reading over the summer? Some argue that it is the classroom teacher that must be the primary influencer in this task. This is a noble statement. Yet it can also be a tall order for a teacher trying to turn a really resistant student into a lifelong reader. He/she might need several teachers in a row to spark a love for literacy plus a purpose for engaging in text.

Cahill, Horvath, Franzen, and Allington wrote a helpful resource titled No More Summer Reading Loss (Heinemann, 2013). I have explored some of their ideas in my prior school, such as opening up the library during the summer. Yet I have not been strategic in these efforts. This year, we have made more concerted efforts to target our students who need to read the most, while encouraging everyone to read every day. Our primary approach to encourage summer reading by facilitating authentic experiences.

Providing Books for Students in Intervention

We don’t want to make a judgment in sending home books for our students who received additional support in reading. Yet we know that the typical student who struggles in reading has less access to text in the home. That is why we are sending home books in the mail to these kids over the summer. It can’t get more authentic than a book, right?

They were provided choice in what they wanted to read. Our two reading teachers gave each student a visual list of high-interest titles that they could circle with a highlighter. Then the teachers ordered the books, sorted them, and prepared each title for staggered mailing. This was a lot of work on their part, but worth it as we believe more books in the home can make the difference.

Leveraging Digital and Online Tools

I am the first to admit that technology is not the panacea that some enthusiasts might like you to believe. However, when it comes to issues of access, technology makes perfect sense. Getting a kid to the public library can be a challenge if parents are at work or it is too far away. Digital tools are ubiquitous in most homes now.

Here are a few digital and online tools our students likely have access to over the summer:

  • Overdrive: Students can check out eBooks and audiobooks using their public library card number.
  • Biblionasium: Like Goodreads for younger people, kids can rate, review, and recommend books for peers.
  • Kidblog: An online writing tool that offers students a safe space to publish reflections on what they are reading, as well as to post digital creations.

All three of these literacy experiences closely resemble how adult readers connect and interact with text.

Modeling Ourselves as Readers and Writers

We as educators don’t reveal ourselves enough as individuals who engage in authentic literacy experiences . If a teacher or principal isn’t a lifelong reader to begin with…well, that’s a bigger problem. I’ll assume the former.

For our last day activity as a school, a picture book was purchased for every teacher in the classroom. During our recognition assembly I will be encouraging teachers to read aloud their book to their students. In addition, each student will be receiving a small pocket journal. The suggestion will be to carry this around during the summer months and used it to maintain a reading list, a to-read list, or even a grocery list. Writing anything is better than not writing. If we can connect writing to reading, all the better.

I plan on sharing an entry from my own pocket journal, which coincidentally contains ideas for how students might read over the summer.

 

Evernote Snapshot 20170601 204411.png

Promoting lifelong reading with authentic experiences has the potential to encourage more students to become avid readers over the summer.


Becoming a Literacy Leader cover image

Interested in some summer professional reading? Contributors to this collaborative blog will be reading and responding to Becoming a Literacy Leader: Supporting Learning and Change, 2nd Edition by Jennifer Allen (Stenhouse, 2016). Jennifer’s updated text has many ideas for facilitating coaching cycles, preparing for excellent professional learning, and reflections from the field.

Update 6-3-17: The sign up for this opportunity has been closed due to high interest.

 

 

 

Learning Through Words: Some Thoughts from “The Art of Slow Reading” by Thomas Newkirk (Heinemann, 2012)

imgresI have been reading an excellent resource lately. It is titled The Art of Slow Reading: Six Time-Honored Practices for Engagement by Thomas Newkirk. He was a college professor, former urban high school teacher, and now the lead editor for Heinemann.

Newkirk believes that education moves way too fast, with the advent of technology plus all the standards and academic expectations set upon us. Classrooms should slow down and be more mindful about what students are learning right now. He speaks about strategies he has found that helps with student engagement and slow reading (p 42-43):

  • Performing (attending to the texts as dramatic, as enacted for an audience, even internally)
  • Memorizing (learning by “heart”)
  • Centering (assigning significance to a part of text)
  • Problem finding (interrupting the flow of reading to note a problem or confusion)
  • Reading like a writer (attending to the decisions a writer makes)
  • Elaborating (developing the capacity to comment and expand on texts)

One of the most surprising quotes for me addresses the importance of committing words to memory. On page 77, Newkirk believes that memorizing a piece of text “isn’t rote learning. It is claiming a heritage. It is the act of owning language, making it literally a part of our bodies, to be called upon decades later when it fits a situation.”

Memorable phrases, such as principles and analogies, make the abstract more concrete. Consider the following precept, discovered in Wonder by R.J. Palacio:

When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind. – Dr. Wayne W. Dyer

Isn’t this so much more accessible for people, young or old, instead of¬†“Make better choices”? Dyer’s words seem worth owning. The phrasing and word choice also help to make the precept memorable. It is language that I am committing to memory.

As you and your students explore excellent literature together this year, in what works will you all find phrases and principles to live through, share, and discuss? How might this slow down learning and deepen engagement in your classrooms? I am excited to find out – please share in the comments.

Recommended Read: Schooling Beyond Measure by Alfie Kohn (Heinemann, 2015)

I imagine the beginnings of this book idea came about from a conversation between Thomas Newkirk, editor at Heinemann, and Alfie Kohn, frequent commentator on education, that sounded somewhat like the following:

Thomas Newkirk: Hey Alfie, what are your thoughts on writing another book for Heinemann?

Alfie Kohn: Hmm, I don’t know. I’m kind of busy with public speaking and posting my one tweet per day.

Newkirk: Yeah, I hear you. However, I have this idea where we would just reprint some of your more salient posts from your blog and your articles for Education Week.

Kohn: Really? You can book your blog?

Newkirk: Sure, why not?

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I’m kidding! This jest highlights my one beef with this book, in that there is no new material included in the text. Kohn didn’t even write an introduction for his most recent offering.

However, if anyone’s previous work deserves a reprint, it would be Alfie Kohn’s. He has been the voice of reason for years, combating the negative influences of standardized tests, grades used as carrots and sticks, and classroom motivation tactics. With the current climate in education, Kohn’s book could not have been published at a better time.

Instead of a Reader’s Digest version of this book, I’d like to highlight five of the articles I found that most impacted me as an elementary principal in a high-poverty public school.

The Case Against Grades (Educational Leadership, November 2011)

This article should be required reading for any school or district committee revisiting¬†their grading system. Kohn moves beyond the argument between A’s and B’s vs. standards-based grading, and highlights the problems with the system itself. Specifically, he finds that grades lower motivation for authentic tasks, creates a competitive learning culture, and misrepresents student success when teachers try to quantify achievement that should not be reduced to a number or letter.

A Dozen Essential Guidelines for Educators (http://www.alfiekohn.org, October 2013)

While some might feel that lists are lazy, I couldn’t imagine a better format for identifying the compencies that¬†all teachers and school leaders should¬†be applying to their practice. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Thinking is messy; deep thinking is really messy. Therefore beware prescriptive standards and outcomes that are too specific and orderly.
  • In outstanding classrooms, teachers do more listening than talking, and students do more talking than listening. Terrific teachers often have teeth marks on their tongues.
  • The more that students are led to focus on how well they’re doing in school, the less engaged they’ll tend to be with what they’re doing in school.

What Waiting for a Second Marshmallow Doesn’t Prove (Education Week, 2014)

In this article, Kohn takes on the term “grit” and how it has been conflated with other concepts such as “resilience” and “engagement” in educational circles. Despite the research presented by Angela Duckworth and other proponents of grit in schools, the writer¬†finds the¬†results unconvincing. Kohn questions the benefits of delayed¬†gratification, noting that sometimes taking advantage of an opportunity available immediately is the better decision. Also, the author wonders if¬†the researchers took into account the home factors that may impact a young person’s ability to defer something rewarding¬†for later.

Five Not-So-Obvious Propositions About Play (http://www.alfiekohn.org, November 17, 2011)

The author starts this post with two personal beliefs:

  • Children should have plenty of opportunities for play.
  • Even young children have too few such opportunities these days, particularly in school settings.

Kohn goes on to support his argument¬†by debunking multiple¬†myths about play, evoking statements such as “Younger and older children should have a chance to play together.” and “The point of play is that it has no point.” The second statement really seems to run counter to how schools operate today, even though it shouldn’t. Kohn’s rationale rests on both current research as well as classic positions by John Dewey and other pioneers of public education.

Encouraging Courage (Education Week, September 18, 2013)

This article was perfectly positioned to end this anthology. Kohn provides a more positive outlook on the future of public education. He encourages¬†educators to¬†ask¬†reflective questions about their own practice, take responsibility on behalf of¬†the best interests¬†of their classroom, and give ownership of the learning to their students. Kohn’s recommendations rest heavily on what we know to be most effective for students.

He ends his text with a powerful statement against the test-driven standardization of public education in America:

It takes courage to stand up to absurdity when all around you people remain comfortably seated. But if we need one more reason to do the right thing, consider this: The kids are watching us, deciding how to live their lives in part by how we’ve¬†chosen to live ours.

Words to live by.