According to a 2011 survey, the Pew Research Center found that 72% of American adults had read a printed book in the last year. A year later they found that 21 percent of American adults had read an e-book in the past year. Using a “broader definition” of e-content, the study found that 43 percent of Americans age 16 and older said they had “either read an e-book in the past year…or other long-form content such as magazines, journals, and news articles in digital format on an e-book reader, tablet computer, regular computer, or cell phone.”
The statistics aren’t as bleak as we expected, but we’re still concerned about the number of Americans, including students, who aren’t reading. Writer and educator Donalyn Miller shares this concern, but in her book, The Book Whisperer, she suggests that by simply rethinking our daily practices, we can not only get our students reading, but actually increase their independent reading time.
5 Simple Ways to Increase Independent Reading Time
How often are your classes interrupted by special deliveries of messages, forgotten lunches, notes that need to go home, or phone calls from the office? Some of these interruptions take ten seconds, others may take ten minutes. In one week, Miller recorded 14 interruptions and documented how much instructional time was lost at the end of the week: a grand total of 40 minutes. That’s 40 minutes students could have been reading!
One way to take advantage of these interruptions is by teaching your students to get out their books as soon as an interruption occurs. Teach your students that a knock on the door or a ring from the classroom telephone isn’t a signal for them to chat; it’s a signal for them to reach into their desks, grab their book and start reading. If you start this procedure right away, your students will quickly internalize it.
Bell Ringers and Warm-Ups
Many of us supplement our literacy instruction with warm-up activities that ask students to “look for grammatical and punctuation errors in a scripted sentence.” Yet research consistently suggests (see Alsum & Bush, 2003; Thomas & Tchudi, 1999 and Weaver, 1996) that little of this grammar instruction actually sticks or transfers to our students’ writing. Considering that, why are we still using it? In lieu of these kinds of activities, Miller suggests that our students spend warm-up time reading.
When Students Are Done
The rule above also applies to students who finish their work early. Instead of allowing them to sit quietly, draw, or grab a worksheet from a folder of extension activities, why not have students read instead? We don’t know about you, but when we were students, the last thing we wanted was to be “rewarded” with more work—so inevitably we began working slower, or pretending like we were still working to avoid extension activities. Reward with books, not worksheets.
For students, picture day is a national holiday. Not only do they get out of class, they get to stand in a long line and visit with their friends. Like Miller, you probably spend picture day “walking up and down the line, monitoring behavior and shushing students.” After years of this, Miller started requiring her students to bring a book to picture day. Not only does this help curb behavior issues, it’s a simple way to reclaim valuable reading time.
Recently a colleague of ours marveled at the fact that we still took our students to the library. While he conceded that library fieldtrips were “good in theory,” they always turned into chaos. While it’s true that many students see library visits as a social event where they get time off, this misconception can be corrected if we model appropriate behavior and make our expectations clear on the first visit.
Here’s what Miller has to say about modeling:
My modeling starts with my giddiness as the first library day arrives. I begin mentioning to students that we are going to the library several days ahead of time and imagine with them the wonderful books we will find there. I post library days on our class Web site. I want students to pick up on the fact that I think library days are events to anticipate. On the big day, I always ask a student to remind me when it is a few minutes before our assigned library time, so that we can line up and get there promptly.
Before they head to the library, Miller goes over the rules:
- Every student must have a book to return, renew, or read, or a plan to get one at the library
- If students do not want to check out a book, they must bring their own book
- Every student must walk out of the library with a book
- Students who are not checking out books can head to quiet corners and read
- When everyone has a book to read, we all sit and read until the library time ends or head back early and read in the classroom