Being an independent reader means developing a lifelong habit that continues because we want to read and not because we are required to or have to. It means that we read even when daily support such as dedicated in-class reading time such as the DEAR and USSR programs are no longer available.
In her book Reading in the Wild , a professional text that has had the greatest impact on my beliefs and actions of any I have read for a very long time, Donalyn Miller identifies five key characteristics of an independent reader…
- They make time to read and dedicate part of each day to doing so.
- They have the confidence, experience and skills to self-select reading materials
- They share their books and reading experiences with other readers
- They have a reading plan - they know what they will read next.
- They show and share preferences for particular authors, genres and topics.
Read the research
Apart from the research about the value of being able to read well which Miller cites in her books, there are also some important studies being undertaken that we should know about, particularly if there are moves afoot to abandon print resources in the library or discourage the reading of fiction.
Firstly, there is a growing body of evidence such as that by Combes and Coiro that for students to read effectively online, they must first build up a traditional literacy skill-set which is based on print. Secondly, there is research from Kidd and Castano that reading fiction can have a lasting impact on brain function, which is currently receiving considerable publicity All should be on our professional reading lists.
Time to Read
No one will deny that reading proficiency is dependent on practice and that, of course, requires time. But students, like adults often find it difficult to find this time both at school or at home. However, if students see that the significant people in their lives read and make the time to do so becasue they value reading they want to be be a part of that reading community, belong to that “in-group”, sharing experiences and forging bonds that help them define themselves as readers.
Students often see reading as an all-or-nothing event – something that is done in blocks of 30 minutes or so, 30 minutes that they don’t see themselves as having in their hectic school and after-school lives. Miller suggests the solution to this is to get students to read “on the edge” although “in the gaps” might create a stronger visual image, but they need to learn how to identify those gaps, such as waiting for the bus or an appointment or during a sister’s soccer practice. As TLs, we can lead a lesson where we help our students identify those gaps and turn them into opportunities. Teach parents to read in the gaps too – encourage them to have a book in their bag that they can read aloud to their child, such as I did yesterday when I had the chance to look after Miss 2 while Miss 7 was busy so we sat and read together, much to the delight of the other patients who enjoyed her version of The Gruffalo’s Child and did not have a bored 2 year-old disturbing them. It teaches the young child so much about reading…
Miller suggests having them keep a reading itinerary for a week, identifying when they read, where they read and for how long. This not only helps them look for those opportunities but also helps them understand where they are most often and most comfortable reading. This can lead to individual discussions that help the student gain insight into their reading habits, and that it can be done anywhere, anytime even just for a few minutes.
As well as helping the students make time to read, look for opportunities to promote reading within the community and read aloud to students. Consider…
- International Book Giving Day on February 14
- Read Across America on March 3 to celebrate Dr Seuss’s birthday on March 2
- World Read Aloud Day on March 5
- National Simultaneous Storytime on May 21
- Indigenous Literacy Day on September 3
- The Global Read Aloud in October
- Picture Book Month in November
As the TL we should be able to set up areas that are conducive to personal reading within the library and which students can use during breaks. There should be spots for individuals who like to curl up in out-of-the-way spots and be alone in the world of their book as well as places where they can share what they’re reading with their friends. Have a special story-teller’s chair where they can role-play being the TL or their teacher -anywhere that invites them to spend a few minutes just reading.