Creating Lifelong Readers through Independent Reading-in Room 215

According to Noyes (2000) far more students in the United States choose not to read rather than to read.  Noyes calls this practice aliteracy.  Furthermore, the 2001 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) found that only 35% of fourth graders in the United States read for pleasure daily.  An average of 40% of International Students read for pleasure outside of school.  Thirty-two percent of fourth graders in the United States shared that they never read outside of school for pleasure while an average of 18% of international students shared that they never read for fun outside of school.  These statistics are alarming, but also open a door to why students in the United States are not measuring up against to the reading results of international students.  In efforts to improve these scores, it is suggested that students have proper direct instruction and in addition to this instruction, implement the opportunity to apply the skills learned during direct reading instruction.  In the words of Pearson (2005), “..all the explicit instruction in the world will not make strong readers unless accompanied by lots of experience applying their knowledge, skills and strategies during actual reading” (p. 6).  In addition to Pearson’s thoughts Cunningham and Stanovich (1998) suggest that independent practice builds “fluency, improves comprehension, increases vocabulary, and creates confidence in you readers.”  To continue the argument of independent reading in the classroom, motivation is another element that is important to build through independent reading.  Hanjian,1985 and Pieronek, 1985 mention that “perhaps the most important, students are denied the opportunity to engage with texts that they can choose for themselves in topics that matter to them.”

The Five Benefits of Independent Reading

               When implementing an independent reading program in the classroom there are five benefits of independent reading. First, students will increase their vocabulary development.  Students will need to acquire 32,000 words between the first and 12th grades.  Typical vocabulary programs only provide students with 700 words per year, whereas students should be averaging 300 words per day (Nagy & Anderson, 1984).  The use of independent reading provides students with the opportunities to acquire these new words, and introduces them to new vocabulary as well as background knowledge. The second important component of independent reading is building a greater domain of background knowledge.  Cunningham and Stanovich said that students who read independently have a higher chance of gaining background knowledge on topics and will in turn motivate them to read more independently as older and more experienced readers.  Success in reading depends on one’s ability to concentrate on longer selections of text and to understand what is read in a deeper way.  Independent reading exercises can aid in the development of a longer reading stamina and encourage “deep reading” within longer selections of text (Block & Mangieri, 1996).   The third
benefit of independent reading aids students in their fluency and comprehension.  In beginning reading research, Adams (1990) mentions that children’s reading facility and vocabulary growth depends upon reading large amounts of text.  Pikulski (2007) mentions that “substantial correlational evidence shows a clear relationship between the amount students read, their reading fluency, and their reading comprehension” (p. 90).  Lower achieving students typically do not engage in a wide variety of independent reading for pleasure.  There has been a correlation made by Alliington (2006) that states that those low achieving students may lack the practice needed to increase comprehension and build fluency.  Providing this opportunity in the classroom will surely build all students’ comprehension and fluency.  Students who are ELL (English Language Learners) will benefit from the fluency and comprehension practice.  Elley and Mangubhabi (1983) found that providing ELL students with interesting books and the time to read contributed significantly to students’ English development.  A study compiled by Kuhn in 2004 shows that second graders who were engaged in repeated readings and participated in groups that influenced wide reading made gain in word recognition and comprehension, as opposed to a group of second graders who were only involved in a reading group who were engaged in repeated readings.  A fourth benefit of providing independent reading in the classroom is improved reading achievement.  There have been numerous studies done on the relationship between the volume of reading versus the achievement on standardized test scores.  Although it has not been concluded that the amount of reading and literacy test scores are not always significant, they are consistent (Cullianan, 2000).  Providing students with the opportunities for reading in the classroom will only aid in student achievement.  The last important benefit for independent reading is the greater interest in books and motivations to read.  Guthrie and Greaney, 1991 defined that high-interest materials are more pleasurable to students and result in their reading for longer periods of time.  Along with this discovery, students have higher levels of comprehension in reading selections that they find interesting rather than challenging, (Guthrie, Schafer, Von Secker, & Alban, 2000).  If these two ideas are combined, students will engage with texts more often and for longer periods of time.  They are in turn, comprehending more and building their stamina for reading.  This will increase their abilities to read longer passages of text without tiring and their background knowledge will be increased as well.

Creating the Space for Independent Reading

               In my fifth grade classroom, students will need a great amount of space to spread out, get comfortable and read.  It is suggested in Creating Lifelong Readers through Independent Reading that a classroom should have a central library space that is determined by arrangements.  Along with this defined area, students should have access to comfortable pillows, beanbags, couches or other furnishings that invite engagement with books.  Access to posters about literacy should be posted in order to spark students’ interest about books.  Book displays are necessary so that students may see the selections that are available in the library, and some displays outside of shelves are necessary.  Baskets with appropriate labels are great tools so that students may learn to categorize and organize books by genre or author.  Books may also be displayed with covers showing, not just spines.  This can encourage students to relate illustrations on the book cover to the content inside.  One more exciting way to display books is through the use of a classroom book awards center.  Students can read, rate and recommend books on a bulletin board nearby where students read freely.  This gives new readers a chance to read their peers’ reviews of books, but also gives readers and chance to share what they think of books that they have completed.

Creating the Collection for Independent Reading:

               Through interest inventories, students’ personal choices and simply listening to student conversations in passing, I have learned about students’ preferred selections of text and what they enjoy.  At the fifth grade level, I know that majority of my students are into reading children’s novels, while some are moving more into younger adult novels.  At the same time, I have some students who really enjoy reading informational texts about particular topics such as sports. Others enjoy perusing through magazines to check out the latest gossip for their favorite celebrity singers and movie stars.  I have my topics nailed overall, and now to build my library!  I first used the sites provided on our class syllabus and tried to match some of my students’ interests up to titles that were mentioned on individual blogs.  The first blog that I found to be the most useful was  This blog of a “Geek Dads” by Jenny Williams addressed graphic novels for kids.  This type of book is passed around my classroom like wildfire.  Mentions of Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney and Dear Dumb Diary by Jim Benton are just two of the titles I’ve seen this year.  These titles address students’ requests in their reading interest inventories for topics that were “funny” and “hilarious”.  Through Jenny William’s posts on comics for kids, I found suggests for Otto’s Orange Day by Frank Cammuso and Jay Lynch (also available as a free e-Book online).So, for my first request, I will focus on building my graphic novel collection up! I have enough students in my class that are interested in this genre that I feel I could reach multiple kids with this genre of text.  At this point the titles I would like to request include:

Dear Dumb Diary Series by Jim Benton

Dork Diaries  Series by Rachel Renée Russell

Brian Selznick’s Wonderstruck and The Invention of Hugo Cabret

 Patrick Carman’s Skeleton Creek Series

Diary of a Wimpy Kid Series by Jeff Kinney

Key Components of My Independent Reading Program:

               As I began to plan for my independent reading program I used Creating Lifelong Readers to guide me through ideas for my particular classroom. I am given a total of 80 minutes each day for language arts.  To break everything down, I start with the biggest piece first: Supported Independent Reading Time (SIRT).  I will have to use my basal reader, because it is mandated by my school system.  This basal story is usually divided up into an introduction lesson on Monday morning, focusing on the reading skill of the week and new vocabulary unique to the story.  On Tuesday, students will read the story (either aloud with me, in partners or independently) After reading, students then take a selection test that includes comprehension questions as well as vocabulary questions.  This is only a snippet of what I’d like to do next.  Once students finish their weekly selection from the basal, I will then focus on a mini-lesson (focus lessons, according to Young and Moss) that coincides with the instructional focus of the basal.  These lessons are about 15-20 minutes in a whole group setting.  During lessons I will model the skill to be practiced, model a procedural idea or remind students of past strategies.  The next piece will include time for reading.  Students will have at least 30 minutes to read silently and practice skills taught during guided reading.  As students are reading, I will spend my time conferencing with them regarding their progress and literacy goals.  I only plan to spend about five to ten minutes with each child, working my way around our class of twenty readers.   Next step is to plan for community reading. Although Young and Moss suggest using community twice per week, I want to try and include this time each day per week.  My community reading time (20 minutes) will occur at 11:40am each day until noon when we get ready to pack up for lunch.  I think this will be the best use of time because it transitions well from one topic to another.  At this time, community reading will be filled with time for book talks in small groups, interactive read alouds from me, time for my students to read and book sharing.  I would like to plan for interactive read alouds two times per week, individual reading twice per week and alternate book sharing and book talks every other week.  This will allow for students to be in the meat of their text, or our classroom text four times per week (or 80 minutes each week).  Every other Friday can be set for book talks with small groups or the entire class if appropriate.  This will give four students a chance to share whole group each week or anywhere from five to 10 students to share in small groups every other Friday.  During independent reading time when students are in their own texts, I will rotate and have conferences with those students and their selections. This would be an excellent time for me to update my records as well on each student.  I can double up time on students who need additional support in their reading.

Linking Literacy Instruction with Independent Reading Experiences

               The last piece of my independent reading program includes the connection between literacy instruction and independent reading and response.  Young and Moss share the GRR Model or the gradual release of responsibility model researched and introduced by Pearson & Gallagher, 1983.  In my framework, I would like to use elements of the GRR model.  The first piece is a read aloud using strategies that are taught whole group and practiced individually.  This gives my students the exposure to what they should be doing when working with text on their own.  Some examples might be building background knowledge, summarizing, identifying characters, identifying settings, discussing text features or comparing and contrasting text.  The next element that I use is guided reading.  Guided reading can replace the basal at the end of the year, once our basal stories have been extinguished.  This provides me as a teacher with the time to guide my students through a novel, focusing on strategies more specifically and guiding them throughout the text. I am careful not to let them rely on me too much, but to provide them with scaffold support. The next piece is independent reading.  As students break out into their own reading selections, or in leveled readers, we can collect at the end and share strategies that they used to get through their text.  During the reading process, whether it be guided or independent I always have students respond to their reading.  Some responses are in journal form, addressing thoughts about what was read.  Other responses can be composed in poetry, such as I Am poems, poems for two voices or acrostic poetry.  Something that I have wanted to implement is responding with technology.  Some of my classmates have had opportunities to share their students’ responses on classroom blogs, having students use strategies such as predictions, book reviews or poetry.  Online responses allow for student interaction with comments from one student to another.  I am working on scheduling computer lab times for my students to log in and to read each other’s work, and they are creating discussions online about their reading choices as opposed to only discussing face to face.  The last piece of my GRR program will be the assessment piece.  Of course through conferences I am able to keep up with what students are reading in the classroom.  At the same time, I can read their responses and conference with their predictions, inferences and comparisons.  I also use AR to have students take AR tests to make sure they comprehend the story.  A suggestion that I might could use in the future would be a bulletin board with past student responses, rating each response on a rubric as samples and guidelines for my current students to use.

               Content in fifth grade is very important, and is a great background resource for other works of literature.  In order to address content in the classroom I use interactive read alouds with content trade books.  I also choose literature that addresses topics in the content areas in guided reading novels.  In the past I have used science trade books in small group instruction to build on vocabulary and background on science topics.  Science content trade books are excellent ways to teach mini-lessons on informational texts, focusing on text features and reading data charts.  Other possibilities include lab reports and timelines.  Just like responding to regular text, students can respond to text through questions that are content driven.  During community reading, students have the option to prepare book talks on content books.  This can drive motivation for students to pick out other content books.  According to Moss and Young there are three models that prove to be useful in the content classroom.  I personally use the combination model throughout most of the year.  It makes the most sense to integrate science and social studies during Black History Month in February or Severe Weather Awareness Week in March. 

Renee Hennings 3/18/12

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  1. Renee-

    Book baskets are a great idea! I use those in my classroom, and it really helps for organization purposes too. I think you have the right idea with your classroom setup. I also noticed our kids like to read the same books. With knowing the similarities, the few books that my students may not have read that might be on your list or others in our class, I could suggest to my students to read. I think this was a great idea for Dr. Frye as this is how I plan on using the book list in this way.


    | Reply Posted 8 years, 2 months ago
    • Amanda,

      You bring up a great point. Sharing ideas in teaching is half the fun, the rest is implementing those discoveries! I am happy that we are able to share even more resources as we work through our semester. I agree that our students are reading some of the same stories as well. I will suggest some of your students’ titles to my kiddos, and to make it more fun I’ll say that I know of other 5th graders in our state that are reading the same exact books! I am sure that will get them excited!

      Renee Hennings 3/25/12

      | Reply Posted 8 years, 2 months ago
      • For sure! That is exactly what I have told my kids and they think it is super cool-haha. Maybe we can Skype your class sometime? Do you have the technology for that?

        Posted 8 years, 2 months ago

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