Fostering independent reading

The last two stages of the Gradual release of responsibility are You do it together and You do it alone. Coincidentally, these stages align nicely with the last two reading procedures recommended by the authors of First Steps in Reading Resource Book : Book discussion groups and Independent reading. With each stage, more responsibility for learning and reading is being given to the student.

content area conversationsFostering student talk is vital for learning, particularly when they employ the use of academic language. From their book, Content-Area Conversations, Fisher, Frey and Rothenberg state that students need more time to talk and that the key to learning is for students to talk with one another in purposeful ways, using academic language (2008).

Book discussion groups (You do it together) promote student talk. Small groups of students meet to discuss, respond to and reflect on a common text that they have chosen. Key features include students selecting their texts from a range of available texts and each student having their own copy. A pre-determined amount of time is allocated for each text and groups meet on a regular basis. Different groups can be reading different texts and several groups can be meeting simultaneously.

It is the students’ responsibility to be prepared for each meeting and to contribute to the discussion of the text.  Keeping a journal or response journal is great way for students to respond and reflect personally on the text. Another idea is to use an online forum such as an edStudio to respond to the text. There are many online discussion groups set up by authors and public libraries but it would be important to ensure these are legitimate sites.

An example of a book discussion group is a Literature circle, which I have found to be very effective and also appealing to students. I gradually introduced and modelled the roles by using one text with the whole class, before encouraging the students to run their own literature circles. My role as a teacher was then visiting each group and just listening, providing support when needed.  It is important to offer a variety of texts for students to choose from. I have offered photocopied articles or the introduction to a chapter book. It is really exciting to hear students discussing a text in a deep and meaningful way. There is a lot of information on the internet, but here is a link to Sheena Cameron’s resources on literature circles – a great start if this is something that interests you.

IMG_1138The last procedure is independent reading and of course it fits the last stage of the gradual release process (You do it alone). This is our goal – students independently reading and applying the reading strategies that they have been exposed to during the other procedures. Students choose their own texts but are encouraged to select from a wide variety of literary and informational texts (I have collected hundreds of books and refuse to part with any of them as they form a vital part of my classroom). Texts could include those previously read in the other reading procedures, other texts written by the same author and texts that match the students’ interests.  It is all about reading for enjoyment.

silent reading

When I began teaching, I knew independent reading  as Uninterrupted Silent Sustained Reading (USSR). When I first used USSR in the classroom, I also read silently but as I became more experienced I saw this as a fantastic opportunity to listen to and question students individually about what they were reading.

pgcummings via Compfight cc

Each day during independent reading, I would sit beside students and ask what the text was about, what they were enjoying, how they were applying the focused reading strategy for the week and take a short, informal running record. By the end of the week, I would have sat with each student at least once and collected absolutely invaluable data about his/her reading.

Allington (2002) wrote that dedicated reading and writing should be planned for as much as half of each day with at least 90 minutes of ‘eyes-on and minds-on’ texts. This could certainly be achieved using the variety of reading procedures recommended by the authors of First steps in reading across all the curriculum learning areas.

I will leave this blog with a couple of things to ponder. In your classroom:

  • Is your reading approach over the course of a week balanced?
  • As the week (or unit) progresses, do you use a gradual release of responsibility?
  • How much time each day is dedicated to planned reading (and writing)?
  • Are you using texts from all the different curriculum learning areas as a part of that balanced reading approach?
  • What is the ratio of teacher talk to student talk?


The power of reading aloud

You're never toos old

reblogged from Comfortspringsstation

My two youngest teenage children won’t like me telling you this, but at times, I still read aloud to them – albeit texts like Shakespeare’s The Tempest (difficult for most literate adults to read, let alone a 17 year old completely uninterested in navigating Shakespeare’s difficult language).

Although growing up,  I had always been an avid reader, I credit Professor Kerry Mallan from Queensland University of Technology for expanding my limited repertoire of reading genres. As a part of a Children’s Literature subject in my post graduate degree, Professor Mallan read aloud in most lectures. One example was when she read expressively from a book about some rogue cats and then she stopped, leaving me wanting more. Unfortunately, I cannot remember the author of that particular text but I do remember going straight to a library the next day and borrowing it so I could finish the story.

There began my love for all genres, with fantasy and science-fiction now being two of my favourites. I also saw the power of reading aloud to students and stopping at points that left them gasping for more.

Never underestimate the power of reading to students.

As stated in my previous blog, the authors of First Steps in Reading (FSiR) recommend seven reading procedures. Two of these procedures fit quite nicely within the ‘I do’ step of the Gradual Release of Responsibility.

The first is Reading to students – this is reading for sheer, unadulterated pleasure. A wide variety of texts should be chosen, it should be uninterrupted and daily for about 10-15 minutes. Choose texts you enjoy and encourage students to bring in texts they enjoy. Activate their prior knowledge and demonstrate enjoyment, surprise, suspense and other reactions as you read. Disrupt the flow only if meaning has been lost, allow time for students to reflect on and respond to what has been read, and make texts available for students to explore later.

I remember my long-time teaching partner, Judy and I scheduling the reading aloud to students as a daily routine. It became a routine that students looked forward to and had them clamouring for more at the end of the 15 minutes.IMG_1126

Modelled reading, the second procedure, is where the focus is on ‘explicit planning and demonstration of selected reading behaviours’ (Reading Resource Book, p11). Teachers  choose a text that allows multiple demonstrations and use clear ‘think aloud’ statements that have a single or limited focus. This behaviour is most effective when students are asked to ‘have-a-go’ at the behaviour as soon as possible after the demonstration. Sessions are most effective when they are kept to five to ten minutes.

Again the text is introduced to the students to activate prior knowledge. The teacher pauses at a pre-determined place to demonstrate the reading behaviour and this is continued throughout the reading of the text. Students can ask clarifying questions but the focus is on the teacher ‘think-alouds’. It is important to allow students to review the behaviour – a cumulative chart can be established to record the modelled behaviours.

Thinks of all those great texts that you genuinely love or are interested in and share those. Choose texts and reading behaviours that link to the curriculum you are teaching. In a world governed by technology, teachers have an opportunity to share a genuine love of reading and to ignite that passion in students.


Dr Seuss poster from edutopia

Reading – a sense of urgency!

One is seven 15 year olds doesn’t have basic reading skills. I was watching television the other night and this frightening statistic appeared on the following advertisement.

four in five indigenous4 out of 5 indigenous kids in remote communities cannot read! Recently, Lyn Sharratt, the well-renowned co-author of Putting Faces on the Data, was working with a number of Metropolitan schools in Queensland and she used a photo she had taken of a bus shelter that displayed data similar to this statistic. Regardless of age or background, Lyn repeatedly expressed the sense of urgency needed around the teaching of reading.

This is a continuing major focus for many schools in Metropolitan Queensland, so hence my quest to research as much as I can on the teaching of reading during this Easter break.

There are many schools of thought around the teaching of reading but I think all would agree that it requires a balanced approach.first-steps-reading-resource-book-1-638I have begun my personal reading on this topic with the First Steps in Reading (FSiR) Resource Book, because  of its contemporary research and developments in the field of literacy (pp 5-6). The authors of FSiR state that the ultimate aim of any reading program is to produce confident, competent and independent readers (p5).

They state that a strong foundation for a comprehensive reading program can be established when a range of reading procedures are strategically employed and where the following seven procedures have been identified:

  • Reading to students
  • Modelled reading
  • Language experience
  • Shared reading
  • Guided reading
  • Book discussion groups
  • Independent reading

These seven procedures fit nicely within the Gradual release of responsibility model  (if you haven’t heard of this model, Doug Fisher has written an easy-to-read article on its application).

The first three procedures: Reading to students, Modelled reading and Language experience allow the teacher to demonstrate strategies which will assist students to make sense of text (I do it). NB: I will argue that the third, Language experience fits more within the We do it step.

Language experience, Shared and Guided reading give opportunities for students to practice these strategies with guidance and support (We do it).

Book discussion groups allow students to apply what they have learnt about reading with their peers (You do it together) and Independent reading sessions allow students to apply this knowledge on their own (You do it alone).

My next few blog posts will focus on the teaching of reading using the seven procedures in each of the stages of the Gradual release model.  Looking forward to exploring these over the coming days.