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October 12, 2017
Vol. 13
No. 3

Five Ways to Intentionally Support Reading Independence

      Teachers don't just walk into a classroom, hand over a basal reader, and expect all students to read on the same level or at the same rate of speed. Nor do they expect that students independently read for lengthy chunks of time while deeply comprehending everything that they are reading.
      Teaching students to read requires intentional planning, instruction, assessment, and support. Successful teachers create a classroom environment where reading doesn't just happen through luck but grows because of small, simple actions by both teacher and student.
      Here are five tips to help teachers get started:
      1. Differentiate your approach to reading. Teach reading skills in isolation through modeling, and then provide opportunities to practice with assistance before students read on their own. Small-group instruction should be flexible, with students moving into and out of groups as their skills advance.
      2. Model strong reading habits. Prior to releasing students to independently read, model one reading skill in isolation. For example, while reading a shared text in front of students, you might model highlighting key words that aid in comprehending the text or jotting a quick summary in the text margins. Thinks aloud while executing the skill to make the physical and mental aspects of reading visible. Once students are released to practice on their own, circulate to watch students read and practice the skill you've just modeled while you intervene in small-group or 1:1 settings to help students gain proficiency in that skill. Have students mimic the skill with you and each other so that you can provide feedback and address misconceptions. But, don't stop there. Modeling doesn't have to just happen in a small-group or mini-lesson format. Any time you read in class, read aloud to model your thinking as a reader. You can make connections, stop and jot notes, reread confusing parts, or just peruse the illustrations to predict story events. These reading behaviors help students experience expert reading in naturally occurring scenarios.
      3. Create structures for students to read and comprehend with complex texts. It's important that students know how to approach a difficult piece of text. Teach students to chunk the text by covering the text with paper and showing only a short section at a time. As students read, they can take notes in the margins or journal on a piece of paper to gather important information. Keep dictionaries handy for encounters with unfamiliar vocabulary. These supports not only aid students in their own understanding but also help the teacher see student thinking, which provides important cues for follow-up instruction. Set the expectation that students will use the supports in their reading skill set before turning to the teacher for help. This approach will foster metacognition and independence that will fuel reading confidence.A reading response or skill review assignment holds students accountable for the content they read and provides an opportunity for feedback on what they learned. Students can respond to their reading in a written response or through one-on-one conferences. In conferences or in writing, teachers can acknowledge an area of reading achievement while also providing specific actions students can take to strengthen their reading skills.
      4. Make reading for information part of every subject area. In life, information comes from a variety of sources, and topics tend to overlap and intermingle. Teaching subjects in isolation in the classroom is neither realistic nor helpful. Make reading a natural part of all subject areas so that students gain proficiency at a greater rate.
      5. Expose students to a variety of texts. Organize the classroom library by genre, topic, author, or purpose. Here are some examples of ways to organize your library:•  Historical fiction: Organize by genre.•  Influential community members: Organize by topic.•  Shel Silverstein: Organize by author.•  Author's purpose: Organize by informative, entertaining, explanatory, or persuasive texts.Allow students to choose books at their individual reading level so that they can practice new reading skills without getting too frustrated and gain momentum by strengthening old skills through repetition. This portion of a reading block is strategic for helping students move to more challenging texts with support and appropriate instruction to avoid frustration and poor reading habit development. However, it is just as important that students read texts of their choice, regardless of whether they are on their independent reading level. Setting up a reading block where students can "free read" is encouraging for struggling readers. Here they can read anything, from a comic book to a complex novel, as long as they find it interesting and are spending their time reading. If students read only texts on their level, their motivation to read becomes a job, not an enjoyable hobby. Likewise, if students read only texts based on interest, their skill level never develops to its potential because they are not getting the isolated skill practice necessary to gain proficiency. There is a place in the classroom for both on- and off-level reading that is beneficial to all students.
      These suggestions are only as powerful as the consistency and accuracy to which they are implemented. If teachers incorporate these five tips into their daily reading instruction, students will become independent reading experts not by chance, but by design.

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