Thursday, November 15, 2012

Let's Talk About Independent Reading

Independent Reading:
Independent Reading has changed dramatically over the last 12 years I've been at my school. I think that, with so much research done on the topic (I love Allington's work-so practical), it had to change. We all know that when readers spend a lot of time reading books that are "just right" for them, they get better at reading (including all aspects of reading). For years, I taught my children how to pick "just right" books, and the importance of them, and they had opportunities to "shop" for books in our class library to keep in their reading boxes. I would monitor their selections to ensure they were picking books that were at their reading level. This was a more informal approach to what we do today.

A few years ago, my district adopted an independent reading program developed by the American Reading Company (ARC). This is a highly structured independent reading workshop. The children are "leveled" (this included using the BAS to find their independent F&P reading level as well as leveling each child with the ARC's assessments). Once a child's independent reading level is found, he/she is placed in a color. These colors go from Purple (Read to Me-mostly beginning K children who were never read to), to Yellow Yellow (patterned text-there are 4 levels of this), to G (60 Power Words and beginning sounds), to GG (blends, more Power Words, category words), etc. It actually is used all the way up into the high school. There are colored bins with books that have colored labels. Students are to choose 5-8 books each morning upon arrival, and they put them into a reading pouch. Books are exchanged with other classrooms one day each 6-day cycle.

For 30 minutes each day (right now we do two 15-min blocks b/c I feel that's developmentally appropriate for them at this time), the children read their books. Before reading, I remind them of their focus skill for reading (comprehension or other skill-this skill is the one we've been working on throughout our literacy block). They are also each given a power goal that is set by me during their reading conference. Not only do they have to read the books independently, but they also have comprehension skills and reading foundational skills that they must know and demonstrate their knowledge. These skills are all tied to the CCSR. I have a schedule to meet with 4 students each day, and it's working very well. At the end of the reading time, students have "accountable talk"-they turn and talk to their neighbor and discuss their reading/book(s) according to our focus. I then choose one name out of my equality stick box and that student has to stand up and share out with the class. We give him/her points (on our fingers) for his/her response (this is tied to our current reading response rubric). WHEW!!!

Aside from reading independently in school, students are also required to read for 3o minutes (2-steps) each night at home. All of their reading steps and their reading levels are logged on paper (and recorded on the ARC's computer system).

We receive the most cutting edge professional development regularly, from this company. I am a reading specialist, and I feel so much more prepared to teach reading as a result of all of this training! 

This approach to independent reading/readers' workshop is very intense, but now that we are in our third year, we are seeing great results. We also know exactly what a child needs to work on and what they have to do to be able to read higher level texts. 

By the way, we still use our old reading boxes. Students still shop for books that are "just right" for them, but these are from our class library. They still get poems for their poetry binders and fun song packets to put in there. Students have many opportunities to read from their boxes as well...I just couldn't let them go!

I also think CAFE blends very nicely into our readers' workshop (just as Daily 5 is great for the guided reading block), and I hope to learn more about CAFE in my upcoming class. Guided reading still takes place daily as well, and this is where we incorporate skills groups that target specific skills.

The next post, I will explain how guided reading is done. The reading response rubrics and our class library will be coming up soon too in future posts. This feels great to get all these ideas/thoughts written down. I am writing these posts to share what we do in my school, but also to see if anyone else is doing the same kinds of things (and to find out how you are doing them). 

So, how do you run your independent reading/readers' workshop?


  1. Jen,
    Is the program you describe called the 100 Book Challenge? It sounds just like what my friend uses at her school. She has seen so much growth from her students since they implemented it. I'd love to see it in action!!!
    Thanks for sharing!

    Read with Me ABC

  2. Wendy,
    Yes, it sure is! It has evolved over the years. This is the first full-year I've used it/seen it in action. Two years ago, I attended an informative session in the fall. We then started to implement it soon after, in the middle of the year. Last year, I was off for the first few months of school on maternity leave. When I came back, everything was in full-swing, and my head was literally spinning (out of control). I was so overwhelmed! But, this year, I feel a lot more comfortable with the way we do independent reading. We call it Action 100-a little more involved than 100 Book Challenge. I'd love to have you come and see it.
    Wendy, just a side note, I LOVE your posts! You are truly an inspiration to me. I am on a search to make my blog look nicer...this is addicting!

  3. LOVE the new blog look! Is it too late to register for the class you are taking? I'm reading the book already; I'd love to take the course!

    1. Wendy, I'm finally getting back on here (about 7 hours after our phone call)! I would go to the Daily Cafe site and find the info for the class there. I scanned all my paperwork and tried to register for the first session, and I was already too late. So, I was very surprised when the university contacted me and told me I was automatically enrolled in this next session. It doesn't hurt to register (you don't have to pay tuition until you are really enrolled in the class). That way, your info is there.