Friday, May 5, 2017

The Single Most Effective Strategy to Improve Reading

I spend a lot of my days talking and thinking (and sometimes writing) about how to improve students’ reading. I often get calls about what strategy is the most effective. The answer isn’t super cool or super secret. In fact, the answer is simple: provide time for kids to read. The benefits of finding regular time in the school day for students to read are indisputable. Time spent reading is the number one way to develop reading skills. Don't get me wrong, there are lots of other strategies that are great too. But hands down: students who spend more time reading, improve more in their reading. Full stop.

Aside from the vast body of research that tells us this is true, there is a clear, common-sense kind of reasoning here that is also appealing. For example, how does one become a better runner? He or she spends time running. How does one become a better painter? He or she spends time painting. So, it follows that the more time one spends reading, the better he or she will read.

Now there are a few caveats to this. And this is the important part: the independent reading time (you may know it as SSR, DEAR, BOB time) is only effective if the students are supported in their independent reading time by the teacher. This does not mean that the teacher is reading alongside the students during reading time. Instead, the teacher needs to be actively supportive. This active support includes the 4 things listed below. I am including a lengthier description of number one in this post. Subsequent posts will speak to the other three.

1. The teacher spends time modelling and teaching students how to self-select books from a variety of genres and at an appropriate level. We might assume students know how to select a book for themselves. This is often not the case.  Many of our readers, especially our striving readers, need help with this. Edutopia has brilliant article on ways to help secondary students become familiar books so that they can make choices about their reading. Reading level also factors into book selection. Miller and Moss (2013) give us these questions to consider when guiding student choice:

    • Could a book that is easy to read be just right for a child working on fluency?
    • Could a book above a child’s level be just right if he has extensive background knowledge about its content and/or is highly motivated to read it?
    • Could a book be just right for a child working on comprehension if the words are easy to read, but the content is challenging?
    • Could a book be just right for a child working on decoding if she knows most of the words, but not all of them, and the content is easy?
    • Could a challenging book be just right for the child who is highly motivated to read it?
    • Could a book that’s easy to read be just right for the child who needs to build background knowledge on a specific topic?

2. The teacher confers with students.
3. The teacher monitors and provides feedback to the students.
4. The teacher holds the students accountable for their reading.

Stay tuned for a more detailed explanation of activities 2-4. If you’d like a quick PD read that you can read in one sitting and will tell you everything you need to know about independent reading, I highly recommend No More Independent Reading Without Support.  

I hope you are making time to read for your students in your classes/schools and that you are ensuring that there is support for them as they do it. Feel free to drop me a line if you have questions or comments. Many of you who have heard me present may recall that one of the BIG LITERACY ideas that I always refer to is Each Year Every Kid Reads 25 Books. The research on independent reading is certainly one of the pillars upon which that BIG idea rests.

I hope you all get to enjoy the sun today!



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