What Is It?
The more students read, the more proficient they become. If teachers expect students to become avid and fluent readers, teachers must provide frequent opportunities for students to read and to discuss their reading during the school day.
To support more class time for reading in combination with other literacy activities, it is important to implement school-wide scheduling changes that allow for uninterrupted blocks of literacy activity, extending the time for language arts to at least 90 minutes daily.
To make self-selected reading a purposeful and productive part of instruction, teachers help students manage their own recordkeeping of independent work. Students keep logs of their reading, recording book titles, authors, genres, pages read, and dates completed. Effective teachers guide students on how to select appropriate books, when to abandon an inappropriate book, and how to share their readings with peers. Students are more likely to read actively and thoroughly when striving to understand something about which they are curious or that reflects their interests, cultures, and experiences.
Effective teachers also schedule individual conferences with students at least once per week. During that time, teachers can check student comprehension and monitor recordkeeping. Many teachers also require students to respond in writing to what they have been reading. In this way, the conference provides an opportunity to determine student progress in writing ability.
In addition to allocating time for self-selected reading, teachers can provide many and varied opportunities for student-led conversations about books. By increasing the social component of class activities, teachers also increase student motivation. Among the most popular activities are book talks, literature circles, reciprocal teaching, and jigsaw reading.
Book talks are a time for students to discuss their favorite books, especially those which they have read during free reading time. Some teachers call this Wonderfully Exciting Books or WEB. This activity allows students to discuss what they liked or disliked about particular books and makes students aware of new books as well as old favorites. Hearing a peer describe a favorite book is a powerful incentive to read because students want to share the same experience.
Holding literature circles is another popular activity that promotes enjoyable sharing and discussion of recently read books. In the literature circle, all students in the group read the same book. Each student has an assigned task such as the Story Summarizer, the Word Wizard, the Artful Artist, etc. When the literature circle meets, each student has an opportunity to present his or her assigned task to the other members of the group. While literature circles help develop speaking skills, they also broaden students' conceptions of how mature readers think and talk about books.
Reciprocal teaching is an effective activity for groups of students to share what they have learned with each other and to hone reading skills. This activity is often described as taking turns being the teacher. In reciprocal teaching, a group of students engage in a process where students read the same printed material but stop at regular intervals to ask questions, summarize, predict, and clarify. Teachers guide reciprocal teaching procedures until students are able to work independently within a group.
Jigsaw reading is a cooperative learning activity that engages students in sharing, discussing, and synthesizing information. Students read different sections of a single text or different articles on related subjects and then pool their information to accomplish a task such as filling in a chart, preparing an oral presentation, or solving a problem. Teachers can provide texts at different levels of difficulty to enable students at a range of reading levels to collaborate.
It is important for teachers in grades 4-6 to think in terms of developing their students into lifelong readers. Students need time to read independently during the school day as well as outside of school. The route to fluency and comprehension is to read, read, read.
Implications for ELLs
English language learners (ELLs) benefit from opportunities to read self-selected books that interest them and academic books that are at appropriate levels. Sometimes easy books provide enjoyment, feelings of competency, and opportunities to read fluently. However, a steady diet of easy books may not challenge thinking or provide the new vocabulary or more complex language structures that ELLs need for language development. On the other hand, when books are too difficult, there is the risk that students will become discouraged and give up trying to read these books independently and silently. These same books may be good choices for guided reading or reciprocal reading where teachers provide more support for comprehension.
Strategies for Supporting ELLs
Books on tape can serve as tools for supporting beginning English language learners (ELLs) as they tackle difficult texts. Students can listen to each chapter on tape either before reading or while reading and following along in their books. Books on tape are also helpful to intermediate ELLs who are tackling difficult texts.
In addition, ELLs can become familiar with content concepts and vocabulary by looking at highly illustrated informational books, such as the Eyewitness series of books on science, nature, and history topics.
As an alternative to silent reading, ELLs benefit from one-on-one opportunities to read aloud with a teacher or tutor who can give them encouragement, feedback, and individualized help. Knowing that it may be difficult or intimidating for ELLs to express their thoughts about their reading, effective teachers assign hands-on book response projects, such as making posters, mobiles, and dioramas, which allow ELLs to demonstrate artistic and comprehension skills. Group book response projects promote communication, cooperation, and a variety of skills.
When facilitating book discusssions with ELLs, some teachers use the Instructional Conversation (IC) approach (Goldenberg, 1991). Instructional Conversations focus on an engaging theme from the reading, such as the meaning of friendship. Instructional Conversations activate background knowledge, promote more complex language expression, and encourage students to identify text-based evidence to support their opinions. During Instructional Conversations, teachers ask fewer "known-answer" questions, respond thoughtfully to student contributions, and encourage students to respond to and build upon each other's remarks.
Glimpse of the Classroom
Today, Mrs. B.'s fourth-grade students are meeting in literature circles. Mrs. B. has selected a different book for each small group of students to read and discuss. Students read silently from the book (a required number of pages each day) and do a "job of the day." Afterward, they report back to their groups to show how they have carried out their jobs. The literature circles operate independently of the teacher.
Enrique is the student facilitator of his group, and these students clearly understand how to work together respectfully. Janelle's job is to select an interesting passage and to read it to the group. She takes keen pleasure in having an audience. Other members of the group listen attentively to her reading. Other jobs involve employing vocabulary-building strategies and using graphic organizers such as a Venn diagram to compare two characters.
During class, Mrs. B.'s students also have an opportunity to read a self-selected book. They keep reading logs and write weekly about the connections that they have made with the text. Mrs. B. holds short book conferences with individual students. Although conferences are only 10 minutes long, students look forward to the important one-on-one time that they have with their teacher. During the conference, students share story elements that they have found while reading. Mrs. B. asks students to read a favorite passage aloud, and then she keeps a running record of any difficulties or miscues in their oral reading.
In any class time or literacy block, Mrs. B. mixes self-directed and student-directed activities. In addition to providing small-group and individual activities, she meets frequently with the whole class to provide information about new books. Students often share their observations about books with each other in large-group discussion. In one class project, students made a bulletin board to display their favorite books; they photocopied the book covers and affixed post-it notes with their comments on the cover. Last week Mrs. B. convened a large group to fine-tune students' reciprocal teaching procedures, and yesterday Mrs. B. introduced the concept of literary genre to the same group. The whole class will gather for culminating activities such as student presentations and performances that grow out of their work with texts. They enjoy the festive, celebratory energy of their large-group activities. The school year has just begun, and Mrs. B's class is off to a productive and enthusiastic start.
Questions to Think About