Sunday, April 30, 2017

Independent Reading Challenge FREEBIE!


                             Although the school year is coming to an end, you may be already
 thinking about what areas of learning you might approach differently next year with your students. For me one year, it was independent reading. 

I have always been a firm believer that to practice and improve reading skills, students should read independently both in and out of school. Part of my classroom's daily routine was a twenty minute independent reading time. We called it SQUIRT, an acronym for Sustained, Quiet, Uninterrupted, Independent Reading Time. 

To help my students remember what the letters stood for, we reviewed the meanings of the words. In addition, we practiced the words with an auditory and kinetic routine described below. 

  • First, making a sweeping motion from left to right with our arms, we chanted, "SUSTAINED! Over a period of time!"
  • Then we placed an index finger to our lips and whispered, "QUIET!"  
  • For "UNINTERRUPTED", we extended our right arm with the palm side forward like a traffic cop signaling a driver to stop.
  • Next, we stood at attention with our arms by our sides and shouted, "INDEPENDENT! On my own and by myself!"
  • When we called out "READING!", we put our hands side by side and palm up to represent an opened book.
  • Finally, we looked at our left arm and touched our pretend wristwatch and chanted, "TIME!"  
For the first couple of weeks of school, we would practice our chant at the beginning of SQUIRT time. Also, for homework students were required to perform our acronym for their parents before reading at home. Prior to SQUIRT officially starting in our classroom, my students and I brainstormed what SQUIRT should look like and came up with a set of guidelines to help us focus on our reading. Initially, I modeled those guidelines and then asked for volunteers to model. Then the entire class practiced and I observed. If I saw someone not focused, I stopped the reading and gathered the students to review the guidelines.  Eventually, the result was during SQUIRT, students grabbed their independent reading books and usually a pillow, staked a spot on the floor or remained in their seats, and silently read. 

Although this routine was a success, what I noticed over time was that some of my students were not making good reading choices. Some chose books that were too easy or too hard, and overall the literary quality and complexity of the books were wanting. I came to the realization that students needed guidance on book selection. As a result, I created the Pirate Independent Reading Challenge. 

First, I made lists of quality children's books in the following genres: realistic fiction, fantasy, and historical fiction.  Over the next few weeks, I introduced some of these books to the students. I gathered the students to our meeting area and presented a book or two each day. I shared with them the front cover, read the publisher's summary, and read a chapter usually from the middle of the book. Often there were students who were familiar with some of these books, and I would ask them to offer their opinions. I left the books out for students to examine on their own during free time or when they had finished daily assignments. By the time I was ready to begin our new policy for selecting independent reading books, the students were ready to make a selection and were excited to begin.

Fortunately, most of the books were available through our school library or were among the many books within our class library. Having provided parents with the lists, many took their children to the public library if the desired book wasn't available at school. Students read these books during SQUIRT and at home. I had already required students to read at home for at least 100 minutes within the school week. The number of reading minutes were recorded on their weekly assignment calendar which had to be signed by their parent and
turned in on Friday. With the newly introduced independent reading policy, students were provided with a reading log and recorded each day the following information: 1) date of reading 2) book title, 3) author, 4) number of pages in the book, 5) page number started on, 6) page number ended on. These logs were also turned in weekly. This allowed me to see how each student was progressing with the selected book of choice. If only a few pages were read daily, I would meet with the student to determine if the book was too difficult or just not enjoyable, and if so, we hunted for a new book. There were times that students found books they wanted to read that were not on the lists. If that was the case and I was not familiar with the book, they brought the book to me for approval. 

Once this routine of the reading log was solidly in place, I introduced the reading journal. Luckily I found a good deal on composition books with unique covers and purchased them for my students. I explained to them that it was important to practice reading skills and to show their comprehension of the books they read. Each week students were given two assignments to complete in their journals. One assignment which was a weekly requirement was to select a word from the reading that was unknown to the reader or a word that they had seen before but did not fully understand. They were required to write the sentence from the book in which the word was used and provide a definition. Also, students drew a picture to help them remember the meaning of the word.

The second assignment varied depending on the comprehension skill focus. For example, to show their understanding of the main character's traits, students made character trait maps using a graphic organizer. As seen in the above example, students were asked to determine the traits of the main character and provide proof from the book. Other skills such as identifying the setting and summarizing were also assigned.

I am happy to say that revising my independent reading program resulted in better book selections, reading skills improvement, and students' enjoyment of reading as a pastime! 

If interested in utilizing the Pirate Independent Reading Challenge for the next school year, you can download a FREEBIE from my TpT store that will help you with the implementation. Click the picture below for a direct link to this product.

    Thar be treasure in books, matey!


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