Independent Reading: Celebrating Small Successes

I started writing this post after reading Embracing Silliness in Skills Practice. I love her approach to writing practice. It reminded me of the approach I am taking with independent reading, after 18 months of “remote learning.” It is now October and my small class of struggling readers is finally starting to find some success in reading. The first few weeks of school were rough. They didn’t believe me when I told them I was determined to help them find a book that might turn them into a reader. They didn’t want to read during independent reading time. They talked instead. I respectfully asked that they were quiet during this time. They asked to go to the bathroom. I said they would have to wait until after reading time was done and they completed their log entry for the day. They put their head down and I came over and asked them to read to me instead. They dropped books on a daily basis (“I don’t like this one.” “It is boring.”) so I gave them a new one. I didn’t give up on them and slowly I started to see progress. I am by no means a miracle worker when it comes to books, but here are a few tips for those whose students are struggling like mine.

TIP #1 – We started independent reading with small increments of time. Take time to build up their stamina. The first week we read 5 minutes (well, let’s be real. They probably read about 1-2 minutes the first day and by Friday they got up to 4-5 minutes.). The second week we read 6 minutes. The third week – 7 minutes and so on. We are finally reading 10 minutes this week and they aren’t complaining. Some are even reading past the 10 minutes and don’t want to put their books down! Each week we celebrate the improvements they are making in their reading stamina and all the books they are finishing. Such a small, yet extremely exciting success!

TIP #2 – Each day I read with 1-2 students. They talk to me a little about their book and then read a small chunk. I love listening to their fluency improve as they gain confidence in the books they have chosen. In the past I had a list of questions that I referred to when conferencing and this year I have kept things simple. I ask them to tell me about what is happening in that part of the story and what has kept them reading it and not putting it down. I have learned about their interests and what keeps them engaged in the books that they keep reading. Some need action. Some need white space and graphics. Some need drama and romance. Some are into anime. Some just need the time and a quiet space to read. Students talking to me about books = success!

TIP #3 – I allow students to drop books and start something new. TIP #4 – Find authors that will engage your students right from the start. In the beginning it felt like everyday they were dropping books and then something clicked. Each day I put three or four books in front of them and booktalked even more. If they request a book that we don’t have in our class library, we check the school library. If it isn’t there, I check our public library or just buy it. They were surprised in the beginning that it didn’t bother me that they put a book down. I reminded them that there are too many books available to them that they shouldn’t waste time on something that they aren’t interested in. Plus, who knows… they may pick that book up again in a year or two and really enjoy it. So far this year I have had several students read YUMMY, Long Way Down, Crossover, Perfect Chemistry, and Chained Reaction. These are the gateway books that suck my students in. They may have a lot of white space or pictures (think of all the infering they have to do), and may not be long, but we celebrate each and every book they finish. In the end, whether they drop a book or finish one, they are figuring out what they like and don’t like and that is a success to me!

TIP #5 – We find different ways for our students to respond to what they are reading each day. Because I teach a reading class, I do ask my students to respond (1-2 sentences) on a log each day and my instructional assistant and I walk around and have our students read their responses aloud to us. We have asked students to make connections, to summarize, to evaluate their character’s actions, to apply the vocabulary we are teaching in word study to what is happening in their books. It doesn’t take long, but it gives us a glimpse of what they understand about their books and if they are truly engaged in the book or not. In the beginning it was pulling teeth to get them to write anything about their books and over time, this has become routine. They look forward to our questions and are adding more details in their responses. Simple routines practiced over and over = success!

As a realist I know that most of my students did not read much the last 18 months while we were in school remotely. In order to build back that love of books and stamina for reading longer periods of time, I am keeping independent reading simple and with that we are celebrating our successes one day at a time.

What are some strategies you have found to engage your students and build their stamina with indepedent reading?

When Melissa Sethna isn’t teaching her one Strategic Reading class, she can be found around her school either planning professional development, working 1-1 or in PLCs with teachers, or visiting classrooms as an instructional coach. During her free time she loves to read YA novels and binge watch Ted Lasso. She is grateful to be part of this learning community and is honored to share her experiences with others. While she has a Twitter account, @msethna23, and sometimes retweets posts, she is trying to limit her social media presence this year in an attempt to keep her sanity. She does post all books she reads on her Goodreads page.


2 thoughts on “Independent Reading: Celebrating Small Successes

  1. Ashley Pociask October 6, 2021 at 8:25 am Reply

    I also teach struggling readers. We start out by reading a short book (a really old one from Read 180) together. for the first couple of days, I model all the thinking and they copy what I write, then we gradually release it until they are doing it on their own. However, you daily prompts intrigue me. Would you me willing to share any more than the 3 that were posted? Or how you go about finding/thinking up more


    • msethnalovesbooks October 6, 2021 at 8:41 am Reply

      I can share the response sheet that I pull some of them from with you. I also make them up (or steal them from my colleague) depending on the word of the day being taught prior to independent reading. Email me and I can explain more.


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