4 things I wish I had known about reading practice

By Lynn Esser, Former Educator & Administrator
 
I loved being a classroom teacher. As an avid reader myself, I loved opening my students’ eyes to the possibilities books offered. However, reflecting on my years in the classroom, I can’t help but think of the times that I could’ve been more effective as a teacher.

Maya Angelou’s quote comes to mind, “I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.”

Here are four things that I wish I had known about reading practice:

1. Facilitating reading practice vs. modeling reading practice

When I was teaching, DEAR (Drop Everything And Read) and SSR (Sustained Silent Reading) models were common practice. My middle school was no exception. This meant the entire school spent the first 30 minutes of every day reading—students, teachers, administrators, and other staff. The adults modeled how much fun reading was. (I have no doubt my students already knew how much I loved reading!)

What they really needed from me was to facilitate their reading practice. My students’ reading practice could’ve been more deliberate and beneficial if I would have moved around the room having conversations with them about what they were reading, checked their comprehension, encouraged them to try a new genre, pushed them to stick with a book, or debated with them about the author’s intent. I missed an opportunity to better understand their interests, struggles, and successes, and most importantly, to connect with my students on an individual level.

2. Practice at the right level

DEAR time in my classroom was totally open and unstructured. My students had lots of choice. They could read anything—books, magazines, comic books. They could lounge on the floor or cozy up to a window. Upon reflection, that’s one thing I did well. They could read things that piqued their interests.

What I could’ve done better is put some parameters around their choice. I know some of my students consistently flipped through books that were way too easy, while others regularly chose books that were far too difficult. But hey, they were reading, right?! That’s what I thought, but I know better now.

While this is okay sometimes, their time would’ve been better spent reading books in their “sweet spot”—challenging, but not enough to the point of frustration, and not easy enough to induce boredom or complacency. It seems obvious to me now, but of course students aren’t going to grow if they’re consistently reading texts that are too easy or hard. I should’ve guided them to appropriate texts without taking away their choice. In fact, they probably would’ve enjoyed reading more because they’d be reading at the right level and wouldn’t be frustrated or bored! Success is motivating!

3. Accountable reading practice

Sure, my students “read” 30 minutes every day, but I didn’t hold them accountable. I gave them free range. They could get up at any time and change books. They could read a new book each day. There were students like Jarvis who spent the bulk of his time searching for something to read. Books like the Guinness Book of World Records were popular and I have no doubt some were simply turning pages looking at the cool pictures. But hey, they were reading. That’s what important, right?

I should’ve held them accountable for their practice. By accountability, I don’t mean that every book needed a book report, a summary, or detailed notes. That would’ve taken away any joy they may have gotten from those 30 minutes. By accountability, I simply mean a way to monitor their reading. It could have been as basic as a reading log.

Using a reading log, along with checking in with students, would’ve helped me quickly identify those students who were having trouble finding something engaging. I could’ve talked with them about their interests and made some suggestions. Reading logs may have prompted me to push students to finish a book rather than switching day to day. They would’ve had practice tackling longer texts. They would’ve discovered the agony of having to put a book down just when it’s getting good or the anticipation and wonder of what will happen next. I’m sad to say that I probably robbed a few students of these experiences by not holding them accountable and encouraging them to push through longer books.

4. Reading is social

In spite of the changes I’d make now, and the opportunities I missed, I’m proud to say many students came to look forward to DEAR time. They discovered they had favorite authors, genres, or topics. They learned they had opinions and preferences when it came to reading. They learned they actually enjoyed, and for some, even loved reading.

I wish I would’ve capitalized on this. I should’ve encouraged more social interactions around what my students were reading, instead of shushing them anytime they dared to talk to a peer about what they were reading. I should’ve reserved time for book talks to empower my students and let them share the books and magazines that were sparking their curiosity. Instead of my students’ books neatly tucked away in baskets, I wish I would’ve displayed what they were reading more prominently. I wish I would’ve invited other teachers and administrators to talk about what they were reading. I wish I would’ve displayed pictures of each one of my students and the title of what they were currently reading. I wish I would have done more to make reading special for my students.

Share what you’ve learned

Let’s make learning social and learn from each other. As you reflect on your experiences with reading in your own classroom, what would you do differently?

Interested in additional insight about practice? Click the button below to head to our reading resource page.

Lynn Esser, Former Educator & Administrator

In addition to her tenure at Renaissance, Lynn worked in the Milwaukee Public School District as a middle school reading and social studies teacher for five years and then as a school administrator for four years.

Lynn Esser, Former Educator & Administrator
Lynn Esser, Former Educator & Administrator
In addition to her tenure at Renaissance, Lynn worked in the Milwaukee Public School District as a middle school reading and social studies teacher for five years and then as a school administrator for four years.

25 Comments

  1. Rita Platt says:

    Lynn, this is a GREAT post! I agree 100% with all four points and love how clearly and succinctly you put into words what so many of us know to be true.

    • Lynn Esser, Former Educator & Administrator Lynn Esser, Senior Product Marketing Manager, Accelerated Reader 360 says:

      Thank you, Rita, for the feedback. Glad you found it helpful!

  2. Charlene Cherota says:

    Thank you for the great post, it really puts a great perspective on the purpose of the program!

    • Lynn Esser, Former Educator & Administrator Lynn Esser, Senior Product Marketing Manager, Accelerated Reader 360 says:

      Thanks, Charlene! I’m glad you enjoyed it!

  3. Lauren Temm says:

    I wish I have more novels on their level to make better recommendations. During my free time, I want to read for me. But, it would help to know which books they might or might not like.

    • Lynn Esser, Former Educator & Administrator Lynn Esser, Senior Product Marketing Manager, Accelerated Reader 360 says:

      Hi, Lauren! Helping your students find books they enjoy is important, but often difficult. Learnalytics (www.learnalytics.com/wkar) is a great way to see what books are popular with students nationwide in grades K–12. AR BookFinder (www.arbookfind.com) is another awesome tool that can be used to find great books at the right level for your students. Within Accelerated Reader 360, students should see personalized book suggestions as well.

  4. Lloyd says:

    These are great points and why using the AR program is such an easy way to keep kids accountable and be a wonderful reflective tool for teachers to see if our instruction is actually sinking in. DEAR time has so many advantages, as with many other practices, but if not implemented properly it just isn’t effective or efficient.

    • Lynn Esser, Former Educator & Administrator Lynn Esser, Senior Product Marketing Manager, Accelerated Reader 360 says:

      Great point, Lloyd! It’s always important to make sure a program is implemented properly.

  5. Kada says:

    This is awesome information. I too agree on all points presented. I use AR and another program that my district use to hold children accountable for what they read and I can tell you that since I started I have seen much better testing results.

    • Lynn Esser, Former Educator & Administrator Lynn Esser, Senior Product Marketing Manager, Accelerated Reader 360 says:

      Thank you, Kada! I’m happy to hear that you’re promoting accountable reading practice and seeing positive results!

  6. Sarah Swanzy says:

    Thanks for your post! I have also found that having students talking about what they are reading with their peers helps make reading contagious in my classroom. I love when my students come to give me book recommendations! AR has been such a powerful tool with all of the readers in my classroom!

    • Lynn Esser, Former Educator & Administrator Lynn Esser, Senior Product Marketing Manager, Accelerated Reader 360 says:

      Thank you, Sarah! I totally agree, when students discuss what they’re reading with others, they really encourage each other to read. I know if one of my friends tells me about a book they’re reading and how good it is, I’m almost always going to pick it up as well!

  7. Keita says:

    This is awesome information. I too agree on all points presented. I use AR and another program that my district use to hold children accountable for what they read and I can tell you that since I started I have seen much better testing results.

    • Lynn Esser, Former Educator & Administrator Lynn Esser, Senior Product Marketing Manager, Accelerated Reader 360 says:

      Keita, thank you for reading! It’s great to hear that you’re seeing improvement in your students’ testing results!

  8. JoAnn Mayfield says:

    I really liked the reference of a child’s “sweet spot” for a just-right book. It’s a new way to say the same thing, but I think kids can relate to this

  9. Christina says:

    Great read! I use AR for accountability. We also use our star results for goal setting within our personal data notebooks.

    • Lynn Esser, Former Educator & Administrator Lynn Esser, Senior Product Marketing Manager, Accelerated Reader 360 says:

      Thank you, Christina! I’m happy to hear that you’re using Renaissance solutions to assist with reading accountability and goal setting in your classroom!

  10. Micah says:

    Lynn, The first two points are especially important to AR implementation at my elementary school. Emerging readers need guidance and facilitation to develop comprehension skills. Also, as the librarian, I act as a gatekeeper for students to choose appropriately leveled material in multiple genres. This has been key to our school’s reading improvement in the last few years.

    • Lynn Esser, Former Educator & Administrator Lynn Esser, Senior Product Marketing Manager, Accelerated Reader 360 says:

      Thank you for your comments, Micah! I agree, emerging readers need guidance and reading materials at the right level. Nice to hear that you’re seeing reading improvement in your school!

  11. Ann says:

    I totally love AR, it is my passion. Teaching 2nd I truly believe that being a model for my students is the key to success. While my students read, I will also grab a book and read, this helps create a reading environment ( with classical music in the background). I love to also read a book and brag about it and, next thing you know the whole class is reading it as well. Lastly, creating weekly goals and talking about them really help my students focus and truly engage themselves in reading. Even though I do send reading logs home, my kids are reading ALL the time, even in the lunchroom.

    • Lynn Esser, Former Educator & Administrator Lynn Esser, Senior Product Marketing Manager, Accelerated Reader 360 says:

      Ann, thank you so much for taking the time to read my post! It sounds like you’ve created an awesome reading environment for your students and I’m so pleased that you’ve chosen Renaissance solutions to help you along the way.

  12. Stacey Painter says:

    I set the initial goal for the six weeks, but when the students reach that goal, I set another. The students love to make me go in and change their goals. They think it is fun to reach their goals many times during the six weeks.

    • Lynn Esser, Former Educator & Administrator Lynn Esser, Senior Product Marketing Manager, Accelerated Reader 360 says:

      Thank you for sharing, Stacey! That’s awesome to hear!

  13. I allow the students to help create their goals and to pick buddies to help them reach the goal set.