This post was written by NCTE member Christina Nosek.
Winter break is just around the corner in many of our schools nationwide. It is a time when students and teachers alike can hopefully relax a bit and focus on the valued aspects of life away from school, whether they crave much-needed family time or a bit of overdue reflective solitude. Just before winter break each year, my students and I reflect on our reading habits developed over the course of the past few months and then make plans for future reading both inside and outside of school.
Over the years, I’ve learned quite a bit about what motivates students to begin and continue reading when they are away from the classroom. I’ve also learned quite a bit about what hinders their reading during non-school hours.
Required book lists, time requirements, and reading logs have actually damaged students’ reading habits outside of school. However, many teachers still turn to these methods for various reasons. The most common reason I hear is that they just aren’t sure what else to do instead. Good news! There are many things teachers can do to positively support reading habits outside of the classroom.
Here are three small instructional shifts that have made a positive change in my teaching practice and my students’ reading habits over the years.
1. Instead of creating a list of books for students to read away from school, try supporting students in choosing their own reading material for their time away from school.
Students have known for quite some time now that when they choose their own reading material, they are more engaged in reading. Ample research has found this to be true as well (Allington & Gabriel, 2012; Guthrie & Humenick, 2004; Hidi & Harackiewicz, 2000). When students are more engaged in reading, they are likely to spend more time reading away from school.
One way to support this in the classroom is by creating daily time for free-choice reading. Additionally, introducing students to different forms of reading material such as audiobooks, online articles, and even newspapers shows students that their choices are not limited to print books. This also opens up a world of new reading and accessibility for many.
By introducing and sharing different formats for reading inside the classroom, students will see that the choices and options for reading outside of the classroom have the potential to be unlimited. My fifth graders absolutely love the monthly kids’ edition of the New York Times, online articles based on their individual interests, and audiobooks.
2. Instead of giving students and families a reading time requirement, try inviting students and families to consider times of the day when reading might fit into their already full lives outside of school.
Very few readers in life outside of school set a timer for a number of minutes, sit down, and read without interruptions or distractions for the determined time frame. It’s just not realistic for many families. Instead, my students and I think about our lives outside of school. We consider family commitments, extracurricular activities, commutes, and other events and situations. Then we determine where reading will fit in. It often fits into 10-, 15-, or 20-minute chunks after and before school hours. When we recently went through this discussion in the classroom, my students’ offered the following thoughts about when and they typically read outside of school:
- I try to read a chapter in my book on the bus home. It makes the ride go faster.
- I like to listen to an audiobook when I’m doing my chores. Vacuuming is more fun that way!
- When I’m waiting for my little brother to finish his swimming lessons, I read a book or comic book.
- My cousin and I found a Lego blog that’s so good! There’s a new post a few times a week. We always read it together.
- Before bed used to be the only time I read at home, but now I also read for a few minutes when I’m eating my breakfast before school.
3. Instead of requiring students and families to complete a reading log, try creating a time and space in class for daily discussions about books and reading outside of school.
Celebrate the reading that was done and come together as a community to support students who may need a bit of advice or encouragement to build a reading habit away from the classroom. Students and families have known for a long time now that reading logs do not support their habits as readers or their love of reading. Research also backs this up (Pak & Wesley, 2012).
One way to create the space and time in the classroom is to invite students to casually chat with friends about their away from school reading first thing in the morning. Casual student conversation around books and reading have done wonders in building reading excitement in my students! After the casual conversations, invite a few students to share with the entire group. My class typically does this during our morning meeting. All it takes is a few minutes each day.
These three small shifts can make a big and lasting difference in the lives of your readers both inside and outside of the classroom. If you try one out, consider sharing your small shifts with the NCTE community on Twitter using the hashtags #NCTEVillage or #NCTEChat.
Christina Nosek is a San Francisco Bay Area teacher, author, and NCTE Community Ambassador. Her work outside of her own teaching day centers around supporting her fellow teachers and their students in co-creating thriving reading and writing communities in their classrooms and schools. She’s worked as a primary grade teacher, K–5 reading specialist, literacy coach, and staff developer, and currently spends her days with a great group of fifth graders. You can find her on Twitter at @ChristinaNosek.
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