Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Independent Reading Inside the Box

I am currently working in two buildings with duel curriculums. Half the day is spent in Judaic studies and the other half in secular studies. While this is a great opportunity for students to learn a foreign language, deepen their understanding of their cultural background and encourage the religious devotion that the parents have elected as a focus of education, it means that the time that we ordinarily say is too short to get everything done has been slashed. Independent Reading Inside the Box by Lisa Donohue makes me think of independent options for developing reading skills. Instead of focusing on the challenge of finding teaching time in school, use the 8-box format and independent reading to use time at home for productive reading.

This book details a method for encouraging students to develop reading skills while working independently. The most important factor in becoming a skilled reader is reading. Pearson completed a study that indicated people aged 15-24 spend an entire 7 minutes a day doing independent reading (http://www.infoplease.com/entertainment/books/hours-minutes-watching-tv-reading.html). Since we know that this is inadequate to develop proficient readers, we need to find time for independent reading. Self-selected books of individual interest and ability level are an important component of this idea. Traditionally, if we require independent reading we have checklists of some type or other for parents to mark off minutes read or require a book report. Unfortunately, most book reports are drivel that do not enhance the act of reading.

Ms. Donohue's book presents an option. Her eight box method includes activities of: my reading, text elements, word skills, taxonomy of thinking and comprehension strategies. Providing self-selected books enables students to read deeply about personal interests at their comfort level which equals motivation. Providing a range of activities maintains interest. Providing short activities maintains the focus of reading. Providing different skills enables development of skills taught. Mixing writing complete sentences, using phrases to effectively describe things and illustrations allows for development of thinking through writing as well as appealing to the multiple learning styles of our children. Since the eight activities are selected by the teacher, targeted skills are used. The plethora of choices and rubrics to evaluate the work make the program manageable.

My initial concerns include the fact that the space for writing is small. Children with large or sloppy handwriting will have difficulty, but enlarging the templates would be easy enough. A second concern is the reliance on 11x17 paper. While this puts all the answers on one page, it is not necessarily an easy option for all schools. Doing a double-sided or two separate pages plan might be more manageable, especially for students who might be inclined to lose the sheet.

The approach used to develop skills and monitor and encourage independent reading would be useful up through middle school. Once students hit high school more depth is required. Modifying some of the activities would, perhaps, enable students to continue to learn from the approach. Using the 8-box method for independent reading assignments and then selecting whole class assignments to develop those CCSS skills with more challenging, non-self-selected materials would provide a balance that I rarely see in classrooms. On one hand, challenging assignments that develop stamina and ability to approach complex material above reading level, and, on the other hand, independent reading at the student's reading level to develop an appreciation of and motivation for reading, fluency, and vocabulary skills, as well as the opportunity to work on underdeveloped decoding skills. While the CCSS provides an opportunity to move students to higher levels of reading performance, without presenting a balance, more students will be turned off reading, less reading of "interesting" reading will mean less vocabulary exposure and consequent learning and reading levels will not advance as anticipated.

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