Read aloud! (due April 19th)

Revisitng Read Aloud:  Instructional Strategies that Encourage Students’ Engagement with Texts

By:  Vanessa Morrison and Lisa Wlodarczyk

Morrison and Wlodarczyk explore the benefits of engaging students in text to increase motivation to read, increase content knowledge by applying various literacy strategies and using social collaboration before, during and after a literacy event.  During their study, they looked at the benefits of read aloud and gave reasons why students should be engaged to read and incorporate three literacy strategies into their first grade classroom.

In 1978, Rosenblatt began to change the perception that reading comprehension comes only from reading the text itself and that reading is more of a transactional process.  Reading is multifaceted.  In order for a student to be a successful reader, they must be taught various literacy skills and how to apply these skills effectively.  Some of these skills are prior knowledge, making connections, question answering, question generating, and be able to interpret text through various perspectives.  Another important part of the transactional process is reader’s being motivated to read.   One way to motivate reader is through social interactions to allow students to share, discuss and learn from each other through peer collaboration.

Reading aloud allows students to practice literacy skills.  It also increases student’s vocabulary development by exposing students to stories they are not able to read independently, but are able to comprehend when read aloud.  Listening to good readers helps encourage and motivate readers to want to read more.  Reading aloud to students will also help improve their listening, speaking and overall language skills.

In their study, they read aloud to students to allow them to build comprehension skills and used the following literacy activities:  alphaboxes, making connections, including text to self, text to text and text to world, and discussion webs.  These literacy activities were done at various times and with appropriate text in the lessons, but all techniques used the transactional process that incorporates peer collaboration to enhance reading comprehension of the teacher’s read aloud of a selected text.

The use of the alphaboxes encourage students to take information that was read aloud and collaborate with other students to come up with student initiated questions, grasp important concepts, make connections to text and help identify and discuss unknown words and analyze text from various points of view.  The use of alphaboxes has to be modeled by the teacher before it can be done independently.  This technique can also be modified to meet the needs of varied levels of diverse students.

Good readers are more automatic in being able to make connections to what they are reading.  This ability to make connections is based on a reader’s schema, which is prior knowledge for a reader.  The larger schema a reader has about a topic, the easier time the reader will have reading or listening to stories on the topic.  When students can make connections to readings, this also helps facilitate discussion and interactions with each other about a common topic.  Any time readers can make connections to what they are reading or listening to being read, their comprehension skills improve also.  Students can make connections through text-to-self, text-to-text and then text-to-world.  The first connection skill taught should be text-to-self, which should be the easiest for students because they are making a personal connection, which seems to be easiest for students to do.  All connection strategies have to be modeled and practiced first in order to students to understand how and when to use these literacy skills.  I know I have a student who pipes up almost every time we read and say, “I have a connection to this story.”  And she always does.  She does very well with all three types of connections.

Discussion webs are conducive to students being able to learn by engaging and participating in social activities such as sharing ideas, problem solve and discuss information either through small groups or whole group discussions.  Discussion webs begin with open ended questions to be explored and discussed by the students.  Discussion webs encourage productive communication with groups that may or may not agree with a certain point of view.  This strategy must also first be modeled by the teacher.  It can also be modified for diverse learners and across the curriculum.

In order to be able to comprehend material that is either read aloud or read independently, readers have to be taught effective literacy skills as early readers.  Through this article, three such literacy skills were explored and explained how they can be implemented successful to increase reading comprehension through read alouds in a first grade classroom

Introducing Science Concepts to Primary Students through Read-Alouds:  Interactions and Multiple Texts make the Difference by:  Natalie Heisey, Linda Kucan

In their study, Heisey and Kuan they explored the importance of using read aloud with non- fiction text as well as using multiple text to explain the same concept to help increase students reading comprehension skills.  Research is showing that read aloud of informational text can help students understand and learn difficult content and vocabulary as well as explain text features most commonly found in informational text, such as table of contents, bold and italic print, glossary and indexes.  The National Science Education Standards reiterate the need for students in the earlier grades to begin develop a foundation and understanding of scientific ideas in order to have something to build on in later grades.

Their main focus of the study was to determine if comprehension is affected by teaching questioning during reading compared to teacher-questioning after reading. The two groups tested were first and second grade students and the following books were read aloud to the groups: Snowflake Bentley, Rare Treasure: Mary Anning and her Remarkable Discoveries and the Boy who Drew Birds: A Story of John James Audubon.   The focus of the questioning was to help the students understand what a scientist does.  One group was questioned by the teacher during reading; the other group was questioned after reading.

The results of the study show that when students were questioned during reading and allowed to discuss material as it was read, they were able to recall information and answer post test questions with more details than when compared to the after-reading group.  One important aspect of this study is that the group who were able to interact and communicate as a group about what they were listening to during the read aloud seemed to have better comprehension of and understanding of reading.  The during reading students were also able to make text-to-text connections with the books read because they were being cued numerous times to think about important information as it was presented and discussed instead of having to wait until the end of the story when some information may have already been forgotten.

Both of these articles stress the importance of read aloud to students, especially during primary grades in order to help build literacy foundations that they can build on in later grades when students begin to reading to learn instead of learning to read.  Another important factor that these articles point out is not only the importance of being able to read and comprehend information, but the ability to communicate and socialize in order to learn from each other.  Social learning in both of these studies seems to be vital to increase comprehension in various genres.  Teacher modeling through read aloud is important not only to allow students to understand what a good reader does, it also allows interaction with the teacher, allowing the teacher to informally assess student’s prior knowledge and skills acquired, what they need to work on, as well as how to discuss and agree/disagree with others around them.

I thought about how to apply these strategies to my teaching.  Even though I do not often have the opportunity to always read aloud to my students, I do occasionally make the time, especially with my kinders.   I usually read at least one book a week to them to work on rhyming words.  Even though I only read once a week,  I am always impressed how just this once a week strategy helps them pick up on this skill (along with regular classroom work also).   I read I Broke my Trunk aloud to my kinders.  I questioned them about the title, questioned them during the reading about things such as how could Gerald have broken his trunk, making predictions, and studying the pictures to look for clues as to how Gerald felt as he was holding up his friends on his trunk.  They enjoyed it of course, especially the part where Piggie screams at Gerald to find out what happened to his trunk.  They all just giggled and thought that was hilarious.  One thing that I quickly realized about my students is how they could easily be looked over in a classroom with 20-22 students.  They needed more response time and had much less of a schema as to how Gerald may have broken his nose.  They needed much more prompting in order to answer questions and catch on to my pattern of questioning.  I also read the story to my first graders using similar questions.  They too, enjoyed it and their favorite part was when Piggie screamed at Gerald about his trunk.    Their response as far as needing extra think time and ponder was similar to my kinders.  I observed that my questions helped both groups think more about what the story was explaining and especially the comprehension the illustrations were adding to the story.   I even read this story to my 2 year nephew who was visiting from Charleston.  He was able to quickly figure out that his trunk was “broken”.  He seemed to enjoy the story also, and quickly wanted to turn the pages so I could keep reading.  He has always been read to and I could tell because he easily sits through three or more books at a time.  Often I ran out of air before he lost interest in books.

The Graveyard Book

By: Neil Gaiman

            “… because it’s only in the graveyard that we can keep you safe. This is where you live and this is where those who love you can be found.  Outside would not be safe for you. Not yet.”

-Silas from The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

This novel was written over a 25 year time span by Neil Gaiman, who ironically thought he had an idea that was better than he was a writer.  It is a story about Nobody “Bod” Owens; a young boy who ends up being raised by ghosts and lives in a graveyard after his family is killed one night by an evil man named Jack.  (I thought about the saying Jack of all trades, master of none). It tells his story of how he grew up in the graveyard and the struggles he went through as a young boy.  Some of the struggles Bod experienced were the same but different than what a normal human child may have dealt with, such as rebelling against having to complete school work that he does not see the benefit in learning, making friends and trying to find out how he fits into the world. One challenge that Bod confronted was the evil man who killed his parents.  The man named Jack turns up in usual places and at unexpected times throughout the story.  Bod must defeat Jack in order to have revenge for his family as well as closure and safety for himself.

At the beginning of the story, the young toddler, Bod managed to escape that deadly night when the rest of his family was viscously killed by silently slipping through the thick fog that enveloped around him as a protective barrier and lead him to the graveyard.  When Bod made it to the graveyard, he was quickly adopted by the Owens, a ghost couple who had no children while they were alive hundreds of years ago.  The reader is also introduced to Silas, a mysterious member of the graveyard family who agrees to be Bod’s guardian since Silas is the only member of the graveyard that is neither alive nor dead so he is able to leave the graveyard to get Bod the necessary items he needs as a living human who has been given Freedom of the Graveyard.  Silas proves to be Bod’s lifesaver throughout the story and seems to show up just in the nick of time, such as the time Bod is rescued by Silas and Miss Lupescue, the hound of God, from the ghoul folk after Bod tries to rebel from Miss Lupescue’s demands of his learning what Bod thinks is pointless material.

Eventually Bod has to venture out into the real world. His first experience with the outside world is when attempts to get a headstone for the young witch who is buried without one.  He tries to sell the valuable snake stone that he took from the sleers to Mr. Abanzer Bolger, a business man who runs somewhat of a pawn shop whose “business was an iceberg” which I interpreted to be a shady place where more deals are done under the table than what is visible from the top, because 90% of an iceberg is below the water.  Mr. Abanzer senses he may be on to something delightfully evil and contacts but who else than the man named Jack.  Silas again comes to Bod’s rescue.  Later on, Bod tries to remain invisible and unrecognizable in the world of the living when he tries to go to school for a limited time.  Eventually, Bod must come face to face with the man named Jack who killed the rest of his family. With the help of the knowledge gained in his years of growing up in the graveyard and the sleer, he defeats Jack.

At the end of story Bod decides to move on and move out of the graveyard after a conversation with Liza who says “Truly, life is wasted on the living, Nobody Owens.  For one of us is too foolish to live, and it is not I.” Bod decides that it is time to move on and begins to quickly loose his powers that he had used in the graveyard throughout his life.  After a touching scene between Silas and Bod, where Silas gives Bod his blessings and sends him out on his own with some money, a passport and a trunk, Bod walks into his life “with his eyes and his heart wide open.”

When I listened to the Gaiman read one of the chapters, I think I was surprised to hear his British accent.  I did not do any research on the book before I read it.  I did look at the pictures of the graveyard where the story was supposed to take place.  I think it is funny how the voices in my head, did not match Gaiman’s voice at all when I was reading the book at first, but if I go back and re-read parts, I can hear Gaiman’s voice instead of mine.  I should have caught on that it was an English graveyard, but I think sometimes I am so narrowed minded, I forget there are places other than America that this story could have taken place.

I enjoyed listening to him reading and I think he did a good job reading his own story.  I listened to the question and answer sessions that he had at the end of reading each chapter.  I thought it was very interesting that he said he did not decide what audience he was writing for.  He wrote and let the publishers decide what audience it was written for.  He also commented that in England, the Graveyard Book was marketed towards adult audiences while in America it was marketed toward adolescent readers.  What does this say about American youth and their appetite and/or tolerance of murder and dark stories?

I will have to honestly say that this would not have been the first choice of reading for me.  I thought it was going to be a very dark gloomy story.  I used to really like to read Stephen King and Dean Kootz when I was a teen ager, but I no longer like to be scared and read about death and destruction.  I thought the beginning of this story was very gruesome and disturbing to me, and too much like what I see on the evening news.  I am not sure that I would want to use this story in a classroom.  This story would definitely be too difficult for my students.

But as far as an interesting read, this story certainly is that.  While the story line is dark, there are also good traits that are portrayed in the characters.  The Owens are the willing adopted parental caretakers to the orphaned Bod and loves him regardless of his differences and try their best provide for him.  The mysterious Silas is willing to rescue Bod on several occasions and always seems to be everywhere when Bod needs him to get him out of trouble.  It seems that Bod is redemption for Silas for the evils he committed in the past.  The various characters throughout the graveyard accept Bod throughout his life in the graveyard and become fond of him despite his being of the living world.  Bod’s life is a lonely one with only having two true friends, Scarlett, a real girl Bod’s age and Liza, a young witch buried in the graveyard hundreds of years ago.  As Bod grows up, so does Scarlett, while the other inhabitants of the graveyard stay the same age.  The story moves along throughout Bod’s life beginning with him as an infant and continues until he is a teenager getting ready to become a young man and venture out on his own outside of the protectiveness of the graveyard that he has only known his whole life.  Another interesting aspect of the story is that the story also takes place in the present day because it talks about Scarlett wanting a cell phone of her own after her adventures with Mr. Frost and her experience with the bus route.  I had the impression that since the inhabitants where so old, this story also took place long ago.

“Because somewhere out there is someone who needs that story.  Someone who will grow up with a different landscape, who without that story will be a different person.  And who with that story may have hope, or wisdom, or kindness or comfort.  And that is why we write.”

Quote from Neil Gaiman’s 2009 Newbery medal acceptance speech

            When I read Gaiman’s acceptance speech, I decided that he is not only an accomplished writer, but an entertaining speaker.  I thought the speech was very honest when he said he did not write to make people feel better, to help ease their misery, or spark interest in non readers, but he wrote because they were stories he was interested in and he wrote to feed his family. He discussed how he felt almost unworthy of accepting their award because of this fact.  I got the impression that before his award he did not fully realize the impact a story, especially a fictional story could have on his readers.  He began to reflect about his literacy history, and how his hours in the library reading had helped make him the person and writer that he has become today.  By accepting this award, he began to realize writers and stories do have an impact on the people who read them.


The bookdrum website would be a great way to introduce a book if had been reviewed by the website.  It would be a good resource to preview vocabulary with students.  There are many adult titles on this website.  Bookdrum would also be a good website to preview books that I may be interested in reading.  The only thing is that if you read too much information about the book it kind of ruins the point of reading it.  It is a nice companion website to help with comprehension and clarification of the story.  I also explored other books such as Brave New World, which I read several years ago and of course The Graveyard Book.  The way it breaks up the book like summary, map, glossary, review, helps develop a better picture of what the book is about.

Neil Gaiman’s mouse circus website is a site devoted to his books, especially The Graveyard Book .  The highlight of the website is Gaiman reading the entire book, which provides a new insight to the story.  It would also allow readers to enjoy the book who read below grade level or just to experience the story through a different media.  In the case of Gaiman reading it, I felt that it added to the reading experience.

The scholastic book wizard website is one that I plan to use and share with other teachers at my school.  I did not realize such a helpful site existed.  This is a good resource for me to use especially when I would like my groups to read books on similar topics, but I struggle to find books on each student’s level.  I found the following books that seem to be similar to The Graveyard Book.

Ivy and Bean and the Ghost that had to Go

By:  Annie Barrows/ Illustrated by: Sophie Blackall

Murder at Midnight

By: Avi

City of the Dead. The Haunting of Derek Stone Book #1 (Grade level equivalent 3.2/Interest level 3rd-5th)

By:  Tony Abbott

Bayou Dogs. The Haunting of Derek Stone- Book #2 (Grade level equivalent 3.1/ interest level 3rd grade)

By: Tony Abbott

The Ghost on the Stairs  (Grade level equivalent 3.2/Interest level 3rd grade)

By: Chris Eboch

Evil Star (Gatekeepers Book 2) (Grade equivalent 3.7/ interest level 6th grade)

By:  Anthony  Horowitz

Nightrise- (Gatekeepers Book #3) (Grade equivalent 3.8/ interest level 6th grade)

By:  Anthony Horowitz


Response to Wonderstruck by Brain Selznick due March 29, 2012


Connections to other texts:    The book was reminiscent of Ivan in that it took some real events and created a fictional story for it.  At first glance this book gives the false impression that the reader would not have to engage in deep reading because it contains so many illustrations.  Wonderstruck requires the reader to think deeply about the connections of the characters to the museum, each other and how it all intertwines.

The connection that I have with this book is my love of museums and history.  I really enjoy being able to go and visit and see things that I may never experience otherwise.  I am often in awe that some of those things exist after decades or even hundreds of years. One spring my sister and I went to Washington D.C. and visited the Smithsonian Institute.  I thought of this visit when I read Wonderstruck.

Reflections/experience:  The illustrations in this book are beyond awesome.  As I look back and re-read portions and especially go back and study the illustrations again, they make more sense and “tell” more information than during my first read.  One really interesting picture were the illustrations of Walter driving Rose home and the marquees read messages of hope like “Safe at Last”, “The Road to Tomorrow”, “Rescue Brand dental cream”, and “Brothers Tonic”.

When my family saw the huge book and how quickly I was able to read it they were really impressed at first and then I let them see how much of the book was illustrations and not all text.  My daughter picked up the book and her first reaction was, “Man, I thought this book must be by the same author that wrote Hugo Cabret.  I really loved that story.”  I have never read that story but I may consider it after I have read Wonderstruck.

The most obvious difference between this book and other traditional novels is that it tells two different stories through both illustrations and text until they intertwine into one story.  Rose’s story is told through the illustrations and Ben’s story through words.  I can usually figure out a book or movie after a little bit into it because often books and movies have similar plots, just different characters, but Wonderstruck surprised me.  My first reaction to the book on the first night of class was that it would take me at least a week to read it.  It actually took me about 2 hours, although I have gone back and re-read and studied the illustrations more.  The way the pictures told the story also kept me reading on.  When I first started reading, I wondered what in the world did these two seemingly totally un-related characters have in common, especially since there was such a time span of fifty years between them.  I also wondered if somehow the two children stories would overlap because at times the pictures seemed to almost pick up where Ben’s story leaves off.

The book starts with the illustrations of wolves chasing something. The illustrations demonstrate how the wolves are getting closer and closer.  Then the story turns to Gunflint, Minnesota, where Ben is once again dreaming that the wolves are chasing him.  Since Rose’s story is told through illustrations, is Rose looking at the diorama at the museum or is that just Ben’s reoccurring wolf dream?  The book begins by telling the story of Ben, a boy who is deaf in one ear and who has recently become an orphan because of his mother’s car accident and the fact that he had never known his father.  He is searching to feel like he belongs and fits in somewhere. He has had to move in with his aunt and uncle’s house, which is a house eighty three steps away from the house he lived in with his mother, and share a room with a crude, unsympathetic cousin.  His only comfort comes from a wooden box full of things he has collected over the years and finds solace and comfort in his familiarity and memories of his collection.

One night before a huge storm, he decides to visit his mother’s house when he sees the light on in a bedroom window.  He walks in on his cousin dressed in his mother’s clothes, smoking.  Startled, she apologizes to Ben and leaves him to explore his mother’s things she has left behind.  During his exploring, he finds the book Wonderstruck, which is a book about the history of museums.  Inside the book he finds the inscription, for Danny, Love M.  This sparks Ben’s curiosity and begins his quest to find out not only who Danny and M are, but to find out if Danny was his father.  Ben begins to read Wonderstruck by flashlight in his mother’s bed because the storm knocked out the power.  It was during him reading that Ben finds a bookmark with the name, Kincaid’s bookstore with a phone number on it.  Ben decides to try to call this number because he thinks it may be his father, but when he uses the phone, lightening runs in on it and deafens his other ear.  Ben was put in the hospital and when he got out he decided to run away.

Through Rose’s pictures we see something similar happening to her.  She is in pursuit of finding her mother who is a famous actress who wants nothing to do with her.  Rose is being forced to learn to read lips by her tutor, but she has no interest in this activity.  One day she receives a post card from her brother in New York City and decides to run away to his house after her mother cruelly rejects her when Rose came to visit her while she was rehearsing.  The reader would like to think that Rose’s mother is truly concerned that something bad will happen to Rose in New York because she cannot hear, but I felt that her mother is heartless and just did not want Rose.

Both Ben and Rose end up at the American Museum of Natural History and find someone who cares enough to help them.  Rose finds her brother Walter and fifty years later Ben finds his friend Jamie.  Eventually, Ben finds the bookstore named Kincaid with the help of his friend, Jamie.  It is here when Ben and Rose’s path become one again.  Rose takes Ben to the museum where they both find the answers and family they have been searching for for so long.

The mood of the book was not dark and sinister, but longing to fit in and lonely.  I just wanted to reach out and hug Ben and make him feel better.  I also wondered about Ben’s aunt and uncle.  Where they worried or relieved that he was missing?  It did not seem like anyone was trying very hard to find him, but then again, Selznick did not really write from the aunt and uncle’s point of view.  Another thing I wanted to ask was how could Rose’s mother be so mean to her?  What was so scandalous about her life that was mentioned in the newspaper clippings?  Did she do something to Rose to make her become deaf?

Educational connections:   There could be several classroom connections for this book.  First of all there is the broad topic of museums, what are they, who builds them, and why?  Are they important?  Do we all have cabinets of wonder?  The class could either take a physical field trip to a museum or there are plenty of virtual museums to discover, even though they are not quite as awesome as walking under a huge dinosaur skeleton.

Another topic that would fit in nicely with the 3rd grade SCOS for science, (at least for this year) would be Goal 3: The learner will make observations and use appropriate technology to build an understanding of the earth/moon/sun system. The class could investigate the stars that Ben was so interested in as well as meteorites that Ben talks about that created Gunflint.  Other scientific connections could also be investigating the science of electricity and lightening.  Could what happen to Ben really happen in real life?

There is also the issue of deafness that could be discussed and explored.   What is it?  What causes it?  How do people who are unable to hear talk and communicate? How dangerous was Ben’s trip into a city he had never been to and knew no one there?

Other connections could be with students who have lost a parent, either though death or divorce.

I think this story is better suited for upper grades. The only grade I would use this book for would be 3rd grade and older.   I feel like my 3rd grade students first reaction would be intimidation by the size of the book.   Even though I do not have e-readers in my classroom, this book may be a good one to read with this device.   I would introduce the book my exploring the following website: This website is a virtual museum tour of the Natural Museum of History where the story takes place.  The tour is narrated by Brian Selznick and explores all the places that Ben visits in the book.  This would be a good preview and help the students visualize as they read.

This story is a truly a work of art in itself.  The illustrations are unbelievable, especially since there is no color.  I think I learned more going back over the pictures after I read the entire book.  They made more sense after I read the text and helped bring an understanding to the whole story.

March 22- Reflection on Independent learning


I think one of the most important aspects that I have learned about independent reading is that it is not a substitute for quality teaching and is not intended to be the only form of reading instruction.  Children still require guidance and guidelines in order to guide and nurture their literacy experiences.  Independent reading when used with structure and as a component of a balanced literacy program, can help increase vocabulary and background knowledge, improve fluency and comprehension which improves reading achievement by increasing motivation to read interest in books (Moss & Young, 2010).  Another interesting result of a successful independent reading program is the number of words that students are able to learn and read through self selection of reading material.  The various exposures to previously unknown words through reading help students to learn and plant the words into their memory.

Kelley and Clausen-Grace (2006) suggest, “Sometimes it isn’t a question of whether or not to use a practice but how to implement it more effectively.” (p. 154)

I like this quote because I do see the benefits of independent reading and have to see how to implement it most effectively with the time and set up that best fits the school schedule and expectations of administration.   In my classroom, I would not be able to implement traditional independent reading, but I could use a modified version with some on my classes, particularly my 3rd graders.

One thing that I will definitely try to accomplish is to expose my students to a wider variety of genres, such as graphic novels and multicultural books in attempt to increase their interest in reading and hopefully motivate them to read outside of school.  I will also try to incorporate an independent reading time in my classroom, even though it may only be once a week, because they also get a longer period of time for independent reading in their regular classroom.  Another change that I would like to incorporate is allowing my students to have book talks with my students so they may encourage each other to read.

One technique that I have learned is planning the reading.  I am well aware that none of my students read on grade level, either silently or orally.  I have often wondered what we could do for them, short of sitting down and reading aloud grade level material to them so they get exposure to grade level material.  The iPod solution would be great for these students.  Another thing that I have learned is to consider the amount of time a student’s reading rate is and then allow them enough time to complete the assignment taking their reading rate into consideration.

While exploring some of the websites posted from Creating Lifelong Readers, I chose to investigate the Children’s book council website.   I found a resource called FirstBook that allows educators to fill out applications and be approved to buy books at a reduced rate if the school qualifies.  If a school was eligible this resource seems like a valuable tool to increase book availability to their students.

I personally have not had much experience using independent reading in my own classroom because I teach special education.  I have observed independent reading in the past in the regular classroom and watch it develop and change over the years at our school.  This year our school has made modifications to the way we do independent reading.  In the past, AR time was at the end of the day and often it seemed to be a time for students to rush to the library instead of spending time reading.  Now each grade level has their own AR or independent reading time according to what fits into their schedule.  AR time is used for student to not only read books on their level, but the teacher conferences with the students about the books that they are reading.  The students are also responding in AR journals about their books.  We also have a school wide read aloud time for all grade levels the last ten minutes of the school day.

March 22, Instructional plan/framework for independent reading


Benefits of Independent Reading and factors that affect independent reading

Students need to read in order to become better at it, if students do not practice and read daily, they fail to thrive and flourish in their reading skills.  Stanovich has created a term for this called the Matthew effect, where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer and in this case speaking of reading skills.   According to the 2001 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS), a study conducted assessing the reading habits and comprehension of 4th grade students in 35 countries discovered the following (Moss & Young, 2010)

  • Only 35% of U.S. fourth graders read for fun daily compared to 40% internationally.
  • 32% of U.S. fourth graders never read for fun outside of school compared to 18% internationally.

Independent reading alone will not improve a student’s reading ability.  Independent reading has to be a part of quality reading program, intertwined with teacher directed and guided reading to help students learn reading strategies and how to apply these strategies when they read material on their reading level.  As a student reads, they increase their base knowledge on a subject, which increases vocabulary, which allows them improve reading skills with quick word recognition, which in turn makes reading less of a chore and more enjoyable for them (Moss & Young, 2010) Students are more willing to engage in deep reading, both in and out of school, because of these acquired literacy skills.

Independent reading should not be considered wasted time of students aimlessly wandering around bookshelves thumbing then skimming through various books, wasting time until the period is over.  It should not be the time when students go to the library to get the books they would like to read.  When carried out properly, independent reading allows student an opportunity to select a book on their interest and reading level through recreational reading.  Recreational reading is a type of independent reading where the reader is able to decode and comprehend the majority of the words read (Palumbo & Willcutt, 2007). Students have to read text that is just right for them, which is the Goldilocks theory (Moss & Young, 2010).  When student are consistently reading text too difficult they become frustrated and if they always reading text that is too easy, they never grow in their reading ability.

In order for independent reading to be successful, it requires planning and structure on behalf of a classroom teacher.  Independent reading requires a school wide involvement which carries over into the community outside of school and involves the parents, public library and other community members.   With planning and structure, independent reading allows the students to be able to practice skills that have been previously taught.  It also allows students to explore and read a variety of material such as magazines, newspapers, etc.

According to Young & Terrell there are five benefits of students participating in independent reading: improved vocabulary, increased background knowledge, increase fluency and comprehension, increase reading achievement and help create and interest and motivation to read.

Improved vocabulary.   In order to be on track, students must learn 32,000 words between 1st and 12th grade, which averages out to be about 3,000 words per year.  Most vocabulary instruction only teaches an average of 700 words per year.  The remaining words must be learned through incidental reading (Nagy & Anderson, 1984, Moss & Young, 2010).  Independent reading allows for students to participate in this type of incidental reading in order to gain exposure to a variety of text.  This type of reading provides vocabulary instruction that teachers cannot give through standard classroom, vocabulary instruction.

Increase of background knowledge: When students are allowed to explore various topics it helps to develop their background knowledge which helps students create schemata that helps them develop reading skills that help them later on in upper grades.  The more students read, the more background knowledge they acquire.  This word knowledge allows readers to read with ease and this ease creates reading stamina (Block & Mangieri, 1996, Moss & Young, 2010).  It is this stamina that allows deep reading to become completely absorbed in a story.

Increased reading fluency and comprehension:  The amount of time students spend reading improves reading comprehension skills in both low and high achieving readers (Moss & Young, 2010).   Wide reading is a predictor of reading comprehension that outweighs intelligence, gender and socioeconomic status (Reutzel & Hollingsworth, 1991).  Wide reading through independent reading helps increase reading comprehension for all readers, on grade level, struggling readers, as well as ELL students (Moss & Young, 2010).

Increase reading achievement:  Many studies have shown that increased reading through independent reading helps improve reading achievement on literacy test scores as well as in other areas.  Studies have been shown that students who were able to participate in summer reading programs helped the students make gains in their reading comprehension skills, increases were demonstrated through literacy tests (Moss & Young, 2010).  Guthrie (2002) makes the recommendation that 40% of time be given to guided reading instruction, 20% to strategy instruction, 10% to motivation and 10% to test teaching formats.  While some strategies need to be directly taught, students also have to be allowed to practice these skills.  Independent reading allows for this type of practice.

Increase of interest and motivation to read:  Students have to have interesting material on their level in order to fuel their desire to read more.  Students are more likely to comprehend material that they are interested in because they may already have schemata that helps pull them through new and unknown words.  Independent reading allows students to both pick out their own material as well choose material on their level.  This freedom gives students the motivation to read.

Factors that affect independent reading:

It is no surprise that higher achieving students come from schools that allow for more reading and writing time.  An increase of reading skills is not an isolated event that only happens just at school or just at home.  Everyone working together plays an important role in teaching children to read as well as fostering their love of reading.  Teachers play a crucial role for laying the foundations of reading that carries over into other aspects of a student’s reading career.  Teachers should provide a scaffolded technique of independent reading that includes making sure students are reading books on their level, creating activities that motivates students to read, monitor students when they are reading, hold students accountable for their reading success  and give feedback to the students when needed (Moss & Young, 2010).  Other important factor teachers have to provide in order for their students to succeed in a well stocked and set up classroom library.  Research has shown that students that have access to a wide variety of reading material through the classroom library, not only perform better on standardized tests, but creates motivation and interest in reading.  A classroom library can be particularly beneficial for low income students who may not otherwise be exposed to this plethora of information.

Knowledgeable librarians along with a well stocked, organized school library with a large collection of various materials, that include not only books, but other items such as videos, magazines, reference materials, and alternate library hours help facilitate and encourage independent reading.  This type of library also encourages reading outside of the classroom by allowing parents alternate hours that they may be able to access the school library and provide assistance in book selection with their child, especially during summer months when reading skills can deteriorate.

Parents and the community outside of school plays a vital role in students not only learning to read, but fostering the motivation and love for reading.  When students are read to at a young age, literacy skills begin to develop that help them to become early readers, and often better readers.  Community sources outside of the home such as public libraries and literacy programs also help promote independent reading.

Designing the space

One of the most difficult circumstances of being a special education teacher is that sometimes I feel like an island separated from the continent of school.  It is not the fault of administration or staff that I feel this way, but because my schedule and classroom set up is much different than an average classroom.  My students are pulled into my classroom into 30-45 minutes chunks throughout the day and vary in grades from kindergarten to third grade, not to mention the various reading abilities that are in my group of students.  I do not have a set independent reading time for my students because that is something that they participate in their regular classroom activities.

Regardless, I do have a library and a reading area in my classrooms.  This year I have two physical classrooms that I have set up to help cut down on travel time for my students.  I have a K-1 classroom on that hallway and a 2nd– 3rd grade classroom on that hallway.  Both classrooms have a variety of books, labeled and placed in bins sorted according to A.R. reading level.  In my K-1 classroom, I have leveled books beginning at a 1-2 level up to 9-10, along with books that go up to about a second grade level.  In my 2nd-3rd grade classroom I have books that range from kindergarten level and go up to 6th grade reading levels.

My library space would be created by placing foam squares down on the floor next to a back wall to define the space.  To help with boundaries I would enclose the squares with a train bookshelf that I have on one side and a smaller two self bookcase on the other side to form a U-shaped area.  In the library I have two big pillows my students could lounge on as they read.  In the other classroom I would create a similar library.  On the walls in the space I would hang plastic guttering attached to the wall to allow books to be displayed so the students can see the front of the book instead of the spine only. Students can also view the books that I have in the sorted in leveled tubs this way also.  I will have a checkout system for my students so we both can keep up with that has what books checked out.  I will have library pockets with cards in my books where they pull out the card and place the card in a wall pocket chart with their name on it.  When they bring the book back, they take the card out of the wall pocket chart with their name on it, put the card back in the book, then put the book back on the shelf or bin for the next student.

Creating a collection

I have given some thought to how I could possibly incorporate independent reading with my students.  I do not know if it could be done daily, but I feel that I could at least begin to work it in at least one day a week.  I could begin with teaching a specific skill during the guided reading time I have with them, and set aside 20 minutes once a week for starters to explore other books that I pull for them on their level to work on that skill.  I do think about how many of my students not only struggle to read, but also they lack motivation to read because they have only experienced failure with reading. Who wants to continue to do something that makes you feel dumb and unsuccessful?  There are times when I get frustrated by paper work and IEPs because there are things I can’t write goals for (or if I did it would be impossible to track).  The things that I am talking about are things like self confidence in themselves by making them better readers and feeling like successful, important students that add value to our school.  Education needs to go beyond what can be measured through IEP goals and standardized testing.

Being able to hone in on student’s reading interest and provide books based on their interest can make a difference in creating life-long learners through reading or turn them off from reading by having the students consider it another mundane task done only in school where it is a requirement, and a “have to task” instead of a “want to task”.   Based on my 2nd and 3rd grade student’s inventories, they like all kinds of genres, from fantasies to non- fiction to poetry.  We recently did a short unit on poetry with my third graders and I was surprised how much they really enjoyed that, perhaps my biased is getting in the way, because I am not a big poetry fan.  Now if I give them a few minutes to explore my classroom library, they will go straight for the poetry books to look at and read through.

Another type of book that I notice my third graders will grab is fact books like the Guinness Book of World Records.  They like the photographs and quick reading of facts.  Another series they tend to gravitate towards are Diary of a Wimpy Kid.  The one thing that I would like to add to my classroom library is some e-readers.  My biggest concern with getting e-readers is getting the funds to buy books to put on them.   Another area that I feel my classroom library needs is high interest, low reading level books in all genres.

Just when I think my classroom library has a decent variety of genres, I explore the websites and realize that my students have only sampled and explored traditional book genres.  After exploring the posted websites, I realize that I have very few multicultural books.  I do not have any ELL students at the time, but that is no excuse for not having multicultural books in my library.  The Paper tiger website lists many books that touch on various issues that would be appropriate for young readers.  These books give students exposure to learn about cultures all over the world that they may never see until they visit through books. Another area where I have few books, especially on a lower reading level is graphic novels.  I would also encourage my students to visit websites such as Toonbooks to explore graphic novels further.

   Incorporating Key Components into Independent reading program and linking literacy instruction with content areas:

If I incorporated independent reading into my classroom, I would have to modify it to meet the time I had available and to meet my student’s needs.   I do not have the luxury of flexibility that a classroom teacher has with my students, such as an after lunch period or early morning home room time.  I know some classroom teachers will say they do not have flexibility either, but they do so more than I do juggling four grades in 30-45 minutes increments.

My plan for independent reading will look like this.  When I begin my plan for independent reading, I am going to focus on my third graders.  I am well aware that all grade levels could benefit from some type of independent reading, but I would have to focus in on one grade and as I work out kinks and glitches, add other grades.  Right now I serve the most students in third grade for reading.  I only have one second grader.  My first graders are becoming more able to handle independent type activities, but still need some direct guidance in reading skills that I give them.  My kindergartners do not have independent skills to work on their own and some are barely beyond letter/sound recognition.

I serve my third graders during guided reading time and give them instruction on their reading level during this time.  In order to incorporate independent reading during this time, I will set aside a day, probably a Friday, for about 20 minutes.  I choose Friday so that when they explore the books, they will focus on practicing the skill that has been taught to them during guided reading that week.  One activity that I would like to incorporate into the independent reading is the genre wheels or the genre passport.  I would also let them use these in the regular classroom as incentives to explore other genres outside of my classroom.  Each SIRT would begin with a book talk.  This technique would have to be modeled by me first to help them understand what is expected.  It is not necessarily a summary of a book, but more like a commercial to get their peers interested in reading the book. Other activities that I may use as I introduce reading materials throughout the week would be a grab bag and ten questions on different books that I may introduce throughout the week to help them be thinking about what book they would like to choose to read by Friday’s SIRT.  After they students have had a chance to share, there would be time for them to read.  For students in this group, some of the students could read the entire 30 minutes on their own, while others would do best if pair with another reader to whisper read to each other.    While the students are reading, I would have student-teacher conferences to hold the students accountable for their reading and to help them understand this is not a time to goof off and it is to be taken seriously.  This will also allow me to assess my students progress towards mastery of skills taught and keep me informed of what their interests are and what they may need to continue to learn and genres they need exposure to.

Other reading strategies that I would focus on teaching during guided reading time would be comprehension skills, (such as building background knowledge, making connections, visualizing), teaching vocabulary, teaching story elements, text features for informational text, and navigational devices (such as table of contents, index, glossary, guide words and headings and subheadings.  I would focus my conference based on the skills that they have been taught for that week.

The selection of books my students have will depend on the lessons that I have taught that week or maybe incorporated with something they are doing in the regular classroom with science and/or social studies or a book that we have read during the guided reading time.  In order for students to master content area materials three areas must be mastered:  1) background knowledge of an area, 2) learning the vocabulary, both how to read the word and what it means 3) understanding the text features and being able to write for a specific subject, such as the scientific method in science (Moss & Young, 2010). Since I do not teach science or social studies, I would use the Integrated Model where independent reading time is incorporated into the language arts time.  I would incorporate the integrated model when it was appropriate based on guided reading activities or science/social studies areas.


Block, C.C. & Mangieri, J.N. (1996). Reason to read: Thinking strategies for life through   learning. Meno Park, CA: Innovative Learning.

Guthrie, J.T. (2002). Preparing the students for high-stakes testing in reading. In A.E. Farstrup &             S.J. Samuels (Eds.), What research has to say about reading instruction (3rd ed., pp. 370-          391). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

Moss, Barabara and Young, Terrell A.(2010). Creating Lifelong Readers Through Independent     Reading. Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

Nagy, W.E., & Anderson, R.C. (1984).  How many words are there in printed school English?     Reading Research Quarterly, 19(3), 304-330. doi 10.2307/747823

Palumbo, T.J., & Willlcutt, J.R. (2007).  Perspectives on fluency: English-language learners and    students with dyslexia.  In S.J. Samuels & A.E. Farstrup (Eds.) What research has to say             about fluency instruction (pp 159-178). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

Ruetzel, D.R., & Hollingsworth, P.m. (1991). Reading time in school:  Effect on fourth graders’ performance on a criterion-reference  comprehension test.  The Journal of Educational            Research, 84(3), 170-176

March 22 Reading inventory


I chose the following survey to complete with my 2nd and 3rd graders.  I felt it was too difficult for my kinders and 1st graders to complete.  Keep in mind that I teach special education grade kindergarten through 3rd grade and these students are the ones I serve for reading and/or writing.  I read the questions aloud and for some students I was their scribe because they can articulate a response much better than they are able to write. Often if I take writing out of the picture I will get a much better response than “It is fun”, because those are the words they know and are able to spell without getting bogged down with the mechanics of writing.  Sometimes I have to pick my battles about what is more important and what I am truly trying to accomplish with my students.

With all that being said, the result of this survey made me sad.  Since I have started the masters program in reading, I have really begun to contemplate how I teach and how to best meet my student’s needs.  I am becoming to realize and understand that sometimes the biggest obstacle in getting my students to read and in teaching them to read is the adversary of time.  I honestly believe that every one of my students could become at least efficient, if not spectacular readers if given the gift of time, coupled with effective instruction on their level.

My student’s response to the first thing that pops into their heads when they think of reading a book varied from I get excited to I dread it and want to get it over with.  Most of them did reply that they read at home and times ranged from once a week to all the time.  I was pleasantly surprise when most of my 3rd graders said that their favorite place to read at school was my room, (with no coercion from me, I promise) I think it probably stems from the fact that they are reading on their level and with smaller groups, they are able to open up a little more.  Only one student talked about going to the library outside of school. Others stated they had no favorite author no favorite book, etc.  This disturbs me and makes me think what do I have the power and control over to show them reading is a wonderful thing.  (Another down fall to the world of EC is I get them in chunks and pieces of the day and sometimes a 30-45 minute window is all I have to show them the value of books and reading while struggling with the balance of meeting an IEP).  But I am going to reflect and focus on what I am able to do with the time I have available.

My student’s interest varied as much as their responses.  Several of them chose Dr. Seuss as their favorite author.  Other interests were Magic Tree House series, fairy tales, fantasy, and nonfiction subjects such as tornados and automobiles.  One student has recently discovered The Littles series by John Peterson.  While I do have a variety of books, I do not necessarily have more than one title of some varieties.  I have several of the Magic Tree House, Katie Kazoo, Junie B. Jones, and Bailey Street Kids series.  I have many non-fiction books, because that tends to be my favorite as well.  I have all levels of books from 0.1 up to middle school level, but there again, not in abundance.  I love to hit Kohl’s and buy their latest featured artist books.  I have ordered many books through Scholastic, but I cannot get the classroom freebie extras through book orders like a classroom teacher can because I do not have a class order.  I have also discovered that Ollie’s is a wonderful store to purchase good books really cheap (between .99 to $3.99 for hardbacks).

Another area I feel that my library is lacking in is high interest, lower leveled books.  I think that is another obstacle that turns my students off is the “baby” books at their reading level.  Often my students are ready for meatier information books, but I have a hard time finding them.  I like the suggestion of having students let a Kindle or other device read aloud a grade level book as they followed along.

I do offer to let my students come in and select books from my classroom library to take home for them to read, especially since they are usually reading below grade level and exhaust the regular classroom’s supply quickly. For my 1st graders, I let them take home a leveled reading book each night from my classroom.  As soon as they enter my room they go and exchange their book, so they at least get to choose the book on their level.  I feel that my library needs multiple copies of leveled readers for my beginning readers so I can read with them as a group at times so they will not have to share books.

I also have some students that I go the library with on occasion to help them find books that they are interested in and are appropriate for them to read independently.  I have a student that I work with one on one and let her choose the books she wants to read from the school library, because we have read the ones in my room.  As I read Creating Lifelong Readers through Independent Reading in Chapter 3, I am reminded that I can use these guided trips to the library to help my student obtain skills that allow them to skim the text while focusing on their own personal interest to make sure that they will enjoy reading a particular book.  This student also struggles tremendously with reading, so I try to find any avenue I can to make reading a more enjoyable task for her.