Stealing Reading Moments


I don’t think any of us would argue that children need lots of time to read in order to become proficient, lifelong readers.   There is an overwhelming amount of research that points to a correlation between “eyes on text” and reading achievement.  Here is one piece of data that can be found in Richard Allington’s What Really Matters for Struggling Readers: Designing Research-Based Programs:

Reading Volume of Fifth-Grade Students of Different Levels of Achievement

Achievement Percentile       Minutes of Reading per Day      Words per Year
90th                                             40.4                                                   2,357,000
50th                                             12.9                                                   601,000
10th                                             1.6                                                     51,000

Adapted from Anderson, Wilson, & Fielding, 1988

In summary, the more children read, the higher their reading achievement.  In Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell describes “the 10,000 hour rule”, where he asserts that it takes 10,000 hours of dedicated practice to truly master a skill.  We know the importance of practice.  But often there is a disconnect between knowing and doing. There is even a disconnect between our desire and intentions and doing.  We want to provide more time for kids to read, but we often find obstacles that stand in our way.  This is especially a struggle for middle school and high school teachers and even elementary teachers who have a departmentalized schedule.

This week I have been in three different schools and worked with 2nd through 6th teachers from four different school districts.  As is typical any time a group of teachers convenes to discuss curriculum issues, the topic of time came up.  Time to confer, time to differentiate, time to plan, time for independent reading.  One principal told me that independent reading is almost nonexistent in some of her school’s classrooms because schedules are so tight.  This is unfortunate.

Today’s post is not about scheduling our literacy blocks–there are too many factors to account for and too many different situations to adequately address that topic in a single blog post.  But today’s entry IS about helping students find more time to read, both in and out of school.

In an earlier post, I encouraged you to share your reading lives with your students.  Let’s re-visit that idea as we think about ways to get students reading more. Those of us who love to read don’t necessarily have long stretches of time for reading. But for us, reading is like breathing–we simply MUST do it. So we carve out time in our busy schedules.

It is not enough to tell students “just find more time to read”.  We must SHOW them.  In other words, we TEACH them what real readers do.  So what do we, as adult readers, do to find that precious reading time?  In The Book Whisperer, Donalyn Miller calls this “stealing reading moments”.  Have you stolen any reading moments lately?  I stole some while waiting in parent-teacher conference lines last night, while walking on my treadmill, and while waiting in the car to pick up my son.  Share your examples with your students and invite them to brainstorm ideas of their own.  My third grade niece has already mastered this:  

 Readers like my niece are well on their way to clocking 10,000 hours of reading practice.

In chapter 3 of The Book Whisperer “There’s a Time and a Place”, Donalyn gives suggestions of times during the school day that students can steal reading moments. These include:

  • bell ringers
  • warm ups (consider doing away with activities such as Daily Oral Language and giving kids that time to read)
  • when students finish an independent assignment in any subject
  • while waiting in line on picture day
  • while waiting in the restroom line
  • waiting for the bus at dismissal time
  • during library book check out time (this one might sound obvious, but you’d be surprised!)

Do these little snippets of time really matter?  Donalyn writes, “Counting all the snippets of time I manage to gather in a typical school week, how much reading time do I really capture for my students?”  She says that by stealing as many stray moments as possible, she calculates that she gains 20-30 minutes of reading per day.  Without giving up any instructional time, we could conceivably find two hours a week for our students.  If we are willing to set aside a chunk of class time for independent reading as well, our students could be reading as much as four hours a week in school.  And if we teach them ways to carve out reading time at home, that number increases.

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