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Schoolwide Independent Reading Program

As an MA reading specialist, author, and frequent blogger on independent reading, I am constantly receiving posts and emails regarding the Accelerated Reading™ program. I frequently joke that I wish I had had the foresight to develop an AR-style program years ago. I’d be living in my castle in the Loire Valley fending off critics when not visiting my offshore tax haven in the Cayman Islands. But I’d feel a bit guilty knowing that schools could implement their own independent reading program for free (relatively speaking).

However, I’m pretty sure that the effectiveness of my AR-style program would not have been judged as following:

“Accelerated Reader was found to have no discernible effects on reading fluency, mixed effects on comprehension, and potentially positive effects on general reading achievement.” What Works Clearinghouse

or

“A hypothetical example may help us understand whether AR should be used or not. Drug A and Drug B are both designed to cure a specific disease. A is known to be effective with highly beneficial long-term effects. There is little evidence for or against B, but suggestive evidence that it may be harmful in the long run. A drug company produces AB, more expensive than A alone, and justifies it by providing studies showing that AB tends to be effective. A scientist reviewing the research shows that no study has compared AB to A alone. Clearly such studies are called for before the medical establishment endorses or even approves AB. A is providing access and time to read. B is tests and rewards. Accelerated Reader is AB.” Dr. Stephen Krashen

So here’s a recent post to my The 18 Reasons Not to Use Accelerated Reader article and my response including a free alternative for an effective schoolwide independent reading program:

“I am a new principal of an elementary school that uses AR and honestly am not a fan however my teachers “love” it.  I’m really puzzled by what they “love” about it.  Our school spends over 5K for this program a year which in my opinion could be better used purchasing more books for the library or assisting teachers with classroom libraries.  How do I get my teachers/staff as well as parents to see this?”

Yes, many teachers and parents love the AR program. Why so?

  1. It’s well-organized.
  2. It requires no prep–just place and use.
  3. It’s motivational and competitive.
  4. It gets kids to read.
  5. It works with so many books at so many reading levels.
  6. The school has been using it for years. If you stopped using it now, all the previous money spent would be “wasted.”
  7. Many other schools use it.
  8. Teachers, administrators, and parents know of no other schoolwide independent reading programs.

Of course, many teachers and parents (add in students, administrators, and reading specialists) do not love the AR program (Check out the comments on my The 18 Reasons Not to Use Accelerated Reader article for plenty of examples.

And, yes, I completely agree that the 5K per year could be better used purchasing more books for the library or assisting teachers with classroom libraries.” So here’s my answer to your final question: “How do I get my teachers/staff as well as parents to see this?”

By offering a more enticing alternative.

How to Implement a schoolwide Independent Reading Program (IRP)

(Apparently every schoolwide independent reading program must have an acronym (AR, SSR, DEAR, etc.) Were I smart, it would be named the PIRP (Pennington Independent Reading Program).

  1. Buy tons of good books.
  2. Teach students and parents how to select appropriate reading level books.
  3. Teach students, parents, and teachers where and when to read books.
  4. Teach students and parents how to read and discuss books.
  5. Teach parents, teachers, librarians, and administrators how to motivate independent reading. 

1. Buy tons of good books. A good school librarian is an indispensable asset. Good librarians and teachers read what their students read and pay attention to what their students are and should be reading. They are “in the know.” What works for their school culture is not the same as what works for other schools. They pay attention to publisher marketing, but they exercise solid judgment. Librarians and teachers are patient and crafty. They know that good school and classroom libraries aren’t “built in a day.” They know when and where to shop for bargains. They know how to solicit parent and community donations. They know how to lobby administrators and district personnel for book money. They buy a wide variety of books to appeal to the interests and needs of their readers. For example, a shameless publisher plug: they buy low level, high interest decodable books for older remedial readers, such as the author’s Sam and Friends Phonics Books.

2. Teach students and parents how to select the right books. We really need to take the mystery out of book selection. There is no such thing as a sixth grade reading level. Lexile levels do not provide adequate criteria for book selection. Same for the Degrees of Reading Power (DRP), Fleish-Kincaid Fountas and Pinnell Leveled Book List, Accelerated Reader ATOS, Reading Recovery Levels, Fry’s Readability, John’s Basic Reading Inventory, standardized test data, etc.

The two key criteria for effective book selection are reader interest and word recognition level. Reader Interest: If the student is not interested in the genre, subject matter, author, book title, or book jacket, it’s the wrong book. Students have their own literary tastes, but also like what their peers like. Adults can expose students to new tastes, but cannot make a seventh grader like Pride and Prejudice. Choice is important, but within certain common sense limitations: Word Recognition Level: On the technical side, books are made up of words. Readers have to understand words to understand sentences and ideas. Glad to clear that one up for you:)  Students need to understand about 95% of the words to comprehend and enjoy what they are reading. The 5% unknown words are just the right amount for vocabulary acquisition through application of context clue strategies. For how to select books using this criteria, click here; for why the 5% is the optimal percentage, click here. So simple, but effective. And, most importantly, both parents and students can apply this criteria to help select appropriate books. No rocket science required.

3. Teach students, parents, and teachers where and when to read books. I’ll step on a few toes with my recommendations here. An effective schoolwide Independent Reading Program (IRP) does not have to involve independent reading at school. I’m not a fan of wasting instructional time with what can best be done at home: independent reading and discussion of that reading. For my lively debate on the merits of reading at home with Dr. Stephen Krashen (Free Voluntary Reading) and Donalyn Miller (The Book Whisperer), click here. Teachers just have too much to teach and too little time to do so. With the proper student and parent training, independent reading is the perfect homework.

4. Teach students and parents how to read and discuss books. Without proper training, a schoolwide Independent Reading Program (IRP) will fail. Parents are the best resources we have to monitor and engage students with their independent reading. Reading at the 5% unknown word level will help students increase vocabulary, but we also need to increase reading comprehension. Teachers need to teach independent reading comprehension strategies and practice these in the classroom; however, the extensive practice needs to take place at home with daily student-parent discussions of what the child has read that day during independent reading homework. I recommend a 3-minute student-led book discussion with the parent following 20 minutes of independent or guided reading for primary children and 30 minutes for older readers, four or five days per week. To guide independent reading and the book discussion, I recommend using the SCRIP Bookmarks. Yes, you have permission to print, share, and distribute these.

The SCRIP acronym refers to the five reading comprehension cueing strategies which work equally well with expository and narrative text. The SCRIP acronym stands for Summarize, Connect, Re-think, Interpret, and Predict. Good readers learn how to carry on an internal dialog while they read. To train students and parents how to self-monitor and increase reading comprehension, click here for five lessons from the author’s Teaching Reading Strategies reading intervention program. These SCRIP strategies provide teachers with the language of instruction to teach and model reading comprehension. Librarians can use these to do effective book talks.

5. Teach parents, teachers, librarians, and administrators how to motivate independent reading. 

Yes, I recommend accountability for independent reading homework. I have parents award points for the quality of the student-led book discussion. I also “require” the same amount of reading and discussions over vacations and summer recess. Call me a fascist.

I take a balanced approach and recommend such in the development of a schoolwide Independent Reading Program (IRP). On the one hand, we want our students to become lifelong readers. We want them to intrinsically enjoy reading and choose to read on their own. See Alfie Kohn’s Punished by Rewards for the pitfalls of reading incentives. Also take a look at the heart-breaking teacher, parent, and student comments as to how AR tests, grades for books read, and reading motivational ploys have destroyed students’ love of reading following my The 18 Reasons Not to Use Accelerated Reader article.

I do see the value in some marketing and promotion of a schoolwide Independent Reading Program (IRP). Students work well when pursuing goals and everyone likes rewards. Students also like competition. I would offer these guidelines from years of experience “running” IRPs as a a school reading specialist: If you’re going to reward based upon quantitative data, do so by page numbers read, not by books read. Emphasize class competitions, not individual competitions. Reward with literacy-related incentives, e.g. books, bookmarks, posters, not toys or candy. Get your students to review books in class, on schoolwide posters and in newsletters, and especially in the library. Keep schoolwide competitions limited in time: Several two-month competitions or challenges work much better than one year-long competition or challenge.

Would love to see your thoughts.

 

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Free Independent Reading Resources

As an MA reading specialist and English-language Arts teacher, I know the value of independent reading. Despite our wonderful instruction in Greek and Latinates, context clues, and vocabulary in literature, students make their greatest vocabulary gains through independent reading at their instructional levels. Not to mention gains in reading comprehension. Teachers are understandably reluctant to allocate much class time to independent reading. Teachers are also unconvinced that their students really will read independently for homework.

However, learning how to teach students to select readings at their instructional level and providing accountability within the home and class community can improve students’ success rates and achieve our goals of turning teacher-dependent readers into truly independent readers. We might just even create a few life-long readers in the process.

Following are articles, free resources (including reading assessments), and teaching tips regarding how to develop an effective independent reading program from the Pennington Publishing Blog. Also, check out the quality instructional programs and resources offered by Pennington Publishing.

Independent Reading

Why Sustained Silent Reading (SSR) Doesn’t Work

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/why-sustained-silent-reading-ssr-doesn%E2%80%99t-work/

O.K. So my title is a good hook. I’m an ELA teacher, so you’d expect no less. However, I’m also an MA reading specialist, so you’d expect me to be passionate about getting students to read and read well. I do believe that independent reading is vital to reading improvement. So why am I writing an article titled Why Sustained Silent Reading (SSR) Doesn’t Work? SSR just is not an effective use of class time. Why so? Here are 8 reasons Why Sustained Silent Reading (SSR) Doesn’t Work.

Straight Talk with Stephen Krashen on SSR

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/straight-talk-with-stephen-krashen-on-ssr/

In response to my article titled “Why Sustained Silent Reading (SSR) Doesn’t Work,”Dr. Stephen Krashen responded numerous times. Given the richness of Dr. Krashen’s gracious responses to my persistent challenges and questions, I felt it would be helpful to post the unedited exchange.

Independent Reading Homework

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/independent-reading-homework/

I developed an independent reading program based upon “reading discussions.” Students read at home and lead a literary discussion with their parent for three-minutes per day, four days per week to offer flexibility to families. I devolved the accountability for these assignments to the student-parent partnership. In other words, parents grade their children on the quality of the discussion and I count the points.

How to Select Books for Independent Reading

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/how-to-select-books-for-independent-reading/

Teachers, students, and parents recognize the importance of independent reading. No thinking activity better builds content knowledge, improves vocabulary, or exposes the learner to the world and its ideas. The practical question is which reading materials most efficiently help readers access this world of knowledge? Because reading is an interactive process, the abilities and interests of the readers must also be considered to maximize the learning process.

The 18 Reasons Not to Use Accelerated Reader

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/the-18-reasons-not-to-use-accelerated-reader/

Accelerated Reader (AR) is a simple software concept that was at the right time (late 1980s) and right place (public schools during a transition from whole language to phonics instruction) that has simply grown into an educational monolith. Following are short summaries of the most common arguments made by researchers, teachers, parents, and students as to why using AR is counterproductive. Hence, The 20 Reasons Not to Use Accelerated Reader.

Schoolwide Independent Reading Program

http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/schoolwide-independent-reading-program/

I take a balanced approach and recommend such in the development of a schoolwide Independent Reading Program (IRP). On the one hand, we want our students to become lifelong readers. We want them to intrinsically enjoy reading and choose to read on their own. However, I do see the value in some marketing and promotion of a schoolwide Independent Reading Program (IRP). Students work well when pursuing goals and everyone likes rewards. No, I’m certainly not advocating the AR program: See my The 18 Reasons Not to Use Accelerated Reader article.

High Fluency Low Reading Comprehension

http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/high-fluency-low-reading-comprehension/

What can we, as parents and teachers, do for children with high fluency, but low reading comprehension? Check out the six actions steps designed to address this problem and download the helpful instructional strategies and free resources.

Independent Reading: The Meeting of the Minds

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/independent-reading-the-meeting-of-the-minds/

Using the format of  the old television show, Meeting of Minds, some of the greatest thinkers from different eras to discuss the subject of independent reading in the classroom.

How to Determine Reading Levels

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/how-to-determine-reading-levels/

Learn how to use word recognition and motivation to determine reading levels for your students or for your own children.

How to Get Students to Read at Home

http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/how-to-get-students-to-read-at-home/

Teachers and parents recognize the important role of independent reading in developing reading comprehension, vocabulary, and a lifelong love of books. Learn how to promote independent reading at home and help students achieve these desired benchmarks.

Free Whole Class Diagnostic ELA/Reading Assessments

http://penningtonpublishing.com/

Download free phonemic awareness, vowel sound phonics, consonant sound phonics, sight word, rimes, sight syllables, fluency, grammar, mechanics, and spelling assessments. All with answers and recording matrices. A true gold mine for the teacher committed to differentiated instruction!

More Articles, Free Resources, and Teaching Tips from the Pennington Publishing Blog

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Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading Strategies. Designed to significantly increase the reading

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use—a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instructional levels. Get multiple choice diagnostic reading assessments , formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 586 game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page decodable take-home books include sight words, word fluency practice, and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Each book is illustrated by master cartoonist, David Rickert. The cartoons, characters, and plots are designed to be appreciated by both older remedial readers and younger beginning readers. The teenage characters are multi-ethnic and the stories reinforce positive values and character development. Your students (and parents) will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.

Everything teachers need to teach a diagnostically-based reading intervention program for struggling readers at all reading levels is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, English-language learners, and Special Education students. Simple directions and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program, with or without paraprofessional assistance.

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