In the typical classroom, students spend less than 20 percent of the reading/language arts block reading¹. Even a little more reading time can go a long way. In fact, as little as an additional 7 minutes of reading per day has been shown to differentiate classrooms in which students read well from those in which students read less well². The goal of the 7-Minute Reading Challenge is to increase the amount students read daily by 7 minutes which can make a huge difference in students’ knowledge acquisition and capacity for reading complex text. The 7-Minute Challenge is one of the seven actions teachers can take to increase their students’ capacity to read the complex text advocated by the Common Core State Standards (Hiebert, August 16, 2012)³.
An immediate response from teachers is “but how am I going to increase students’ reading when the school day is already so full?” Before illustrating some ways in which teachers can increase reading in an already-full school curriculum, I want to emphasize the purpose of this increased reading.
Why Increase the Amount That Students Read?
One of our goals as teachers is to help our students increase their use of texts as a source of information and learning. Whether they are informational or narrative, texts communicate knowledge. The purpose of the 7-Minute Challenge is for students to make a habit of reading to acquire knowledge. This reading is embedded in lessons and curricular activities; it is not recreational. Recreational reading has an important place in students’ lives, just as teachers’ read-alouds have a role in classrooms. However, the intent of the 7-Minute Challenge is to increase students’ reading as part of instruction.
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Students read texts with a purpose. They revisit texts to clarify their understanding, bring evidence to discussions, and offer support in compositions. They read magazine articles to get background knowledge for a novel they are reading or for a science experiment. The aim of the 7-Minute Challenge is for students to use such texts to learn and think, not to rack up numbers of words, pages, or minutes.
How Can Teachers Find Ways to Increase Students’ Reading as Part of Instruction?
Several easy-to-implement classroom strategies can help you “find room” in your day to increase your students’ reading time:
- Expand your view of what counts as reading. Reading includes informational texts—in fact, for some kids that is what matters in reading. Further, most Americans today read magazine articles and Web sites. One Web site that has a permanent collection of solid magazine articles is ReadWorks, which had 4000 magazine articles—all of informational content.
- Make learning the reason for reading. That doesn’t mean the typical book report. It means allowing students to tell something about what they have learned, and why that information is interesting—or not. Involve students in creating mind maps and idea books that summarize what they’ve learned.
- Always give students a purpose for reading, and follow up to ensure that they can share this knowledge. (An underlying feature of the Common Core State Standards is the ability to use text to learn.)
- Give students choices, but don’t overwhelm them. Initially, a choice between two books is sufficient for kids who haven’t read a lot. One difficulty with many sustained silent reading efforts is that students who are not prolific readers do not know how to choose a book. Begin by giving students choices within well-defined parameters. For example, if you’re doing a book study of James Patterson’s books for middle-schoolers, allow students to choose among Patterson’s books.
- Make the outcomes of reading social. The “social” dimension of reading does not mean that students must read everything aloud or that everything must be discussed as a class. Look for ways students can share their evaluations of books (e.g., the 5-star system of Amazon and other Web sites). Use sites such as ePals to connect students with peers in other locations.
- Offer a variety of ways to recognize students’ learning accomplishments. Recognition can be low-key, in the form of conversations and discussions in classrooms in which students share what they have learned. It can also be more elaborate, in the form of school-wide events. But supporting students in seeing themselves as experts on particular topics—with knowledge gained through reading—is critical.
- Use classroom events as occasions to develop a community of readers. For example, teachers can create a community of readers by selectively reading aloud texts that students might not otherwise know about. These events can become the source of sharing knowledge and also of language expressions (e.g., the “Wow!” of Lily’s teacher in Lily and the Purple Purse).
Getting kids to read more means that teachers need to be experts on books for kids. You can’t be an expert on everything, and there are thousands of books that might interest your students. There are hundreds of Web sites that help teachers select texts, but their quality varies considerably. One curated collection is available at Connect to Books where you can choose from more than 100 full-length, authentic Trade Books at each grade, or select from a list of titles that compliment your elementary literacy program.
The most important thing is to allow kids time to read so that they can support and expand their ability to comprehend and learn from complex texts.
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1 Brenner, D., & Hiebert, E.H. (2010). The impact of professional development on students’ opportunity to read. In E.H. Hiebert & D. Ray Reutzel (Eds.), Revisiting silent reading: New directions for teachers and researchers (pp. 198-217). Newark, DE. IRA.
2 Kuhn, M.R., & Schwanenflugel, P.J. (2009). Time, engagement, and support: Lessons from a 4-year fluency intervention. In E.H. Hiebert (Ed.), Reading more, reading better (pp. 141-160). New York, NY: Guilford Press.
3 Hiebert, E.H. (August 16, 2012). 7 actions that teachers can take right now: Text Complexity. Text Matters. Santa Cruz, CA: TextProject. Retrieved from http://textproject.org/teachers/text-matters/7-actions-that-teachers-can-take-right-now-text-complexity/