Giving Ownership to Reading At Home
“Mom, I already did my 10 minutes of reading on the bus,” my friend’s ten year old son exclaimed when she reminded him that he needed to do his reading homework. It was late, so she relented, telling him to get ready for bed. When she went to check on him a half hour later, he was tucked cozily under the covers with a book in his hands, reading away.
“What on earth are you doing?” she asked incredulously. “You said you already did your reading homework.”
“Mom, I did do my reading homework. This is my reading for fun.”
My friend’s story stuck with me. We all want our kids to fall in love with reading. We want them to find that something that calls to them, that they can’t wait to get back to because they’ll learn something new or be swept away to new places. We want them to find that certain series or author or nonfiction topic that they can’t wait to get their hands on. We want them to be like my friend’s son who can’t wait to get to bed to “read for fun,” because that’s what reading should be, something to look forward to, not dread.
We know the importance of reading voluminously and having choice in what you read. Richard Allington reminds us in What Really Matters for Struggling Readers (2012) that we need to “maximize silent reading of texts that students select themselves – during school hours and in the evenings, weekends, and vacations, especially the summer; struggling readers should leave school each day with at least one book they can read and that they want to read.” I would argue that all students should have books they can read and want to read in their hands. At home reading has always been important to me. It’s the only literacy homework I give, and to be honest, I hate to call it homework, because I don’t want it to be a chore that is done only because it has to be done. I want my students to have that uninterrupted time to read, so that they can get into the flow and find joy in their reading.
As I began to think about my own reading practices and my desire to personalize my students’ learning, I realized that at home reading might be a good place to start. I think about myself as a reader. I can’t wait until I can head upstairs to bed (usually no later than 9:00), and dive into my reading. Some nights I read a book that’s just for me, sometimes I read a professional book, or sometimes I might read a book that I think my students will enjoy. Then there are those nights that I don’t even read a book. I may, instead, get caught up on reading blogs, or read an online article that has piqued my interest. I always look forward to long car rides because I know I’ll get an extended period of time to read while my husband drives. A sunny afternoon might find me on the back patio with an iced tea and a good book. Then there’s keeping track of what I read. I like to keep track for a couple of reasons. I like to see what kinds of reading I’m doing. Am I getting into a rut? Is there a new genre I might want to try? Maybe a new author? I also use my list to recommend books to others. I’m one of those people who wanted to keep a notebook that lists all the books I’ve read and those I want to read, but I soon found out that I’m not very good at that. I’d start to keep lists in a number of notebooks only to find that my momentum fizzled and soon I couldn’t find my notebook or couldn’t remember the last 3 books I’ve read when I finally did find it. For me, I discovered using an online site, like GoodReads helps me keep track of the books I’ve read, what I want to read, and what others are reading.
So, I began to ask myself, “What if I let students design their own reading plans for at home reading?” What would happen if students and their parents sat down and talked about what would work best for their family? Could students choose how to keep track of their reading? Why would they even want to keep track of their reading? This reflection led me to trying something new last school year.
I shared the following infographic with my students. We talked about the importance of reading and I asked them which kind of reader they wanted to be. There was a cheer, “We want to be the best readers.”
I asked them, “Where do you like to read?” “When do you like to read?” Each answer was unique. I have readers who like to read before bed, like me. There are others who want to read when they get home. It helps them relax. Others find they have time to read on their way to sports or gymnastics. All of them said they didn’t like it when their parents told them they had to read.
And so, our grand experiment began. I told my students that we were going to try something new. I wanted them to talk to their parents and together create a reading plan that worked for them. I created a Google Form that asked the following questions:
- What do you like to read? (favorite genres, authors, series, nonfiction topics, magazines, online articles)
- Where do you like to read?
- When is the best time for you to read at home?
- Based on the graphic I showed you in class, how much time would you like to spend reading each day?
- How would you like to keep track of your reading? (Biblionasium, Google docs, notebook)
They used those answers to create a reading plan with their parents, which they posted on Padlet. Padlet gave us the ability to have everyone’s plans in one place and I could easily pull it up when conferencing with students. Students would also bring their reading lists or log into their Biblionasium or Google accounts to our conferences. I did not ask parents to sign anything. I wanted these reading lists/logs to be useful and purposeful for students to reflect on their reading lives.
This one little tweak in giving students more ownership made a big difference in at home reading. Yes, there were some that still didn’t keep a formal record of what they read. As noted above, I fall into the same trap sometimes. I think if I would have provided more opportunities for students to share their reading records in small groups to give short book talks or share recommendations, some of those students may have done a better job of keeping track of their reading. In addition, I would ask my students to reflect on their reading plans periodically throughout the school year. We could then address how they might want to change their record keeping system.
Overall, this little experiment brought great results. My students saw the purpose in reading at home and as a result, read more. Students who had never finished a book before came in excitedly talking about a second book they had just finished by the same author. Parents shared that their children were actually reading on their own and didn’t need reminders or the timer set. Those stories made my heart smile because that told me that my young readers were falling in love with reading. And isn’t that what we all want?
Allington, R. L. (2011). What Really Matters for Struggling Readers: Designing Research-Based Programs (3 edition). Boston, Mass: Pearson.
Julie Johnson, literacy coach and reading support teacher at Scioto Darby Elementary, Hilliard City Schools. She has taught for 25 years in both special education and general education settings. She is a teacher consultant with the National Writing Project and writes at Raising Readers and Writers and for Choice Literacy.