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Independent Reading Homework

I have always assigned independent reading, usually with the accountability of journals, logs, quizzes, book reports, etc. Success rate has varied depending upon the school. At my current 70% AFDC multi-culture, multi-language, semi-urban middle school about 25% of my students consistently completed their independent reading assignments. That reflects about half of my grade-motivated students. In other words, 50% of my students and their parents are complacent with respect to grades as motivators. I figured I set the table; it’s up to them to eat.

However, things changed a  few years ago. I read an article from an African-American author lamenting the “soft bigotry of lowered expectations.” I took that one personally. I committed to raising my expectations of my students, parents, and myself and finding new motivators to get my students to read at home.

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.

As a work-in-progress I have learned a few things. It’s a lot of work. Both students and parents need training and practice in how to select appropriate independent reading level books. Hands-on practice in the library and classroom, as well as parent meetings, notes, and too-many-parent-phone-calls have all helped. I want student choice, but I also demand optimal levels for vocabulary and reading comprehension development. I am an MA reading specialist, so I’m biased.

I’ve taken the time to train students to read independently. Yes, I’ve had the principal challenge me regarding teaching reading strategies (But which ELA standard is this? Aaargh!) I’ve also spent time training students to lead the “reading discussions.” I developed SCRIP (Summary, Connect, Re-read, Interpret, and Predict) reading comprehension bookmarks to help students self-monitor as they read. I teach context clue strategies and we practice figuring out the meanings of unknown words. I do a lot of “think alouds” to model talking to the text and “making a movie” of the text in one’s head.

Results? Last year I upped my success rate to 80%. This year I want to expand my accountability network to peer relationships via book clubs, literature circles, and online discussion groups. Having taught high school for eight years, these networks would probably be more “do-able” than the student-parent “reading discussions” for most students.

This independent reading program at home frees me up to teach other ELA and reading Standards in the classroom. Instead of taking up valuable class time with sustained silent reading… Check out my dialog with Dr. Stephen Krashen on this approach.

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading Strategies. Designed to significantly TRSincrease the reading 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, 390 flashcards, 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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