Dear fellow teachers:
When we began our Independent Reading journey in 2014, we had three classroom libraries and three willing (okay – crazy) teachers who decided to experiment with a program we found as a result of attending Mamaroneck High School’s 2014 NCTE Convention Presentation. Three years later, we have expanded to nine classroom libraries. After presenting professional development to more than 200 educators across 11 Connecticut districts, we have arrived at a point where the administration wants to ensure that each student has an equitable experience with the Independent Reading program. They want it written into the 9th grade curriculum, which will be revised this summer.
This seems spectacular, right? We get to continue our program and to have the district fund classroom libraries for all 9th grade English teachers. However, in our department of 22, 9 teachers are currently employing Rigorous Independent Reading daily using the method that Penny Kittle outlines in Book Love. We have one more teacher practicing “Reading Fridays” where Monday through Thursday are regular instruction days and on Fridays, the classes read for a full 45 minute period. Finally, a number of other teachers use literature circles or engage the students in Independent Reading over one quarter or one semester of the year. So, about half of the department has not elected to try the practice of Independent Reading, while others are trying various alternate methods to have students engage in some form of self-selecting and reading texts. So, here lies the rub: is it possible to assure an equitable experience for students across classrooms while maintaining the comfort level and current practices of our colleagues?
We have had many department meetings discussing the concerns our department has as well as the progress and positive improvement our students have made, but we still haven’t come to a consensus and have been told that “Independent Reading will happen in all 9th grade classes in the fall.” Our task is to figure out what that should look like and write it into the curriculum.
Based on my own students’ success over the past few years, I have some pretty strong opinions about what I think an Independent Reading program should look like (read here and here). However, as someone who started Independent Reading during my 14th year of teaching, I understand what completely revamping instruction looks like and it’s unsettling. I understand how and why my colleagues have a healthy fear of change. So, I am left with more questions than answers as we begin to embark upon this journey of changing the curriculum to reflect our current practices:
- What does curriculum reveal about a community’s beliefs about literacy? What do we value? What do we want our students be able to do and carry with them as they graduate high school?
- How do (or should) we define Independent Reading?
- How much instructional time should be spent on engaging students in reading texts of their own choosing?
- What balance should there be between whole class texts and independent books?
- How do we support teachers as they embark on the journey of changing their classroom structure and culture, and their own instruction?
- What should be taught in the 9th grade English classroom?
- Can the skills we value be addressed via an Independent Reading program?
- What is the difference between offering instruction on skills and offering instruction on a text?
- If one teacher has students read for 10 minutes each day and another has students read for a 50 minute block of time, are they getting the same experience at the end of the week? Are these two different practices the same program? Is this equitable?
- Does one quarter of Literature Circles = Independent Reading solely outside of class for one semester = engaging in Independent Reading daily?
- What does the fact that Independent Reading has to be written in to the curriculum say about the culture of the school and community?
- What type of growth mindset should we have as educators? As a school? As a community?
I have been grappling with these queries for some time now and would love ideas and feedback. What are your answers to the above pedagogical questions? How does your district’s curricula reflect your Independent Reading practice? Please let us know in the comments!
The THS Reading (R)evolution