Help Needed! A Choice System for Independent Reading

I was thinking about homework choice this morning, wishing there were more times during the school day when kids could set, work towards, and achieve their own goals as learners.

The problem was that I almost always make the choices for kids, whether it’s during math, writing, or just about any other subject.

If only there was a time in the day when kids had a lot of choice… when they’d benefit from setting goals… when they need to be held accountable for putting in effective effort and not pretending to read a book while really staring into space…

That was it!  Independent reading!  Duh!

Why didn’t I think of it before?  I could marry the homework choice system with independent reading time!

Epiphanies don’t come very often, but I swear, this time, I could hear the angels sing.

Here would be the goals of this new and improved independent reading system:

  1. Empower kids to set and achieve learning goals during their independent reading time.
  2. Ensure that kids are working on the right goals according to their needs.
  3. Hold kids accountable for making thoughtful choices and putting in effective effort.
  4. Help kids understand that effective effort + time = success.

Teachers (me included) are always wondering how to make the most of independent reading.  Could this system be a solution?

Here’s a VERY ROUGH draft of what might be included in kids’ reading notebooks:

DRAFT Independent Reading Menu and Log 2009-2010 (PDF)

Students could write two goals for each week to be accomplished during their independent reading time.  They’d start every independent reading session by re-reading those goals.  Then they would read their just-right book and extend their learning by doing one activity from the Independent Reading Menu.  Instead of using a homework log, students would record their choices in their Independent Reading Log.

Every Friday, students would use some of our workshop time to reflect on their week.  Just like in the Homework Notebook, they would check off whether they achieved their goals, write a reflection, and set goals for the following week.

I’m also thinking about having Reading Partners who would give each other some support in this process.  Partners could discuss their reading goals together and check that the goals — and the daily choices — were recorded correctly.  They could also serve as sounding boards when students write their weekly reflections.  My student teacher and I could serve as Reading Partners for kids in the beginning, but then we could pass that responsibility onto the kids and just check the notebooks on a weekly basis.

Of course, the notebooks would also be a really handy tool during reading conferences.  Looking at a student’s notebook, it would be clear whether they were setting appropriate goals and making good choices.

Clearly, I need help.  And not just with this menu, but that would be a great start.

Clearly, I need help. And not just with this menu, but that would be a great start.

But I need your help!  If you look at the menu, you’ll see that I have just a few rough ideas.  What would you recommend kids do?  What independent reading activities have been successful in your classroom?  I’d love to have a range of independent and partner ideas.

I think most of the ideas I’ve come up with so far are self-explanatory, except maybe for Read Naturally, which is a fluency program in which kids read along with taped books, gradually increasing their reading rate.  If any of the choices, aren’t clear, please let me know.

Thank you so much for your help!

— a. fox

6 thoughts on “Help Needed! A Choice System for Independent Reading

  1. Abbie,
    I love it!
    The Reading Log and Goals and Reflection pages can travel back and forth to Learning Center and will be great planning tools. I’d got some great stuff to add to the Reading Menu. Will poke around my closet, check IEPs again and get specific. Some materials – and games – will be great for kid not on IEPs too.
    this is awesome.

    • Hooray! I’m so excited to see the activities you have, and I LOVE the idea of having the notebook travel back and forth to the Learning Center. Brilliant!

      — a. fox

  2. Hi Abbie,

    I love your blog and this idea! Off the top of my head I was thinking students could go to a station that had packets titled onset/rhyme, syllabication, blends, clusters and so on. Inside the packets could be words on index cards and/or sentence strips. The words and sentences would call for the student to decode using a particular decoding strategy. Perhaps this could be tied to vocabulary and be done with a partner.

    My second thought was a choice to do a reading writing connection. Students would be prompted to think of a genre they would like to try writing in. Then, they would go to the library and read a the setting and beginning from a book of that genre. Then, they fill out a prewriting sheet to take notes on how the author started and made a setting. The task could be continued by the students in writers workshop when they used their prewriting notes to help start their own piece. They could follow up in later reading workshops by seeing the types of words the author used and how she wrote the middle and end. Perhaps the prewriting could be a comprehension report.

    These are my rough ideas for now. Thank you for sharing!


    • Thanks for the great ideas, Rich! I especially like your idea of an activity that would encourage that reading/writing connection. It really addresses the “About the Text” understandings that Fountas and Pinnell outline in The Continuum of Literacy Learning. We do a lot with “Within the Text” and “Beyond the Text” understandings, helping kids to think about what’s happening in a text — the basic facts — and then to use their metacognitive skills to think beyond, making connections, asking questions, etc. But we don’t do enough to help kids think “About the Text:” about the author’s craft and the choices the author made while writing. If we did, we’d really encourage kids to think critically and to think of themselves as writers (learning from other writers), whether or not it’s writing time.

      Good thinking, Rich! I am excited to work on this together!
      — a. fox

  3. I love the idea, and the independence of the students in the class that will take this on. I am curious to hear how it goes (I know the launch of this will take some time, as will the routine, so I will wait until the time is right to hear back!)

    I am not ready to take this on with first and second graders. They need to learn how to do the learning necessary to become readers and to gain in the ability to recognize their thinking and to be able to name it. Very emergent readers are working so hard on decoding (which they don’t yet have the name to catalogue this work they are doing) they often have little juice left over for making meaning!

    They will grow tremendously in their ability to self reflect and have metacognition. Second graders begin to recognize areas of comprehension they need to work on, and can name them. Some can say they are working on fluency. Many are still learning all the things they do as readers, but need a teachers help and guidance to work on certain areas or for an intervention for something that is tangled.

    I am realizing much of my job prepares kids to be ready to take on some of the goal setting/effective effort steps they will need to realize their potential as learners! They are lucky to move on to a class like yours where they can!

    • Wow, I have realized anew that I have no idea what it’s like to teach first grade (and early second grade). But now that you’ve made those excellent points, Beth, I can see exactly what you’re saying. And now I am in awe of how far kids come in those two years. That it takes most kids only two years to grow from knowing basic letter sounds to reading at a level M! It’s amazing. I am also impressed that your kids are as proficient at metacognitive thinking as they are. Even this early in the school year, I have seen them code “NL” on their sticky notes for “New Learning” while reading nonfiction. And of course, they throw around phrases like, “I’m inferring that…” and “I have a text-to-self connection…” like they’ve been speaking that language for years and years.

      I agree that self-assessment and goal setting are the next logical steps. Steps that are only possible because of the extraordinary learning they’ve done so far.


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