Supporting Independent Readers

When I think about my own identity as a reader, I think a lot about the choices I was allowed to make as a young reader. While I was often limited to book lists of canonized works that were deemed suitable for study, I managed to find a lot of time to explore books I loved and was interested in personally outside of the classroom. Thinking about ways to support independent readers brings a lot of nerves; I know as a kid, I had a compulsion to read, but so many others do not.

Pernille Ripp speaks a lot about developing and supporting independent readers as soon as the very first day of school, and she describes an approach that relieves a lot of my stress toward the responsibility of doing so. Ripp explains that the quickest way to developing ways to support strong readers is by gathering a realistic picture of where your students are currently in identifying themselves as readers. This requires an open and honest dialogue where teachers are not predominantly talking, but listening. Teachers have to understand that in order to undo a lot of the harm done to readers by instructors with a heavy focus on fluency and testing, they have to give students the opportunity to explain their struggles. They have to have the opportunity to consider, perhaps for the very first time, their independent reading identity.

For this to work in a classroom, it is not only necessary to make time for in class independent reading, but to also share honestly where we our in our reading journey. I struggle, personally, with making time to read when I am not on a deadline to do so. Pleasure reading is often put on hold in order to make time for texts I need to read for my master’s program, or to read in hopes of sharing later with future students. By setting goals for myself as an adult reader, I show students that reading is an ongoing project; something we should consistently be thinking about and working on improving and understanding.

Perhaps even more important than this, though, is the cultivation of a diverse classroom library where kids can access a range of books and discover new titles. I was lucky to have parents financial able to support my reading life as a kid, but that isn’t the case for so many others. A student’s access and exposure to books may only be in my classroom, so it is incredibly important to have an enriched library to choose from.

As I think more about my future students and classroom, I wonder how I can take all these ideas and adapt them as my own.

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