Launching an independent reading program has been my goal since I started out as a student teacher six years ago. Last year, I was able to start the program in my elective classes. Most students who already liked to read continued to read and enjoyed the program. However, I felt like I failed to draw in more reluctant or disinterested readers.
When speaking with a colleague, she cited Kelly Gallagher’s Readicide and just how difficult it is to encourage a love of reading in high school. It seems like most of my students only read when they need to for class. Over my past five years teaching 10th grade students, I can easily name only about ten students who I discovered loved to read. I think that there were probably more, but high school curriculums leave minimal time to develop an independent reading program.
Nevertheless, I’m determined to make an independent reading program work in my high school classes. I brainstormed the following list, but I’d love for you to share any ideas you have for launching and maintaining an independent reading program. If any students are reading this, please tell me about any suggestions you have that would encourage you to read.
- Make books’ purpose obvious: A colleague put posters around the room with different reasons for why we read. (Examples: “I read to gain knowledge,” “I read for enjoyment/entertainment.”) Following her idea, I’ll have students to go to signs to discuss the reasons why they read.
- Make books move: One of the best strategies for teaching students how to be readers is called a book pass. My college professor, Dr. Emily Meixner, used this strategy to take a selection of books of interest and have students sit in pairs and pass the books around the room. Each pair gets about 2-3 minutes to browse through the book and rate it on a note-taking sheet. It helps non-readers to talk with their peers about books, read the back cover, and select books they like.
- Make books visible: A couple of years ago, I started bringing books into my classroom. My desk was covered for a couple of weeks and I felt like I should organize them and put them away in the cabinets. Before I got a minute to do so, a student started asking me to borrow some of them. Each week, she borrowed at least two. I would not have known she was the avid read she was unless I had a cluttered desk.
- Make books accessible: I’m planning a day to take my students to the library to pick out books to read. It is going to be a class requirement to have an independent reading book with them every day. I plan to provide students with at least 20 minutes a week to read in class and my hope is that they’ll read on their own if they have their books with them everyday.
- Make books the topic of graffiti: My school librarian and I are going to put up butcher paper around the library for students to use to discuss book recommendations.
- Make book recommendations visible: Prior students submitted reading recommendations on a Google spreadsheet, so I plan to share this with current students.
- Make books the reward: I’m a bit unsure about this strategy. The joy of reading should be the reward. I hope that some of my students will get to that point. To give them a little incentive, I informed students that if they read at least two outside books by January, they will earn extra class currency (Each class writes an honor code at the beginning of the year and students get 3 American Lit. dollars to use for extensions or extra points on an assignment) for 2nd semester.
Please add more suggestions for launching or maintaining an independent reading program in high school.