The first step of any strong independent reading program is to do a preliminary diagnostic of your students and their reading skills and interests.
Many schools invest in online or paper assessments to determine students’ grade-level equivalent. Many teachers give out reading inventory surveys for their students to complete.
Both of those are good ideas. I do them.
But this year, I’ve found out that it’s pretty easy to figure out the reading lives of students. Here are my three quick-and-easy questions:
1. What are you reading now?
2. What was the last book you read?
3. What book would you like to read next?
Yep, that’s it! In about 30 seconds, I can find out a lot of information.
Question #1 separates the avid readers from the rest. If the student has an answer to the first question, I’m ecstatic. I won’t ever have to worry about him or her. All I have to do is make sure he or she has access to a Kindle or a library. (About 10 percent of students have an answer.)
Question #2 is where it starts getting interesting. If the student answers within a few seconds, and if the answer isn’t something like Clifford the Dog, then the student is a regular reader. Too many teacher-assigned texts have likely sapped this student’s interest in reading, but independent reading will soon turn that around. My move is to make sure this student has one or two good books in a row to read, and then everything will be fine.
On the other hand, if the student has trouble answering, or doesn’t remember, or reveals that he or she has never read a book before, then the student is a reluctant reader. (Some teachers prefer the term “emerging reader.”) I write this student’s name down. After all, no regular English class with whole-class novels and nonfiction articles will change this student’s relationship to reading. Independent reading could work, but only if I do a good job building a relationship with the student, finding out more about his or her interests, assessing reading skill gaps, and vigorously following up on them.
Question #3 is my favorite because it gets at the student’s interests. If the student is a regular or reluctant reader, who hasn’t read in a while, specific titles of books are hard to come by. That’s OK. I ask him or her what kinds of books he or she would like to read.
Usually, though, the student does come up with an answer. And the answers are very revealing.
Just two weeks ago, when the Kindle Classroom Project expanded to its second classroom, I asked the students Question #3. Here is what some of them said:
Alex: My Bloody Life: The Making of a Latin King, by Reymundo Sanchez
Johnny: Life in Prison, by Stanley “Tookie” Williams
Brianna: A Child Called It, by Dave Pelzer
Mariyah: Goosebumps, by R.L. Stine.
So, what would you be able to notice? And what would you ask next? For Alex, Johnny, Brianna, and Mariyah, what would be your next move?