Independent Reading During Distance Learning

Independent reading is such a big part of class. Finding a way to make it work in this time of fully remote learning was extremely important to me, so I spent a significant chunk of time thinking through different ways to implement choice reading this year. Today I’ll outline what I’m doing and how it’s working so far this year.

In a previous post I explained how I got physical books into most students hands before school began. I also shared a document I’ve compiled of many digital reading options, including Spanish language podcasts. Some are specific to my area (like our local public library system) and there is one that I purchased access to (E-lit app), but the rest should work for anyone, just make a copy and edit to suit your needs.

Once students have lots of access to print, audio and digital reading, where do we go from there? For me, it started with pausing to consider whether or not I would use some of my very limited live class time for reading, like we normally would in the classroom. Ultimately I decided that if I was going to preach the importance of reading to my students (I was) and if I truly believed choice reading was essential (I do), then I needed to use live class time for choice reading. So since day 3 of our online, synchronous classes, we’ve dedicated 10 minutes per class to independent reading. For context, I see students “live” typically twice a week for one hour, an sometimes just once per week. Committing 10 minutes of every 60 to reading is a big deal, but in my opinion, it’s totally warranted. Beyond in class reading, I expect my students to read for 40 minutes per week (10 minutes per school day, divided up however they like) OUTSIDEA of class.

I’ve been asked several times how I know that students are reading, whether during those live meetings on Teams or their out of class minutes. The truth is, I honestly don’t know. I’m certain that some of them are reading (almost) every class, and I’m certain that some aren’t reading at all. And I assume there are many who fall somewhere in between. Maybe they spend half the time looking for something to read. Maybe they start reading but get a message from a friend and stop. Maybe they are getting breakfast or lunch for a younger sibling, or taking a bathroom break. I don’t know, and I’m not going to stress about it (because honestly, I just can’t dedicate my limited energy to it right now).

For their 40 minutes of independent reading each week, students are asked to complete this simple Google Form each week (for the sake of other readers, please remember to make a copy for yourself before editing if you want to use this). The questions are short and since students enter their own score, it makes grading easy. Again, I have no way of knowing if they are genuinely reading or if they’re lying. My impression is that they’re fairly honest, because many students have chosen the option “1: I didn’t read but at least I’m filling out this form!” I don’t worry too much about this either since homework is only 5% of their grade.

On an average week I get around 50% of these forms turned in on time, so it’s obviously not a huge success. By dropping the link in the chat during live classes and lots of verbal reminders, I can usually get to around 70% or more. Still not great, but better than nothing. It takes some time to comb through the responses, but it’s fun to see what students are reading/listening to, and whether they’re enjoying it or not.

Overall, I’m really happy with how independent choice reading is going this year. Is it perfect? Far from it! But it feels like a good solution in this difficult time.

If you’re doing choice reading in your remote classes, drop a comment below and let me know your system and how it’s working for you! And if you have a question I haven’t answered, reach out through the contact page and let me know.

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