Reading time in class: Boon for students or break for teachers?

Should class time be turned over to silent reading? (AP Images)

Should class time be turned over to silent reading? (AP Images)

In a recent debate on the blog, a poster commented:  No teacher should ever kick back his or her heels and say to his or her classroom “Read silently to yourselves.”  That just means the teacher doesn’t want to do their job.

I have never liked movies being shown in class, but haven’t thought much about students reading books during class. My twins read in class while they’re awaiting a turn on the computer or when they have completed revisions on writing. But they’ve also had classes where everyone opens a book and reads silently.

Is it bad policy?

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog



131 comments Add your comment

Dr. Craig Spinks/ Augusta

August 17th, 2011
4:55 am

Teaching is worse in FL

August 17th, 2011
5:17 am

Depends on lots of variables. What is the teacher’s intent? The same can be said for worksheets…

I can look around my classroom and tell you for a fact a large majority of my students would not find/spend time after school hours to read. We really need to foster that love of leisure reading. I even read some children’s lit myself to model it.

Depends on Preparation and Lesson

August 17th, 2011
5:26 am

Is working out math problems silently out of a book ,or from
a worksheet bad? It depends on what the teacher did previously
to prepare the students , and what the students will be asked to
do after (prompt, journal entry,literary analysis involving comparison/
contrast with another piece of literature, literature circles etc.) reading
to demonstrate skills and knowledge learned. If silent reading is used
without making the students accountable for their reading (some form
of informal ,or formal assessment) then it will probably not produce the
desired academic ends for the teacher.

Rick in Grayson

August 17th, 2011
5:39 am

A teacher’s aide can be used to monitor students reading in class! This is just a ploy for a lazy or unprepared teacher.

s2k

August 17th, 2011
5:46 am

Teachers model. If a teacher uses SSR, then the teacher reads, too. Then we talk about what we’re reading by asking one another questions about our reading. Hey, by the way, those actions right there aren’t just GPS, but are Common Core Standards, too. So there.

But kids don’t read anymore. Kids don’t see their parents reading. And I’d venture to guess that the original poster doesn’t read, either, or he or she would see the value in reading. Kids have fluency problems, kids have terrible vocabulary problems, kids have awful comprehension problems. I’ll bet you can guess that exposure to words and books can help solve those problems.

And @Depends, please let’s give kids the love of a good story back. Please. Programs like Accelerated Reader, with those stupid “assessments” keep kids from being able to read what is flat-out a fantastic story because it’s “not at my level.” I worked for a year at an elementary school media center, and tried to hand out to fourth and fifth graders “Hatchet,” “Bridge to Teribithia,” and “Where the Red Fern Grows,” to name a few, and teachers sent kids back because they didn’t have the right color sticker. What’s happened is kids have missed out on some incredible stories where they might have used context clues to figure out any unfamiliar words – wow, what a life skill that is. Let’s just read for pleasure. I do. I do daily.

So again, that standing, open invitation to my classroom is there for anyone who thinks anything I do = “kicking back my heels” and “not wanting to do my job.” Hey man, it’s YOUR kid that’s probably struggling the most with reading, so hush up and let me do what works.

3rd Grade Teacher

August 17th, 2011
5:59 am

The largest gains in my reading classes scores and overall achievement have come when I incorporated silent, independent reading into the day. An effective teacher, however, does not use this as a break time. The teacher should be working with students individually for conferences, remediation and and data collecting.

Former teacher

August 17th, 2011
6:00 am

How could reading anytime or anywhere be bad for a child’s education?

Cindy Lutenbacher

August 17th, 2011
6:02 am

s2K says it in her final clause: let me do what works. ALL reputable research shows us that the best way to develop literacy skills is to have a good variety of books available with time for pleasure reading. All the phonics-heavy programs and curricula do not work and over time may even decrease reading skills. Even the touted Reading First was proven time and again to be a colossal failure.

Sure, a bit of phonics instruction is probably needed to help kids get going. But the best teaching of literacy is making sure kids have time for reading and access to books they choose.

What is also real is that, for a variety of reasons, kids aren’t reading outside of school as much as they once did. And it’s not always “the parent’s fault.”

I simply expect teachers to make sure that the kids really are reading.

Depends on Preparation and Lesson

August 17th, 2011
6:07 am

@s2k respectfully

I was not thinking about accelerated reader when I
mentioned accountability. My point was that the
teacher had a responsibility to lead the students
in how to process the information they have read
(critical thinking questions) and make sure that
students were actually reading on a higher level.
(beyond decoding)

Depends on Preparation and Lesson

August 17th, 2011
6:08 am

@s2k respectfully

I was not thinking about accelerated reader when I
mentioned accountability. My point was that the
teacher had a responsibility to lead the students
in how to process the information they had read
(critical thinking questions) and make sure that
students were actually reading on a higher level.
(beyond decoding)

Tucker Guy

August 17th, 2011
6:12 am

I have never seen a teacher use silent reading time as a break. Teachers have too much busy work to do to take a break during the school day.

I love teaching. I hate what it is becoming...

August 17th, 2011
6:15 am

Rick “A teacher’s aide can be used to monitor students reading in class! ”

What “teacher’s aide”? Most of us are lucky if we can find someone to watch our classroom for the three minutes it takes us to run to the bathroom and back, let alone “montior” for any length of time.

Peter Smagorinsky

August 17th, 2011
6:21 am

Thanks Tucker Guy for pointing out that teachers might be so overwhelmed by grading papers, filling out forms, calling parents, etc., that silent reading time might be one compromise to keep up with the workload while having students do something productive.

Not all kids have their own rooms at home for doing their class reading, and the classroom might be one of the few spaces in their worlds where simply reading is valued and supported.

http://www.classroomtoolkit.com/dear-ssr.html provides a rationale for such procedures and provides some accountability tools for teachers interested in incorporating reading into class time.

ScienceTeacher671

August 17th, 2011
6:22 am

I worked for a time at a school where this was done school-wide. I don’t know whether or not the school still does it. I loved it because during the school year I often don’t have time to read for pleasure and it gave me a few minutes during the day to enjoy a book (EVERYONE was supposed to read). I hated it because with some classes it was a discipline nightmare (EVERYONE was supposed to read, but some kids wanted to sleep, talk, etc.)

Teacher and parent

August 17th, 2011
6:30 am

Research supports the benefit of time spent actually reading and the improvement of reading skills. There is no correlation between a packet of worksheets and that improvement. Google The Daily 5. It’s a research-based literacy management system that incorporates SSR among other literacy activities. To criticize reading in school in just amazing to me. It’s one more activity that today’s parents fail to instill in their children. Video games are much better for kids.

LitCoach

August 17th, 2011
6:32 am

Any reading teacher worth his or her salt will engage students in independent reading on a daily basis. Reading is just like playing a sport or learning any other skill. The more you practice, the better you get. If a football coach stood in front of his players and explained the rules of the game, taught them football terminology, and showed videos of the sport but never actually let them play would he have a successful team? Probably not. The same can be said for reading. Actually, more often than not, I see teachers teaching their hearts out (thinking that this is what teachers are supposed to do) while the students sit passively and listen for the majority of the reading period. At the end of the teacher’s lesson they may be given a few minutes to read and practice the focus skill of the lesson. This is not enough. If we want to build strong readers we’ve got to actually let them read and read a lot! I’ve never seen a piece of research that contradicts this. However, effective teachers make good use of this silent reading time. Although teachers may occasionally read themselves to provide a reading “model” for the students, he or she will probably do a number of other things to enhance the silent reading experience such as: helping the students to set a purpose for reading, listening to individual students read and conferring with them about their reading, facilitating literacy circles or book clubs, and providing students with effective ways to respond to what they have read. Independent reading is NOT a waste of time. In fact, we are doing an injustice to students if we don’t provide them with it.

Patrick

August 17th, 2011
6:34 am

Like others have said, it really depends. If it seems to be the teacher just wants the kids to read for a couple of hours, then that would be laziness. If, however, the teacher tells the kids to read, and then somehow apply their reading, like record in a journal what they read, then that’s just doing their job.

@s2k: I agree. Teachers need to set examples. When the class reads, so should they. They shouldn’t have to read only what’s in the library; allow them (both the students and the teachers) to bring in books from home. I don’t find it surprising that the curriculum had been “dumbed down” when it comes to reading. I remember reading “Hatchet” and “Bridge to Terabithia” when I was in 5th Grade. I remember the class writing in these workbook/journals, recording what we read that day, and how we felt. Of course, we were given a class set, and read a chapter or two a day. Some of us read ahead, and that was encouraged by the teacher.

The one problem I have is the Summer reading lists. No child wants to be given homework during the Summer. Summer is a time for vacation, a time for fun. If the child wants to read, it will be his or her choice. I did have one teacher that made it interesting: On our first day back, she asked us to write a letter as if we were a character in a book. One of the books on the list was “The Yearling”, which I had read a few times in the past, so I was pretty familiar with the book. I wrote the letter as if I was the main character, Jody Baxter, and how I (he) had found the yearling, named it Flag, and having to get rid of it because of him always getting into the garden. I had also written about hunting Ol’ Slewfoot, Penny being bitten by a rattlesnake, and other points of the book.

The problem I had with reading in class, and a lot of students even today probably do, is that the teachers always made it into an assignment, even if we were allowed to read whatever we wanted. While a child should get more out of a book besides the basic story, that shouldn’t be the only thing they need to do. One thing I would do, if I was a teacher, is ask the class to try to find parallels or similarities between the story they’re reading, and other stories they may have read in the past. While most writers’ ideas are original, they do take inspiration from other writers before them, and it often shows. For example, when the Harry Potter books first became widely popular in the U.S. back in 2000/2001, especially after the first movie came out, there were websites that showed the parallels between the series (as it stood at the time with just four books) and the “Star Wars” movies. In both cases the protagonist was an orphan, the protagonist lives a lowly life and knows there’s something different about them, but can’t put a finger on it, the protagonist leaves home to learn how to hone their special abilities, the list goes on.

GtMom

August 17th, 2011
6:36 am

I think it is a great idea. Not all children get an environment where there are no distractions. If well-educated parents who make education number one in their household may not have this type of environment. There might be a screaming baby or toddler in the background. Children need time to learn competely on their own either by reading or working out math problems. One day, these kids will have to figure out problems or read by themselves. No one will lead them. If we keep teaching them that they must have a Guide during the learning process, when will they learn that they can figure things out without a Guide. There is plenty enough time of the day to work on assignments with the teacher “teaching”.

GtMom

August 17th, 2011
6:37 am

That should be “even well-educated” parents

GtMom

August 17th, 2011
6:37 am

That should be “even well-educated” parents

Back to B.A.S.I.C.S.

August 17th, 2011
6:42 am

The variables are so very many. Can Johnny even read? Does Jeannie comprehend what she’s reading? Does Ms. Jones understand Independent Reading?

Dr NO

August 17th, 2011
6:43 am

I agree with Dr Craig…Both!

Lapsed Bookworm

August 17th, 2011
6:46 am

I have spent 15yrs in early childhood classrooms ranging from 1st to 3rd. In our current way of doing things, kids (let alone the teacher), don’t do anything that doesn’t involve some form of data collection. Every moment of our day involves data collection, Even in 1st gr the kids hardly do anything for pure enjoyment, I find myself snickering @ the Target tv ad where a young, enthusiastic teacher says the kids will need “lots of glitter!”. Where is that classroom? Surely not anywhere near where I teach, unfortunately. We live in a world where kgners are expected to complete numerous standardized tests rather than use a sand box or water table. Our school had a SSR policy in place last year. 3 days a wk, for 15 min, the kids and I got to stop for a moment and just enjoy a book. To add some context, some of my kids were surprised when they say a price sticker on whatever paperback I was reading at the time. They couldn’t believe I bought a book. Not because their household had jumped on the ereader bandwagon, but because they simply didn’t buy books for enjoyment. They picked up a lot as they saw that I gave that time importance. I really did drop everything & read something I was truly interested in, be it Dean Koontz or Stephen King. Even the most reticient reader got his little paperback out and got wrapped up in reading of their choosing. The joy of reading pure & simple. No worksheet, questions, grading follow up, just some private time with our favorite characters.

redweather

August 17th, 2011
6:46 am

Silent reading breaks a bad thing? Some of you are on naysayer auto pilot.

Martina

August 17th, 2011
6:48 am

A lot of the problems that lower-ability children have with test-taking is building their reading fluency. They can concentrate for about 10 minutes and then they lose focus. Having time in class daily to read and then building to that time helps them learn to focus and attend to longer reading passages. If I knew that most of my students were taking time at home to read nightly (one of their automatic homework assignments), I would’t worry about it – but between karate, soccer, gymnastics,TV and video games – it isn’t a priority for some parents. I’ve noticed that the students who have the higher ability levels are the ones who have a book at hand, and can’t wait to complete their work and have just a few minutes waiting for others to finish to get back into their pleasure-reading book. How are children going to learn to love books if everything they read at school is for an “assignment”?

s2k

August 17th, 2011
6:49 am

@Depends and @Patrick:

@D, I’ll show you what accountability means by using @Patrick’s comment as an illustration:

“The problem I had with reading in class, and a lot of students even today probably do, is that the teachers always made it into an assignment, even if we were allowed to read whatever we wanted.”

Guys, that’s EXACTLY the problem. @Patrick, earlier in your post you write “I remember the class writing in these workbook/journals, recording what we read that day, and how we felt.”

But a journal IS an assignment! That can become an assessment!

@Lit Coach writes “If we want to build strong readers we’ve got to actually let them read and read a lot! I’ve never seen a piece of research that contradicts this.”

Just let them read and have a conversation about it. This enhances the kids’ critical thinking skills: “Oh you liked the book. But *why* did you like it?” This makes kids contemplate their own opinions and formulate a response – a skill they’ll need when essay writing later on.

www.honeyfern.org

August 17th, 2011
6:50 am

Another vote for Dr. Craig – both. I also agree that this is a good time for individual conferences with kids that includes goal-setting and plain old conversations about what they are reading.

I want my students to have the habit of reading, and to do that I need to give time and space daily, making it mandatory if they need to push, to simply read. I work hard to help them find books that are appropriate for their independent reading level and interesting (kid recommended, not just teacher recommended). It works!

Dunwoody Mom

August 17th, 2011
6:52 am

No teacher should ever kick back his or her heels and say to his or her classroom “Read silently to yourselves

Really? Ha!! In my day we had silent reading all the time. Bah, humbug.

Doni

August 17th, 2011
6:57 am

Independent silent reading is a vital component to any balanced literacy program. The best way for students to improve their reading is to READ real books. Part of the GPS and the Common Core is for students to read a minimum of 25 books a year. Many kids will not read at home (as others have pointed out). Some time needs to be given at school for kids to read. This shows the kids that their teacher values reading. Sometimes I read when the kids are reading to model the behavior for the kids. Most of the time, I am calling kids over, conferencing with them about their reading. This informal assessment tells me tons about the kid’s reading habits. This is far more valuable than having kids read some passage on a worksheet and answer questions.

catlady

August 17th, 2011
7:02 am

Done correctly, SSR is a very very good thing. During the time we did AR correctly, we saw big gains in reading. Unfortunately, the powers that be decided it was not instructional; teachers were not at the board didacticly teaching every moment. So what if the data showed it was working?

THERE ARE OTHER KINDS OF LEARNING BESIDES THE SCRIPTED, DOG-CLICK METHOD!

Cindy Lutenbacher

August 17th, 2011
7:07 am

Glad to see so many comments in support of reading during school hours.

The research also supports this effort. NCLB fostered phonics-heavy disasters like Reading First, which failed colossally, even by its own standards and studies. A little phonics is a good thing, but the intensive de-coding required by Reading First and ilk is counterproductive.

Over and over again, reputable research shows that when kids are given a good variety of books from which to choose AND the time and space to read them, all their literacy skills soar.

This intuitive/researched truth is one reason we need our libraries more than ever.

And I heartily endorse reading time in school, as long as teachers make sure kids are actually reading.

Mac

August 17th, 2011
7:25 am

Are you kidding!? That time is much better spent practicing how to bubble a scantron in order to pass a standardizing test! Reading leads to thinking! We don’t need that in our schools!

NewMinority

August 17th, 2011
7:36 am

Reading aloud and “narration” is very popular among home schoolers. This method of teaching was developed by Charlotte Mason, a 19th-century British educator who was instrumental in founding a chain of parent-controlled schools, called the Parent’s National Education Union. She understood that reading quality literature or “whole books” as apposed to readers or text books, was a superior way to teach children the intricacies of logical thought and analysis. At her school, reading aloud to students was a daily routine. The children were, on occasion, required to tell back IN THEIR OWN WORDS what was just read. On occasion this response would be in written form. The literature was selected by the teacher for its quality vocabulary and exemplary writing form. It would always be above the current “Lexile” reading level of the student. By careful listening and narration, the teacher would immediately know what the child had understood, and any difficulties could be addresses. The student was constantly challenged to improve vocabulary and reading comprehension. By orally retelling the story, the student was also gaining valuable pre-writing skills and memory practice. This is a very low-cost method and has proven effective for many home schoolers. If you are interested in learning more, A CHARLOTTE MASON COMPANION, by Karen Andreola is a good place to start. I think her methods could easily be implemented in K-5 public school.

NewMinority

August 17th, 2011
7:38 am

Oops! “addressed”

middle school teacher

August 17th, 2011
7:38 am

In my school, we instituted SSR four years ago. I was totally against it, thinking it was a waste of teaching time. Now, my mind has been completely changed. Over these years, I have watched our reading scores increase dramatically. As one individual said above, these children don’t read at home. There are too many distractions. Having the students read silently for 20 minutes each day has created a learning environment unequal to any I have seen in 20 years. I am a believer that this program, when done correctly, can be a boon to education. However, it only works if everyone in the school buys into it.

willydoit?

August 17th, 2011
7:59 am

I read a book once…way over rated. Now, I just wait on the movie!!

arubalisa

August 17th, 2011
8:03 am

We adopted dd at 8 yo. She was never read. We required her to read 20 minutes a day AT HOME & her reading level excelled. Now as a h.s. sophomore, up to 30 minutes per day she reads more on her own & on college level. It is the parent’s responsibility to have standards for their children. As to no movies, I disagree. Dd just started “Of Mice & Men” in Lit class and the teacher showed the excellent documentary Black Blizzard http://www.history.com/videos/black-blizzard Puts into pictures what the backdrop of the story was.

FCS Teacher

August 17th, 2011
8:03 am

Maureen:

What’s wrong with watching films? Are you saying that cinematography is not an art worthy of analysis? Visual media is an important part of our culture. Why are you disregarding it as a waste of time?

Inman Park Boy

August 17th, 2011
8:04 am

@LitCoach What she/he said.

Retired Educator

August 17th, 2011
8:08 am

Well, I have problems with all these rocking chair teachers who didn’t train for the profession. There is a lot that is required to educate children that doesn’t meet the eye of an untrained observer.

Some people just love to find fault, find something to be discontent about, and it’s bad that it all has to make Get Schooled as something worthy of another bunch of bloggers. Education is taking an unwarranted beating lately. All these folk with firm opinions on how it should be done should enroll in school and seek a degree in education in the field that most appeals to them.

Just remember, it’s always easy to sit on the outside and look in to a profession that we are not trained to understand. I’d be willing to bet that many of the bloggers contributing to the basis for the article would be outraged if teachers, or anyone else, felt qualified to judge their performance techniques on the jobs they were trained to perform.

irisheyes

August 17th, 2011
8:18 am

OMG! The kids are READING during school time! Someone call the authorities!!

Sorry, but that person’s complaint is ridiculous. Personally, I believe that the sign of a great classroom is one that is filled with books, where the students are reading just for the love of reading. Just because tons of useless worksheets don’t come home doesn’t mean the teacher isn’t doing their job.

HS Public Teacher

August 17th, 2011
8:19 am

Why does ANYONE without an education degree and/or without teaching experience even THINK that their opinion regarding anything happening inside of a classroom is/isn’t valid, whatsoever?

Reading in class is but one of many teaching strategies. It is an acceptable practice that really SHOULD be incorporated into a differentiated classroom. In fact, some students learn BEST through the simple act of reading.

These same people that want to “judge” teachers and the actions inside of the classroom….. do they also “judge their dentist”? Do they question their technique for filling a cavity?

Do they “judge” their doctor? Do they question why the doctor places their hands on their back and ask them to cough?

Respect teachers. Trust teachers. Yes, there are a few bad apples, but no more than in any other profession. Otherwise, you take the risk of running out the good teachers!!!!!

RJ

August 17th, 2011
8:21 am

When I began my career, there was DEAR time (Drop Everything and Read) built into the schedule. Everyone in the building was expected to read. The key was having interesting books for the kids. Of course this was before NCLB, so it’s no longer utilized.

@Maureen, movies are a great way to teach kids about the world. I recall fondly reading books in high school and later watching the movie. This was years ago. Today, I use movies throughout the year. Students are able to see how people lived in various time periods, they can view a live performance of someone playing various instruments, they can discover the lives of great musicians. Just because it’s a movie doesn’t mean it’s not educational.

Maureen Downey

August 17th, 2011
8:30 am

@HS Public Teacher, I think the poster who made the comment about reading may have been a teacher.
Maureen

Elizabeth

August 17th, 2011
8:31 am

In order to improve their reading skills, kids have to READ SILENTLY AND INDEPENDANTLY. That is what they havew to do in life and on the standardized tests. How am I to judge what a student has learned if he/she does it all in a group? We only have a class set of literature books so kids cannot take them home. Just when are they supposed to read if not in class? And reading for pleasure is one of the best things you can encourage kids to do. Reading is NEVER a waste of time. NEVER!!!

If you do not have an education degree and have never taught in a public school classroom, stop telling me how to teach and run MY classroom. Get your degree and then you might have a valid voice. Would you like it if I told you how to do your job when I had never been in your place of work? Stay out of my classroom.

Elizabeth

August 17th, 2011
8:32 am

Sorry for the errors. My computer is old and does always do what I
want it to!!

Philosopher

August 17th, 2011
8:34 am

As said by Former teacher : “How could reading anytime or anywhere be bad for a child’s education?” And with the work homework load my child faces every single day, the book-loving kid gets about 2 minutes of reading in as she drops off to sleep at night. Give kids time to read. Many of my kid’s friends (and their parents) read absolutely NOTHING at home. Teach a child to read and you will have given him/her the means to achieve success, enjoy life and critically think…truly great gifts!

Maureen Downey

August 17th, 2011
8:34 am

@FCS Teacher, I am not complaining about films related to the class content, which seems to occur more in middle and high schools. However, I don’t like Disney films as an end-the-week wind down on Fridays. There may be cinematic value to “101 Dalmatians” and “A Bug’s Life” but I haven’t found that kids discuss such films, only watch them on Fridays.
Maureen

Charter School Now

August 17th, 2011
8:43 am

last year, after the CRCT’s were done, several of my daughter’s classes watched films for the rest of the year – and she was on the gifted track. That’s one of the reasons we’re in the charter school this year.

Lee

August 17th, 2011
8:47 am

Back in the day, we would often get “free time” to read or do homework. Didn’t see a problem with it then. Don’t see a problem with it now.

Bottom line, you don’t have to be “on task” every minute of every day to be an effective teacher. They’re kids – not little robots that you can drill, drill, drill every minute of every day.