Keeping Kids Accountable with Independent Reading - Room 213

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Keeping Kids Accountable with Independent Reading

Accountability and Independent Reading

We give our students quite a gift when we allow them to choose which books they will read. However, independent reading and readers' workshop can be difficult for a teacher to manage. Many believe it's easier to keep kids accountable when they do a full class novel because everyone is - quite literally - on the same page. However, there are several strategies you can use to build in accountability when your students are choosing their own novels. Read on to find out what I do with my students:

1. Decide on the Skills You Want to Target
Strategies for keeping students accountable with independent reading or reader's workshop
Instead of thinking about the chapters and specific elements of a particular novel, zero in on the skills you want your independent readers to acquire. Then, make a plan for when and how you will focus on these skills. My biggest focus at the beginning of a semester is building reading stamina in my students. We attack that right from the beginning by choosing good books and setting goals for each week. 

Later, I will focus on different elements of fiction, like the methods that authors employ to develop characters, or the ways that they use point of view and perspective. We will delve into word choice and theme. All of the things I would cover with a full class novel are covered with reader's workshop -- but I need to start with a plan.

2. Teach students to be active readers
Teach your students to be active readers

Whether they are reading the same book or different ones, teach students how to be active readers. Do this by modelling your own reading and by focusing on one skill at a time. Talk to them about how you choose a book, and show them your thinking as you read. And, if you want them to track character or theme, give them mini-lessons on how to do so.  Then build in activities that can help them learn how to do this. If you'd like some help with this, you can check out my Activities for Independent ReadingIt offers a variety of activities that you can use to help your students become active readers who can effectively analyze their texts. These activities will teach them the habits of active reading and will guide them to have meaningful discussions about literature. 

Once you have given your students these tools, and you have provided them with opportunities to practice their active reading skills, you can begin to assess them.

3. Use reader's notebooks to record thinking and learning

Reader's notebooks, journals, logs, whatever you want to call them, are essential for managing independent reading. Students can use them to record their reading goals, the books they've read, their thinking as they read, and skill building exercises you might assign. One of my favourite ways to engage kids who are reading different novels is with writing prompts that can be applied to any text - especially ones that the kids will find interesting. I have a whole series of prompts that ask students to reflect on -- or connect to -- some aspect of their reading, such as character, theme, point of view, conflict, or setting. Some prompts ask them to make a creative connection. I use them as bell ringers or I print them off and use them as a basis for small group discussions about books.

I also use learning stations to get my students to focus on specific elements of their reading. At each station, students are asked to reflect on, and write about, character and thematic development, author's craft, great quotes, etc. All of this writing goes into their readers' notebooks. I will read some of the entries, but not all of them. I do assign some grades, but I treat the notebook primarily as a place to build skills and to capture thinking about text, rather than something that needs to be assessed.

The students will also use the information in their notebooks for conferences with me, as well as with their peers during small group discussions. If they don't have the work in the notebook, they have nothing to work with. In a way, this makes them much more accountable than traditional chapter questions with a full class novel. They are reading their own books and are responsible for the notebook entries, something they can't just copy off someone else.

4. Use group discussions to target skills and create interest
Strategies for keeping students accountable with independent reading or reader's workshop
Group discussions are perfect for keeping kids accountable while reading -- and they are where a lot of the magic happens. There's nothing better than hearing your students sink into a deep discussion about a theme and how it relates to their lives. The key to success in this is providing them with some focus and direction for their discussions. 

Give them a topic that can relate to any novel and ask them to discuss it in terms of their text: how does your book speak to the concept of loneliness? Or, if you want them to focus on skills: How does your author use dialogue to develop character? I usually have them do a quick-write in their notebooks first, and then move them into groups. (If you'd like a little help with small group discussions, you can check out my Placemats for Talking About Text and my Reading Task Cards.)

The added bonus to these chats is that they can introduce students to other texts they might like to read. Quite often, after small group discussion, I will hear students asking each other if they can borrow the book when they are finished.

Accountability and Independent Reading

Conferencing with students is a cornerstone of the reading workshop. But even if you aren't doing a full workshop, you can use this strategy to keep your students accountable. The beauty of a conference is that you can quickly and easily assess the student without taking home a paper to read and grade. 

I give my students bookmarks that they can use to track the elements I want them to notice when they read, and I use prepared guides to keep myself and them focused when we conference. Sometimes these conferences are sit-down ones that take several minutes with each student, but often they are quickie-conferences, where I walk around the classroom with my clipboard, asking questions like: can you show me a place where your author is showing rather than telling? If the student can, I mark off that skill on my checklist.

If you'd like more information on how and why you should use this strategy, you can read about it on this post.

I hope that I've given you some strategies that you can use when you do independent reading in your classroom. If you have questions, never hesitate to reach out through email. You can also join my closed Facebook group, Strategies for Teaching Secondary English.

All of the products and activities I mentioned in the post can be found by checking out my Reader's Workshop Bundle. Most of them are in the bundle, and the others are mentioned in the product description. 

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  1. Thank you so much for this! I’m actually introducing my independent reading project next week, so the timing could not have been more perfect! I can’t wait to implement some of these engagement strategies. I also love doing a menu of sumative assessments so the kids can get creative at the end of the unit. I do have a quick question though: I tried to follow the link for the series of prompts that you use as bell work, but it doesn’t seem to work. Is there another link I could use to access them?

    1. You are so welcome, Leah! I've fixed the link on the post. Here it is:


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