Troubleshooting a Reading Program

I start reading aloud to my students early in the year, grabbing a book from the shelf and acting out a scene. However, my level 1 students do not start pleasure reading until the second semester. I spend the entire first semester slowly introducing them to my classroom library through book talks and read-alouds so that they are eager to read on their own when I finally allow them to choose their own books in January.

In January we start with a very short reading session at the beginning of class. We slowly add time as their reading stamina increases. Even so, not every day is a bed of roses. Many of my students come to class with a negative disposition towards pleasure reading. Here are some ideas of how to ‘troubleshoot’ your reading program while you are leading students to love reading

Check out all 8 eight essays about building your reading program in The CI Master Class.

How to address negative attitudes towards reading: I never say the phrase “pleasure reading” to my students. I call it reading; I tell them that they need to find a reading that is not too bad. Of course I know that I am trying to connect them with a compelling read. There is no discussion, pleading, or rewards. Reading is an expectation in school; I will help you find a book that is not too painful.

“My students struggle with the books that I have.” Make more class-created texts and do more read-alouds to scaffold the reading experience. If you have plenty of appropriate texts, you may need to incorporate more browsing strategies so that they find the books, or reconsider how your library is organized so that it is easier to browse. In the CI Master Class you will find two essays in the Reading Program module that cover powerful display and browsing strategies, and another that lists every CI novel currently available.

“My students never finish any book.” Abandoning a book is okay, but you do not want them to abandon every book they ever try to read. Focus on the reading environment: is it silent and free from distractions? Are there enough appropriately leveled books available? Is there a big diversity of themes and text types available? If not, do more read-alouds while you are building your library.

“They always want to browse during reading time.” Give them a pile of books, preferably different text types, and do not let them get out of their seat during reading period. No bathroom passes, no discussion about anything regardless of how important. This has to apply to the teacher too: no grading, no taking attendance.

“I have a kid who is always looking around instead of reading.” Long-term plan is to try to connect him with a home-run book. Dave Ganahl, a teacher from Corona, California, has an excellent short-term plan. On day one, give the student a class seating chart and tell him that you have a hard time tracking who is reading and who is just looking around. Ask him if he would mind just spending the next 10 minutes watching class and mark a check whenever someone looks up. Now go read your book and thank him when reading period is done. On day two, pass the same chart to someone else with the same instructions. Watch his face when he notices that someone else has the chart!

“I tried reading aloud once and won a few kids over, but most are still against reading.” Read-alouds are a long-term strategy that must be repeated frequently in order to change the culture of reading. Plan a five to ten minute read-aloud at least twice a week; do a read-aloud with every easy book in your entire library and, when finished, repeat focusing on the books that are most likely to attract the attention of your students. Remain enthusiastic.

The alternative is assigning book reports, which fuel the battle to evade more reading. Some students will dig in for months if they think that they are “winning the battle.” Missouri teacher Gerry Wass has a great response when a student says they hate reading. With a smile he says, “I see that school has killed your natural love of reading; I am happy that I get to join you on this journey back to the reading life.

“There is massive evidence that self-selected reading, or reading what you want to read, is responsible for most of our literacy development.” – Stephen Krashen