Teaching #101: The Importance of Teaching Reading in Our Classrooms

As an English teacher, I once believed I was helping students develop good learning habits by making them read a certain number of pages of an assigned novel. Oh, don’t worry. I didn’t just make them read at home. I made them annotate as well. When they would return the next day, I then tested them on their knowledge. Sometimes, I gave them the “gift” of a few days to read and then tested them when they were supposed to be done.

I believed that reading was an important skill and every student was better for having the opportunity to read and show what they read. Reading was so important to me, I assigned it every night (even on weekends).

Boy, was I wrong and here’s why you should change everything you are doing if I just described your current teaching practices.

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First, though I felt and still feel reading is crucial to our children’s education, I just was not putting it in the right place. Instead, I spent 55 minutes teaching them about the book or creating assignments for them to do to “enhance” the text.

Now I have students read during my class time. If reading is so important, why wouldn’t I use my time to give students the opportunity?

The first time I had students read in class I couldn’t believe how naïve I had been to think they were doing this at home. It was laughable really. For the first month, I had to train them and show them what readers do. They lacked the focus and stamina to read for any length of time. It took at least two months to get them to productively read in class for 45 minutes. For a point of reference, the SAT starts it’s 4.5 hour long test with a 60 minute reading comp section.

Secondly, I stopped creating all of these activities in class that my students could not do because they hadn’t read the book or understood what they read. Instead, I created lessons at integral parts of the book that helped develop their critical learning. Since all of my students were reading and understanding the book, the class discussion was dynamic and interesting for all involved.

Finally, I stopped my punitive comprehension quizzes, and I made them “Comprehension Checks”. This was an opportunity for the students and for me to see what they learned without adverse consequences. When I conferenced with my students, we had informed conversations about what they understood and what they didn’t. It helped to give them ownership over what they knew and what they didn’t know. The quizzes were open-book because I realized that when I tested a student on material they read over the course of multiple days, I was testing their memory more than I was testing their comprehension. Now, I only asked questions about main ideas I wanted them to understand from the chapter. This way when they saw the answers it would further their understanding of the text.

I changed my way of teaching reading five years ago, and I will NEVER go back. My students are thriving in both reading and writing. They are making gains in both every day because I decided to making reading important in my classroom.

Love and Light!

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