Joy Kirr is a middle school teacher, author, and speaker. Her 7th grade ELA (English Language Arts) classes are working to improve their lives through student-directed learning - without marks throughout the year. This is a log of their learning experiences... Want to have her speak with your staff or facilitate a workshop? Here is Joy's PORTFOLIO.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Hacking Silent Reading Time

This school year, I tried four new "hacks" to get my 7th graders to read even MORE. These are in addition to TONS of book talks, reading alongside students, passing around a clipboard each day so students can write in what they're currently reading, and having set non-negotiable times each week for students to read independently for 20 minutes (in my beautiful 80-min. block) at a time.

Here are four types of students I have that do not exhibit habits of readers... yet. I have then listed the hack I've tried. I've experienced success with each one, and that's why it's time to share them with you.

The Great Pretender
She says she reads. At home. Each day in class, she chooses a different book. This book is usually one from my "browsing" shelf - Guinness Book of World Records, The Big Book of Gross Stuff, picture books such as Jumanji... I wouldn't keep these books on my shelves if I thought they were bad books, by any means. But this child exhibits all the habits of a non-reader. She'll try to fool you into thinking she reads. She might go so far as to give a book talk about a book the teacher read last year in class.

Get the audio version of books, and download them to the classroom laptops (if you have them). I have six old laptops in our class (and two chargers that work - I rotate which get charged each night). On the top of the laptop, put a picture of the cover of the book. Book talk it, and let students read along while listening. My experience -- every time we read in class, my "Great Pretender" quietly gets a headset, opens iTunes, and is engrossed for 20 minutes.

Forgetful Frances
She's disorganized. She reads at home. (This is evident in the books she knows and her spelling, vocabulary, and grammar.) She doesn't remember to bring her book to class. Ever. She chooses a different book off the shelf almost every day, but then leaves it somewhere in the room and it takes me awhile to find it to put it back where it belongs. She can't find it the next time she wants to read it, so she chooses another book.

Check out books you love(d) from your local library. Put a sticky note in them that says, "This book stays in room ___" so students cannot check them out. (I've been burned and had to pay for a book that never returned.) If this type of child is truly disorganized, she will not mind that the books have to stay in the room, because she would forget to bring one home or back to school anyway. Place them on the whiteboard (chalkboard?) shelf or another display. Make sure the covers face out - just like the end caps at the grocery store - make them VISIBLE! Have bookmarks on hand so she can save her spot in the book. My experience -- she's reading one book at school and one at home. In the books pictured below, there are THREE bookmarks (one for each of my three classes) in Fuzzy Mud (thanks for the rec, Sandy!). One bookmark is simply a corner of a piece of notebook paper. Now that I'm returning the book to my library today, students have said they'll check it out of their own library. (I will probably renew this copy, however... Am I an enabler??) I purchased a copy for the class, and it's currently checked out, with a sticky note inside of students who want to read it. 

The Distracted Diva
She only wants to read short, easy books. She starts books, and then abandons them after 20 pages. She'll read half of a graphic novel. She doesn't always bring a book to class. When she does bring a book, it might be one she's read before, or one in which she's had her bookmark on page 15 for a week or two before she abandons it. She likes to whisper and giggle with a friend during silent reading time or simply look anywhere but the pages of her book if her friends are too busy reading.

Create an "article of the week" document that is viewable by anyone. Make a shortened, easy-to-remember link to it. Let students read the articles online using a device. My experience -- Our document is, and Scott Hazeu helps me add to it. My requirement if students use this source - they must tell us about the article(s) they read when silent reading time is over. Very few students have used this option, but a couple of them have, and that's good enough for me. Frankly, I think they've forgotten about it. I'll remind them of the link and where it is on our class website on Monday.

The Sports Hound
He loves sports. Sports. Sports. He doesn't bring his own book to class. He chooses fiction books from the sports section of our classroom shelves. He pretends to read. He succeeds at this until I decide to observe and then intervene. (I use this easy system, revised from Donalyn Miller's Reading in the Wild.) He's got a bit of the Great Pretender in him, because he sometimes gives a book talk to the class based on the information on the back of the book and the first chapter of the book. If you have a good relationship with him, he'll admit that he reads the first and last paragraph of each chapter. "That's enough to know about the book," he confesses.

Use the computer at the front of the room for browsing articles. Have the student mute the volume so if there's an ad or video, it won't disturb the class. This student doesn't have to pretend to read anymore during silent reading time. This may even help him develop a daily practice of reading the news - at home. My experience - he comes in, excited for silent reading, heads to the computer, mutes it, finds his favorite sports site, and reads for the entire 20 minutes.

These children still may not read at home, but I'm going to do my best to be sure they DO read when they're in room 239. If nothing else, they know that developing the habit of reading for a solid block of time undisturbed is important to me.

P.S. This is all done without grades attached. Of course.


  1. I love this post, Joy! Thank you so much for sharing your fabulous hacking strategies! I love how you encourage online reading for sports stats, etc. Such a wonderful way to tap into students' interests. That's real reading in action! I love that your hacks are strategies that came out of your observations about what your students needed and what would help them grow as readers. It's a really inspiring way to think about hacks- observe, reflect, adjust. Find what works for your individual students. Love it! Your students are so fortunate to have you!

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