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  • Writer's pictureMitch Center

Reading In School: We Must Make Time

A former co-worker of mine used to describe how her son read more books riding the bus on his way to school than he did while there. She actually appreciated the fact that he commuted because it afforded him the opportunity to complete novels and catch up with his favorite magazines. According to her – and I have no doubt this was true – it was his favorite time of day. But she wondered, and we often discussed, why don’t kids read more in school?

Those that don’t work in schools might be surprised by how little some kids actually read once they get there. After all, how else do we imagine our kids passing the minutes and hours?

Over the past 10 years, I’ve had the opportunity to visit hundreds of classrooms and speak with countless numbers of kids and school staff. When I ask “How much do kids read in class?” I hear a huge range of answers in terms of minutes spent reading. In some classes, kids listen to teachers talk about reading far more than they actually read themselves, while in other classes, independent reading is kept sacred and kids have ample time to explore books of their own choosing. Many teachers are masterful at creating library-like environments. Kids lucky to be in these classrooms look forward to that time in the day where they can get comfortable and dive into worlds of their own. With time spent reading, children build fluency (the ability to read smoothly and with expression), and with increased fluency comes better understanding, enjoyment and an increased curiosity about the world around us.

So what are the obstacles? If some classrooms accomplish this for kids, why can’t they all? Following are just three of the claims I’ve heard from schools and classrooms that don’t fully invest in this practice:

The kids can’t do it: This gets to the heart of the matter. Some school leaders and classroom teachers may not believe in the value of independent, for-pleasure reading, or that kids can read for as long as they truly can. Our own beliefs about what kids can do often determine – or limit – what kids become capable of doing. If we don’t believe that 2nd graders can read for 15-20 straight minutes, then they will prove you right every time.

I would urge schools to explore reading initiatives like D.E.A.R. (Drop Everything and Read) that celebrates and values the daily occurrence of time spent with books. Teachers that stick with this on a daily basis find that kids read for increasingly longer periods of time, and that the biggest challenge becomes bringing it to an end and moving on.

There is not enough time: Like the arguments we’ve heard about why recess has been minimized, some would argue that Common Core has gotten in the way of reading time. While it’s true that Common Core emphasizes “close reading” of grade-level texts, this should not be the only type of reading kids engage with.

Resourceful schools not only make time for kids to read independently, they know that reading can never detract from learning, and can only be additive (and maximize kids’ love of learning!). Not to mention, the fact that many kids don’t spend enough time reading in school pre-dates the advent of Common Core, so I don’t believe we can allow this line of reasoning to stand in our way.

They’ll get it done at home: Ironically, I believe that one obstacle to reading in school is the assumption (or hope?) that students are reading at home. Many schools carefully track at home reading logs – counting minutes and pages read, checking for daily parent signatures, reviewing and check-marking summaries of what was read, counting book completion rates, etc., while devoting little to no time for kids to actually read quietly in the classroom (or the library, hallways, etc.).

Not surprisingly, kids from low-income, low-literacy communities need reading time in school the most. Recent findings from The Kids and Family Reading Report, Fifth Edition show that reading in school for fun is even more critical for children from low-income schools than it is for their more privileged counterparts (who often have more resources at home).

For all our kids, we must hold sacred in-school reading time to support our young people as lifelong readers and learners, while encouraging – but not counting on – at-home reading as the only time where reading occurs.

So how much does your kid read in school? For folks that work in schools, how much do your students read? Are there other obstacles getting in the way, or suggestions for how to do more of this? Please feel free to describe your experiences and perspective in the comments below.

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