The ability to sit and silently read a text is a skill that all students will need as they move through secondary education and into college. Similar to learning an active reading strategy, students must have multiple opportunities each day to practice reading silently. And like all explicit instruction, we must make it clear to our students why this skill is important to them.
As we assign silent reading tasks, provide a reading purpose (it's best to use a writing prompt), set a benchmark for the reading, and check in with them to see if the amount of time we have assigned was enough. Remind students that this work is important. Acknowledge that reading aloud can be fun, but more time must be spent learning how to comprehend ideas through silent, independent reading.
Pace the Reading
Although grade level and reading experience has a lot to do with how much time we ask our students to read silently, we should all begin by having our students read for short periods of time--no more than five minutes each time. Once they have read for a few minutes, have them talk (or write) about the reading.
The texts we assign do not have to be short. Students can learn to read silently with textbooks, novels, short stories, or newspaper articles. The length of the text does not matter. What matters is the time on task.
In college and at work, students are required to read complex texts throughout the week. They will not be asked to read out loud, nor will they be asked to call on a colleague to read. Students must learn how to comprehend texts on their own. They must develop the ability to stick with a text and focus on what it says over a period of time. As students develop proficiency in comprehending what they read silently, we should increase the amount of silent reading they do in class and at home.
Make it Engaging
Silent reading can be a real bore if you don't have students periodically interacting with the text or each other. As part of the reading purpose, direct students to use Marking a Text or Writing in the Margins. Employing literacy skills like these will help students focus on the text while improving their comprehension. After a section of reading is complete, have them turn to their neighbors and talk about what they just read. This will help students process the ideas in a text and allow them to check in to assess what they understand.
Make it Relevant
When explicitly teaching this skill, make a connection to everyday life. You could say, "How crazy would the world be if everyone read out loud? People at the coffee shop would read the menu to those sitting and enjoying their coffee; customers at the grocery market would read ingredients and shopping lists to everyone nearby; and strangers on the bus would read the news to each other."
There is a greater purpose to silent reading, however, that goes beyond not wanting to irritate our neighbors. Silent reading helps us read faster. It helps us make faster connections between words and it gives us the silence we need to concentrate and process information. We also know that reading out loud is a performance. The reader worries more about pronunciation than he does the ideas in the text. Our students need to know this. Find a fun way to teach this lesson to your students.
Manage the Reading
While our students read silently, walk around the room and observe what they're doing. Some students will read with great proficiency while others struggle to understand. Struggling readers sometimes look away from the text as the teacher walks by. The student might be ashamed or embarrassed. Perhaps he doesn't want his teacher knowing he's having trouble. We can also recognize a struggling reader by how fast the student reads or how she is reading. Some students will use a finger or pen to keep the word(s) they are reading in front of them.
These types of observations are invaluable to teachers. If we know who is struggling in our classes, we can do something about it. If you do not know how to help, speak with experts on your campus who could offer some suggestions.
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