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How to Help Beginning Readers Sustain Work with Greater Independence

How to Help Beginning Readers Sustain Work with Greater Independence

Editor’s note: This blog post is an excerpt from the Units of Study in Reading, Grades K–2 book, Supporting All Readers: High-Leverage Small Groups and Conferences, K–2, in the chapter, "Bolstering Engagement, Stamina, and Volume,” and has been lightly adapted for format. 

Reading is hard work for beginning readers. Which is why it’s important that the reading workshop is a joyful place for kids, especially as they work to strengthen core foundational skills and build reading endurance. Of course, the first step is to ensure readers are appropriately matched to texts they can read with accuracy and independence. You’ll use early reading assessments to curate collections of decodable texts, shared poems, and/or trade books each child can read on their own. Teachers either place these materials in an individual baggie, or in a partner bin, to be shared between two ability-based partners. Here are some ideas for how you can help your beginning readers sustain their work with greater independence.

5 Ways to Empower Your Beginning Readers in Reading Workshop

Try some of these easy ways to help empower your readers during reading workshop.

1) To-Do Lists

To-do lists can be as helpful for students as they are for teachers. You can co-create a to-do list so your students can plan how their independent reading time will go. You can help them choose from a mix of options: reading from their partner bin, reading from their table bin*, a break for a phonics activity like a sort or something with snap word cards. Eventually, students will be able to make their own to-do lists.

*Many teachers carve out a bit of time for kids to self-select books and read about topics they are passionate about. These books are often kept in a table bin. This helps to extend the amount of time kids are sustained in the workshop.

2) Book Stacks

Independent reading can begin by readers making a small stack of books they plan to read. They might choose three books from their partner bin to read and reread. Alternatively, they might also make a stack containing a mix of partner-bin books and table-bin books. This supports students in making and moving through a plan.

3) Timers

Teachers often control the time all day long and that can feel difficult for some students. To help these beginning readers feel some sense of control, it can help to invite them to use a sand timer to organize their time. You might teach them to use a five-minute sand timer to set their time for reading and then take a break after the five minutes have passed. Then they can read again, and then take a break. You can also give timers to each set of partners and then voice over, “Flip your sand timer. Read privately until your timer says it’s time to shift to partner time.” That gives students the feeling of being in control of their time.

4) Breaks

All people need breaks. It can be effective to teach young students how to take a productive break. You can teach students to take breaks that help their reading muscles—like using a pointer to read the alphabet chart in fun ways (whispering, singing, making words for each letter, in order, out of order, with Mabel as audience . . .). Similarly, they might use a pointer to read a shared reading book or poem at your easel, or listen to a recorded book on a device. These breaks support reading, but are breaks from the task students had trouble sustaining—a bit like when educators take a break to check our emails. Similar to when you make another cup of tea, these can also be important, too: getting a drink of water or moving around the perimeter of the classroom, deep breathing, meditation, or a few moments of coloring. Once taught, students will be excited by the novelty and take lots of breaks, yes. But, the novelty wears off and students begin taking what they need. You can help students who continually take lots of breaks to make a to-do list, planning their breaks ahead of time.

5) Check-In

Find out how your students are feeling and ask what they need. It’s important for students to know that we are here and listening to how they’re feeling and want to help them solve problems. When you set students up with a system—to-do lists, book stacks, timers, or breaks—it can be helpful to make space for them to reflect and think about what helped them feel safe and powerful and what didn’t, so that plans can be revised as needed.

The new primary edition of Units of Study in Reading is a comprehensive reading curriculum designed in alignment with the latest research about how kids learn to read, bringing science of reading components into every lesson. The new units focus on structured whole class instruction, including:

●    phonological awareness
●    explicit phonics lessons
●    decoding practice in isolation and in text
●    text-dependent questions
●    support for fluency and oral language development.

Each unit is built around a sequence of challenging texts at the target Lexile level with vocabulary and comprehension support included. You’ll find rich text sets and engaging storylines, five units of knowledge-building curriculum per grade-level, and embedded professional development for educators – summarizing the research around children’s reading development progression and providing instruction in the best methods to teach essential skills. 

By pairing intense work in classrooms with ongoing deep study of research, Units of Study in Reading, K-2 offers a proven, scientifically based literacy approach that gives ownership to students and fosters powerful communities of learning.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

The Reading & Writing Project at Mossflower was created out of the pioneering work that Dr. Lucy Calkins began over forty years ago. Inspired by her research, she developed innovative curricula and methods that transformed the way children learned to write, adapting the collegiate and professional-level “writing workshop” model for elementary-age students. Today, RWP-M remains deeply rooted in this experience, where Dr. Calkins and her team of experienced educators author the Units of Study in Reading, Writing, and Phonics for grades K through 8, and several series of engaging decodable texts. More than authors of curriculum, at its core, the Project is a community of practice, a think tank, and a professional development organization dedicated to working with schools and educators to empower students to become what we have always known them to be: proficient and enthusiastic writers, readers, and thinkers.

Topics: Units of Study, Engagement, Literacy Instruction, Reading, Reading Instruction, Reading Workshop, Skills, Books, Classroom Environment, Classroom Practices, Comprehension, Decoding, Engagement Strategies, Engaging Every Learner, Foundations, Literacy, Phonics, Primary Grades, Reading Strategies, Strategies, Student Engagement, Units of Study for Teaching Reading, Classroom Libraries, Units of Study Phonics, Engaging Children, UnitsofStudy, Engagement and motivation, Reading fluency, Comprehension strategies, Decodable texts, Decodable books

Date Published: 04/18/24

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