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Increase Reading Engagement: How to Use Self-Directed Reading in Your Lesson Plans
By Monica Fuglei
One of the most terrifying and excellent moments in my classroom is when my students ask me a question I cannot answer and we all embark, separately and then together, on research and learning that is natural and inspired. I work hard to create opportunities for such events in our classroom.
Self-directed learning is an important feature of student-empowered education. It can be very difficult for teachers to turn over education to their students, but SDL’s benefits — increased student engagement and motivation, high rates of collaboration, and a more easily bridged school-real world gap — make it a vital teaching strategy.
Using self-directed reading in your lesson plans
An integral piece of self-directed learning is independent reading, but it can be a difficult task to fold into the traditional classroom setting and curriculum. Setting students free to choose their own just-right texts, inspired by their individual interests, poses the incredibly difficult task of assessment.
Blogger Amy Rasmussen at Nerdy Book Club points out that an essential challenge for teachers is to create students who are lifelong readers, because a deep love of reading results in higher rates of fluency and increased comfort with critical thinking. To inspire this love of reading, we are often best served by encouraging students to take control of it.
Dedicate classroom time to reading and discussion
A good first step for incorporating independent reading in the classroom is setting aside dedicated time for reading or discussing what students are reading. When students see that this task is worthy of our incredibly limited classroom time, its importance is elevated.
Discussing the point and purpose of self-directed reading is also essential to encouraging students to be in charge of their own reading lists. When allowing students to choose their own books, we should also encourage them to develop important literacy skills by choosing a text that engages and challenges them.
Fit self-directed reading to a theme
While independent reading works best as a consistent habit, it can be adopted or adapted to fit different thematic explorations. A lesson plan on World War II, for example, could set aside 10 minutes to discuss students’ discoveries from readings related to that era, such as The Diary of Anne Frank, MAUS, or a National Geographic website. While specific reading assignments should be avoided, a unique way to fold self-directed reading into the lesson might be to compare or contrast the books students choose with an assigned text.
Use check-in methods to measure independent reading progress
Of course none of this can be assessed through traditional means like a multiple choice test, but it can still be measured. Asking students to self-report their reading — either time dedicated each night or pages per week— is an effective check-in.
Small group and classroom discussions about their reading can also help reinforce both topical and literacy issues. Students’ discoveries can lead to deep content discussions as they also bring about important discoveries about voice, point of view, degree of advocacy, and other higher-level critical thinking concerns with a text. Students may also use these discussions as opportunities to find connections between the different texts that their classmates are reading.
Written reflections and journaling help students analyze literature they choose
Assigning written reflections encourages students to participate in essential self-directed activities: questioning, critiquing, observing, evaluating, comparing or contrasting, or meta-cognitively reflecting on what they have read by evaluating their own performance as independent readers.
Because formal evaluation often inhibits self-directed learners, it can be really important to embrace informal assessments of student engagement or performance in this area. Another way to mark student progress is to follow their reading as they journal on the books they encounter and simply reward them for completion.
Check-ins, reflections, and class discussions are often enough to show students that independent reading is a priority without a fear of judgment that might inhibit their growth.
Find the right books for self-directed reading through trial and error
As students develop their literacy skills, they should also be encouraged to embrace the idea that finding the right fit is often a practice of trial and error. As such, it can be important for us to teach students how to choose a “just-right” book that engages them topically but also is at a level that neither frustrates nor bores them.
Because students are so often encouraged to persist at academic challenges, it is also important to arm them with the ability to disengage from a text that they find too challenging or not challenging enough and to see that as an important and supported part of their growth as an independent reader. In order to facilitate this process, you could consider adding a “bad match bonus” or some other reward that encourages students to try texts, but to reflect upon and be willing to leave them behind if they aren’t a good fit for the reader.
However you incorporate independent reading – through reflections, journaling, collaborative groups, or class-wide discussions, even a small amount of dedicated class time will give students the chance to build lifelong reading habits.
Monica Fuglei is a graduate of the University of Nebraska in Omaha and a current adjunct faculty member of Arapahoe Community College in Colorado, where she teaches composition and creative writing.
Mardziah Hayati Abdullah, Self Directed Learning, Education.com
Amy Rasmussen, Aim Higher: It Isn’t About Passing A Test, Nerdy Book Club
A Practical Guide to Selecting “Just Right” Books for Independent Reading, National Institute for Professional Practice