As we all know, independent reading doesn’t quite flow like a traditional get-through-the-book curriculum. Since everybody’s working through their own text, what matters is the regularity of checkpoints, instead of a day-by-day sequence. The joy of the unit — students pursuing their own reading, at their own pace — can also be a nightmare for a classroom teacher, especially if you have to give quantitative feedback, aka grades. How can you best keep track of what everybody’s up to without stifling their freedom?
The best tool I have for this so far is a “Reading Tracker” which students fill out once a week during class.
The “Prompted Response” section is where I can tailor the activity to the needs of the students. Here’s the sequence of prompts that I used last year:
Is your book a “holiday,” a “just right,” or a “challenge” title? How do you know, and why did you pick this level of difficulty?
Did you get to your reading happy place this past week? If yes, describe how and why. If no, what do you need to do differently this week? (Rough guideline — I usually assign 75 pgs a week when we’re reading an all-class book, so if you’re not moving at at least that pace, you need to re-think your strategy.)
Find one of these literary devices in your book and describe what effect it has on you, the reader:
Alternate challenge: Have students go onto www.Literary-Devices.com and pick their own item — or a few! — to work with.
What is a major theme in your book? What actions or ideas in the book are showing this theme to the reader?
(The theme is a main idea that should be shorter than a thesis statement, but more than a single word or something cliche like “love is eternal.”)
Who is a main character in your book, and can you relate to them? Give some specific examples of why you do or do not connect with them (maybe some of both). How does this affect your relationship with the book?
Compare two different books you’ve read — how has your EXPERIENCE of reading them been different? If one was easier to read than the other, why? Really think about it to describe how it felt to read each title.
“Notes from Pahomov” is where I comment on how kids are doing, sometimes asking questions, sometimes encouraging them to break up with their book, and sometimes HW credit for reading outside of class.
I’m always tinkering with this process, trying to find the right balance of accountability (“I need to know how they’re doing”) and joy (“any page counts or accountability kills the reading spirit!”). I would love to hear other strategies on how to strike this balance when it comes to managing independent reading on an individual basis.