S1 E16 - 5 Evidence-informed Alternatives to Independent Silent Reading

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Transcript Summary 

00.28
Today, I'd like to talk to you about is the issue that has had me with a bee in my bonnet for a little while now, and that is the large amount of time that many children spend in independent silent reading during literacy instruction.

My challenge with this is not that it is bad for children to read on their own; in fact, we know that there are positive impacts. Professor Pam Snow from La Trobe University talks often about the fact that once children have become proficient decoders, their independent reading has a lot to add to their vocabulary and language development. So I'm not here to tell you that it's bad for kids to read; quite the opposite.

But what I am going to suggest is that there are some more efficient and effective ways that students can be spending time during that block of the school day that is allocated as literacy instruction time. 

So before I share with you, five evidence-informed things that you could do instead of independent silent reading in your classroom, I want to share some thoughts on this whole issue of reading from a couple of different sources. 

01.44
What does the Research say about independent reading?

Independent silent reading usually involves children either being allocated a text or choosing a text and everybody reading silently for a period of time. Back when I was in high school, this was called DEAR (Drop Everything And Read). Now, I really liked it because I was a reader, but if you ask any teacher or student how much reading actually gets done in that time? The answers will vary, and probably if you're someone who likes reading, you like that time, and you've got your eyes on the page, and you're actively reading.  But if you don't like reading or if you are a struggling reader, this time can be torture because you're just sitting there and you're doing something you don't like, and you don't want to do, and actually you're probably not doing it anyway.

One of the issues with independent silent reading is, who knows what the child's actually thinking about or processing while that's happening? Nobody, probably not even the student. When we think about the limited amount of time we have in our school day, there are so many more things that we can be doing instead of having students sit and read silently.

Timothy Shanahan talks about this distinction between independent reading and assigned reading and I think he has a good point to make. Independent reading involves choice, Not just a choice of text, but a choice about if you actually read or not. We need to have a little think about what the purpose of reading is. There are times when we are going to assign a text, and students need to read it, and that's about instruction. But if we're truly wanting children to foster a love of reading, aside from actually teaching them how to do it, how about we let them choose when they read and what they read? And I'm not talking about in the classroom, I'm talking about at home.

It's difficult to know what strategies or activities are actually going to get us bang for our buck sometimes. Back to Timothy Shanahan, there's an article on Reading Rockets called How Effective Is Independent Reading in Teaching Reading, and the point that he makes is sure there are some very small impacts on learning through independent silent reading and that he cites an effect size of 0.14 and 0.05, and that's not particularly high. 

04.38
So if we're thinking about how do we most effectively use our time, then I think we can agree those effect sizes show that the very small gain from independent silent reading is not really worth the time.

There may be a few people thinking, but Jocelyn, shouldn't children just spend time with books because they enjoy it? A hundred per cent, yes. So a student may love sharks, they go to the class library, and they get out a non-fiction book about sharks, and they look at the pictures, and they spend time with books. And I think that that's a great thing to do. That's a very different proposition from thinking that that is going to impact their reading outcomes. That's my point here, if we are talking about the literacy block. If we are talking about that time in the day that is meant to be dedicated to improving student outcomes, let's think of some other things we could be doing. 

05.59
Alternative No. 1 - Knowledge Building
The first thing I'm going to suggest to you is knowledge building. We know that vocabulary and background knowledge are incredibly important, so rather than having students read independently during the literacy block, why don't we engage them in some repeated reading of a nonfiction text that links to some area of learning? It could be a background knowledge text for a text-based unit you're teaching (Resource members you have access to heaps of these, in the fluency section). It could be a non-fiction text related to the science unit you are teaching or to the HASS or some other area of the curriculum that you need children to build knowledge about. 

20 minutes of knowledge building every day coupled with repeated reading, I think, is an excellent use of time, and when it comes to repeated reading, well, the visible learning analysis tells us that the effect size for that is 0.84. Now, let's come back to those first numbers about independent readings of 0.14 and 0.05. That is a world away from 0.84.

There were 72 studies all up that were examined, and they showed that repeated reading, where you have the same text that's challenging and is read a number of times by students, was great, but I'm not talking about them reading it silently. I'm talking about the students reading it with a partner. Partner work is fantastic when we teach children to be each other's champion and coaches and we provide feedback.

That is the thing because, as Doug Lemov, Colleen Driggs, and Erica Woolway remind us in reading reconsidered, what often happens with our struggling readers is that they make mistakes all over the place when reading on their own, they decode incorrectly, they guess words that are wrong, therefore, they're not actually making any meaning. They're just making their way through those words, there's no attention paid simply because they don't have the foundational skills to be strong in that. But reading with a partner can be really, really useful. So that's the first thing I'm going to suggest - knowledge building with text.  You can absolutely watch a YouTube clip about a science concept, and I think that sometimes the visuals of those clips are really useful, but you can also supplement that with actual text. We need children actively reading for more minutes a day, and building knowledge while they do it is a great idea.

08.31
Alternative No. 2 - Morphology instruction
If you've got a spare 20 minutes in your literacy block, (and I hear you laughing because I know you don't have any spare time), but you could take that 20 minutes that might be spent on independent silent reading and engage in some morphology-based spelling instruction. Morphology instruction is fantastic for vocabulary building and therefore supports comprehension.

Spelling Success in Action is about to come out at the time of recording. The first book will be available for pre-order on the 14th of April. That's book number one. Spelling, Success in Action Two, and Spelling Success in Action Three, is aimed at years three to six, and it contains, for every single morpheme we share with you, a 100 to 150-word reading passage that contains the target morpheme.

So here's another opportunity to build some partner reading for knowledge building into your day. So rather than that independent, silent reading, have students read that morphology-based passage with a partner.

09.33
Alternative No. 3 - Teacher-led syntax instruction.
Activity number three, you could be doing instead of 20 minutes of silent reading, is some teacher-led syntax instruction. So this can look like sentence expansion as is outlined in Bruce Saddler's fantastic book; Teachers Guide to Effective Sentence Writing. The entire book is about sentence combining. You could do some sentence combining. You could use some of the lesson outlines from the writing revolution. If you're a Resource Room member, we have sentence-level activities that we'll be continuing to build across this whole year.

Teaching about syntax and combining that with examination of the parts of speech is a really fantastic way to help children build comprehension. Whenever we teach about these nuts and bolts of language, we're building comprehension for students.

10.24
Alternative No. 4 - An additional daily review.
The fourth thing that you could do instead of independent silent reading is adding in an additional daily review. Daily review is fantastic. We know that spaced practice and interleaving help children embed knowledge and skills into their long-term memory, but please don't go making PowerPoints for everything. They can be handy, but they also triple your workload. So a super simple way to do this review can be to take whatever you are learning across the curriculum and place it on bits of paper. So in history, there might be some facts that you need the students to be learning, and so you write questions based on that, on bits of paper, you fold them up, and you pop them in a box. You continue to build on that and pop more bits of paper into the box with more knowledge, and then each opportunity for this review, this big box of questions or a big bowl of questions, you just draw out 'lucky dip style', four or five bits of paper and have students think about the questions.

You could have those questions and draw them out, and then have students review a reading passage that connected to that content that you'd read previously. So now students are reading for a purpose. They're looking for the information that's stated to answer that question. This mirrors what they're going to need to do as they get older in academic circumstances, particularly in assessment.

So you can absolutely have very low prep, low-tech review in your classroom without too much trouble at all. Now that big box of questions/big bowl of questions, comes from the book Powerful Teaching. It's got a nice bright yellow cover. You'll be able to find that on the internet.

12.08
Alternative No. 5 - Write about Learning.
The last thing I want to suggest to you that you could be doing instead of 20 minutes of independent silent reading every day is to write about learning.

 We are not able to say that children know something until they can talk about it, So being able to select the right answer in a multiple-choice question is one level of knowledge, I suppose. But learning is about making changes to long-term memory Part of it is helping children build declarative knowledge that they can speak intelligently and in an informed way about a topic. That's what we need them to be able to do if they're going to respond in English and Maths and Science and HASS to the learning that we hope that we've helped them to build. So for 20 minutes, you could say, we have been learning about X, Y, Z in science, so I want you to write about everything you know about this topic.

That's another activity that's mentioned in powerful teaching, and the retrieval involved in that, then giving some feedback is an absolutely wonderful way to review It also helps you pinpoint where difficulties in writing may be occurring. It'll help show you what vocabulary students have picked up, help you identify which sentence structures they're struggling with so that you can target instruction.

It is an absolutely effective thing to do, and you can do this right from the start of school. Students who are not yet writing can draw a picture and talk with their partner, and then you can call on non-volunteers to share points of information, and therefore you are all working together to review.

13.55
In Conclusion - We do not have a minute to waste
So that's the bee that I've had in my bonnet recently about the large amounts of time that children are spending independently, silently reading during the literacy block.

We do not have a minute to waste. We know how hard it is to fit everything in, and when we spend time on things that are not giving us bang for our buck, that are not building efficiency, that are not building effectiveness in our students' learning, that is a real problem

Links/docs Mentioned 


Summary/ FB post draft

 But today what I wanna talk to you about is the. Issue that has had me with a bee in my bonnet for a little while now,  and that is the large amount of time that many children spend in independent silent reading during literacy instruction.

 Now my challenge with this is not that it is bad for children to read on their own, in fact, we know that there are positive impacts.  Professor Pam Snow from La Trobe University talks often about the fact that once children have become proficient decoders, their independent reading has a lot to add to their vocabulary and language development.  So I'm not here to tell you that it's bad for kids to read. Quite the opposite. 

 But what I am going to suggest is that there are some more efficient and effective ways that students can be spending time during that block of the school day that is allocated as literacy instruction time. 


TRANSCRIPT

00.00
Introduction.
Hello everyone. Welcome to The Structured Literacy Podcast. Once again, It's me, Jocelyn, and I am so pleased to welcome you. If you haven't listened to our podcast before, have a flick back through our previous episodes. We've got goodies there, like why it's so scary to let go of benchmark reading assessment and an answer to the question of should you go rogue if your viewpoints on reading instruction differ from your schools.

00.28
Today's topic - Evidence-informed Alternatives to Independent Reading

But today, what I want to talk to you about is the issue that has had me with a bee in my bonnet for a little while now, and that is the large amount of time that many children spend in independent silent reading during literacy instruction.

Now my challenge with this is not that it is bad for children to read on their own; in fact, we know that there are positive impacts. Professor Pam Snow from La Trobe University talks often about the fact that once children have become proficient decoders, their independent reading has a lot to add to their vocabulary and language development. So I'm not here to tell you that it's bad for kids to read; quite the opposite.

But what I am going to suggest is that there are some more efficient and effective ways that students can be spending time during that block of the school day that is allocated as literacy instruction time. 

So before I share with you, Five evidence-informed things that you could do instead of independent silent reading in your classroom, I want to share some thoughts on this whole issue of reading from a couple of different sources. 

01.44
What does the Research say about independent reading?

So, Independent Silent reading usually involves children either being allocated a text or choosing a text and everybody reading silently for a period of time. Back when I was in high school, this was called DEAR Drop Everything And Read.

Now, I really liked it because I was a reader, but if you ask any teacher or student how much reading actually gets done in that time? The answers will vary, and probably if you are someone who likes reading, you like that time, and you've got your eyes on the page, and you're actively reading.

But if you don't like reading or if you are a struggling reader, this time can be torture Because you're just sitting there and you're doing something you don't like, and you don't want to do, and actually you're probably not doing it anyway.

One of the issues with independent silent reading is who knows what the child's actually thinking about or processing while that's happening. Nobody, probably not even the student When we think about the limited amount of time we have in our school day, there are so many more things that we can be doing instead of having students sit and read silently.

Timothy Shanahan talks about this distinction between independent reading and assigned reading, I think he has a good point to make Independent reading involves choice, Not just a choice of text, but a choice about if you actually read or not. We need to have a little think about what the purpose of reading is. There are times when we are going to assign a text, and students need to read it, and that's about instruction. But if we are truly wanting children to foster a love of reading, aside from actually teaching them how to do it, how about we let them choose when they read and what they read? And I'm not talking about in the classroom, I'm talking about at home.

It's difficult to know what strategies or activities are actually going to get us bang for our buck sometimes. Back to Timothy Shanahan, there's an article on Reading Rockets called How Effective Is Independent Reading in Teaching Reading, and the point that he makes is sure there are some very small impacts on learning through independent silent reading and that he cites an effect size of 0.14 and 0.05, and that's not particularly high. 

however, he also talks about interventions in which kids are taught skills like phonics or fluency or reading comprehension strategies. So, working to actually think about a meaningful text that's connected to something, not the strategies ad nauseam. And the average effect size tends to be in the 0.4 which is three to eight times higher than the impact of mandated self-selected reading. 

04.38
Jocelyn shares her opinion.
So if we're thinking about how do we most effectively use our time, then I think we can agree those effect sizes show that the very small gain from independent silent reading is not really worth the time.

I recently heard about a year four classroom where students were reading for up to 40 minutes on their own every day. To me, this is a colossal waste of time. I have also heard about secondary classrooms where students were reading for 20 minutes every day. Now time is of the essence, and it is precious. So let's have a think about some things we can be doing that actually lead to greater outcomes for students.

There may be a few people thinking, but Jocelyn, shouldn't children just spend time with books because they enjoy it? A hundred per cent, yes. So a student may love sharks, they go to the class library, and they get out a non-fiction book about sharks, and they look at the pictures, and they spend time with books, And I think that that's a great thing to do. That's a very different proposition from thinking that that is going to impact their reading outcomes.

And that's my point here, if we are talking about the literacy block if we are talking about that time in the day that is meant to be dedicated to improving student outcomes, let's think of some other things we could be doing. 

05.59
Alternative No. 1 - Knowledge Building
The first thing I'm going to suggest to you is knowledge building We know that vocabulary and background knowledge are incredibly important, so rather than having students read independently during the literacy block, Why don't we engage them in some repeated reading of a nonfiction text that links to some area of learning It could be a background knowledge text for a text-based unit you're teaching (Resource members you have access to heaps of these, in that fluency section). It could be a non-fiction text related to the science unit you are teaching or to the Hass or some other area of the curriculum that you need children to build knowledge about. 

20 minutes of knowledge building every day coupled with repeated reading, I think, is an excellent use of time, and when it comes to repeated reading, well, the visible learning analysis tells us that the effect size for that is 0.84. Now, let's come back to those first numbers about independent readings of 0.14 and 0.05. That is a world away from 0.84.

There were 72 studies all up that were examined, and they showed that repeated reading where you have the same text that's challenging, that's read a number of times by students, was great, but I'm not talking about them reading it silently. I'm talking about the students reading it with a partner. Partner work is fantastic when we teach children to be each other's champions and coaches and we provide feedback.

That is the thing because, as Doug Lamov, Colleen Driggs, and Erica Wway remind us in reading reconsidered, what often happens with our struggling readers is that they make mistakes all over the place when reading on their own, they decode incorrectly, they guess words that are wrong, therefore, they're not actually making any meaning, they're just making their way through those words, there's no attention paid simply because they don't have the foundational skills to be strong in that. But reading with a partner can be really, really useful. So that's the first thing I'm going to suggest Knowledge building with text. 

You can absolutely watch a YouTube clip about a science concept, and I think that sometimes the visuals of those clips are really useful, but you can also supplement that with the actual text. We need children actively reading for more minutes a day, and building knowledge while they do it is a great idea.

08.31
Alternative No. 2 - Morphology instruction
If you've got a spare 20 minutes in your literacy block, and I hear you laughing because I know you don't have any spare time. But you could take that 20 minutes that might be spent on independent silent reading and engage in some morphology-based spelling instruction. Morphology instruction is fantastic for vocabulary building and therefore supports comprehension.

Spelling Success in Action is about to come out at the time of recording. The first book will be available for pre-order on the 14th of April. That's book number one, Spelling, Success in Action Two, and Spelling Success in Action Three, is aimed at years three to six, and it contains for every single morpheme we share with you a 100 to 150-word reading passage that contains the target morpheme.

So here's another opportunity to build some partner reading knowledge building into your day. So rather than that independent, silent reading, have students read that morphology-based passage with a partner.

09.33
Alternative No. 3 - Teacher-led syntax instruction.
Activity number three, you could be doing instead of 20 minutes of silent reading is some teacher-led syntax instruction. So this can look like sentence expansion as is outlined in Bruce Saddler's fantastic book; teachers guide to effective sentence Writing. The entire book is about sentence combining. You could do some sentence combining. You could use some of the lesson outlines from the writing revolution. If you're a Resource Room member, we have sentence-level activities that will be continuing to build across this whole year.

Teaching about syntax and combining that with examination of the parts of speech is a really fantastic way to help children build comprehension. Whenever we teach about these nuts and bolts of language, we're building comprehension for students.

10.24
Alternative No. 4 - An additional daily review.
The fourth thing that you could do instead of independent silent reading is adding in an additional daily review. Daily review is fantastic. We know that space, practice and interleaving help children embed knowledge and skills into their long-term memory, but please don't go making PowerPoints for everything. They can be handy, but they also triple your workload. So a super simple way to do this review can be to take whatever you are learning across the curriculum and place it on bits of paper. So in history, there might be some facts that you need the students to be learning, and so you write questions based on that, on bits of paper, you fold them up, and you pop them in a box. You continue to build on that and pop more bits of paper into the box with more knowledge, and then each opportunity for this review, this big box of questions or a big bowl of questions, you just draw out 'lucky dip style', four or five bits of paper and have students think about the questions.

You could have those questions and draw them out, and then have students review a reading passage that connected to that content that you'd read previously. So now students are reading for a purpose. They're looking for the information that's stated to answer that question. This mirrors what they're going to need to do as they get older in academic circumstances, particularly in assessment.

So you can absolutely have very low prep, low-tech review in your classroom without too much trouble at all. Now that big box of questions, a big bowl of questions, comes from the book Powerful Teaching. It's got a nice bright yellow cover. You'll be able to find that on the internet.

12.08
Alternative No. 5 - Write about Learning.
The last thing I want to suggest to you that you could be doing instead of 20 minutes of independent silent reading every day is to write about learning.

 We are not able to say that children know something until they can talk about it, So being able to select the right answer in a multiple-choice question is one level of knowledge, I suppose. But learning is about making changes to long-term memory Part of it is helping children build declarative knowledge that they can speak intelligently and in an informed way about a topic. That's what we need them to be able to do if they're going to respond in English and maths and science and Hass to the learning that we hope that we've helped them to build. So for 20 minutes, you could say, we have been learning about X, Y, Z in science, so I want you to write about everything you know about this topic.

That's another activity that's mentioned in powerful teaching, and their retrieval involved in that, then giving some feedback is an absolutely wonderful way to review It also helps you pinpoint where difficulties in writing may be occurring. It'll help show you what vocabulary students have picked up, help you identify which sentence structures they're struggling with so that you can target instruction.

It is an absolutely effective thing to do, and you can do this right from the start of school. Students who are not yet writing can draw a picture and talk with their partner, and then you can call on non-volunteers to share points of information, and therefore you are all working together to review.

13.55
In Conclusion - We do not have a minute to waste

We do not have a minute to waste. We know how hard it is to fit everything in, and when we spend time on things that are not giving us bang for our buck, that are not building efficiency, that are not building effectiveness in our students' learning, that is a real problem.

Have a fantastic week, everyone. I'll see you next time.


Looking for a great resource to teach morphology based spelling that includes reading passages, partner work and an exploration of morphology in context?  Click here to learn more about Spelling Success in Action. 

Spelling Success in Action - Getting Started with Morphology (2)

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