Miles on the Road

If you haven't read Reading Reconsidered by Doug Lemov, Colleen Driggs, and Erica Woolway, I can't recommend it enough. 

Recently in our book study around chapter 5, I was struck by the idea of literary miles on the road. In the book, the authors write, "Students must read not only well but also widely and extensively. Running is a decent analogy. Sure, you can improve your results by studying up on the science of training. In the end, though, there is no way around the fact that success requires a lot of road miles. In the case of reading, we sometimes refer to this as 'miles on the page.' Quantity matters."

It's easy to look at our lesson plans or reflect on how a lesson went and think that our kids have done a lot of reading in the course of an ELA block. However, the authors pointed out some startling statistics. In a typical school day in New York City public schools, students were reading for TWENTY minutes per day; almost 40% of students did not read at all during the school day. Seems astonishing, no? 

But I wonder. How much of our time is spent getting ready to read, discussing what we've read, getting the supplies we need to read, finding the right page to read, reflecting on what we read ... and how much is spent actually reading? Actual eyes on the page, quiet classroom, minds on, purposeful reading?

If this is making you pause, too, here are some ways they recommend to maximize those road miles: "to help students read more, enjoy reading, and accrue the benefits of extensive reading."

To start, there are three approaches to miles on the page in our classrooms, and each has its strengths and limitations.

1. Students reading independently. The strength here is that it's sorely needed. However, keeping kids accountable and making sure they are reading well are a couple of limitations.

2. Students reading aloud. The strengths are that it gives students time to practice fluency, you can get data on how they're doing, and there's simply pleasure in reading aloud done well. The limitations are that it's tough to keep all students engaged when just one is reading and doing this a lot may not translate to students reading independently.

3. Students listening to oral reading. The strengths here are that is provides an expert reading model, it can ignite real passion for what's being read, and it gives kids access to texts that are much more complex than what they could read on their own. The limitations are that students don't get the practice they need, modeling can embed meaning (taking that rigor out of the work), and it keeps everyone at the exact same place.

All of these approaches are important; each type of reading should be used in classrooms depending on the text, kids, and purpose. So we want to use each in ways that let us reap the rewards from their strengths and avoid their limitations. Here are some solid, concrete ways they suggest doing that.

1. Students reading independently: To keep this accountable, you can:
  • Limit text and gradually release. Have students start by reading smaller chunks during class with greater accountability, even if that means starting with just a few lines of text at a time. Then, increase the amount of independent reading done in class, and gather data through questioning, observation, and written work that showed they've comprehended it.
  • Find a focal point. Tell kids what they should be reading or looking for before you launch independent reading. For example, "Take one minute and read paragraph 6 on your own. I'm going to ask you what Loyalists believe, so make sure you're looking for it." 
  • Set time limits. Give students a finite period of time to read without telling them how much text they have to read. You can say, "When you hear the timer, mark the spot you've read to." This can help when kids rush to simply get through the text but don't read carefully. 
  • Assign an interactive reading task. You can say, "I'm going to release you from here. Meet me at the end of chapter 12 and be able to tell me how Peter Pan responds to Hook in the chapter. Have at least one piece of evidence marked with a sticky note to support your answer." 
  • Confirm and scaffold comprehension. The best are written checks, because they allow you to see evidence of every student's level of comprehension with the text and make adjustments accordingly. The best way to approach this is to allow kids to read, write, and THEN talk. So it can sound like, "Read back the part that introduces a factor the contributed to Jackie Robinson's success and then write one sentence that explains what that factor is." Only after you've spot checked everyone's work do you release them to talk.
2. Students reading aloud: To keep this engaging, you can:
  • Keep durations short and the reader unpredictable. When you ask a student to read aloud, that student is the "primary reader," and all other students are "secondary readers." Move quickly and randomly among primary readers. Students shouldn't know who you'll call to be a primary reader next or how long they'll read. Behind the scenes, you can control the game by assigning shorter pieces to some readers and longer ones to students who are ready for a bit more. 
  • Reduce transaction costs. Transaction costs are the time you lose in moving from one thing to another. To reduce transaction costs here, when you are ready to switch primary readers, simply say, "Andrea," as her cue to begin reading. If Andrea has lost her place and can't pick up, call on another student just as quickly, move to her desk and get her recentered. Then call on her again soon.
  • Bridge. Bridging happens when the teacher hops in between student readers to read a short segment of text. This could be a segment that's particularly hard, important to read with a lot of expression, or a key point of the text. 
  • Spot check. Similar to cloze reading, teachers spot check when they read aloud, leave out a word, and the class chimes in on it.
  • Rely on a placeholder. If you are close reading, this is critical as you move in and out of a text. So, you may say, "Finger in your book, and close it for a moment," before you discuss how Esperanza and Miguel reacted differently to a train ride. You could also say, "Finger freeze," or "pen to page to hold the spot" as a cue.
  • Correct decoding errors. Reading carefully is an important skill to build, and that means reading every word accurately, all the way to the end. So, if a student misreads the word "inspection," you could quickly correct with "In-SPEAK-tion?" as a cue to self correct. I have also been known to hold a clickable pen in my hand as students read, and if they make an error they don't self-correct, I simply click the pen as a cue that they need to return and reread correctly. What you don't want to do is make the correction and have the student echo what you said, because they don't actually learn from fixing the mistake themselves. 
3. Students listening to oral reading: To ensure that this builds students' capacity to read on their own:
  • Model really beautiful, fluent reading. This seems like a no-brainer, but it's critical. If you choose to read aloud to students, that means the text is very complex and new to your students. So, read it yourself in advance and think about how you'll chunk phrases together, what punctuation you want to punch, the words that may be difficult to pronounce and you want to decode slowly, and how you'll use the words to convey the tone and intention of the piece. These are moments when students are exposed to rich and varied syntax, collegiate-level vocabulary, and genres they may not be able to tackle independently yet (think Shakespeare). Invest the time in advance to read and practice them so your students see the level of attention to detail they need to approach difficult texts on their own.
No one way of reading is inherently better than the others; it's the varied diet of reading in service of miles on the page that'll really make the difference for our kids.

Here's to simply teaching well,

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