11 Things I Wish I Had Known Before Teaching Reading

Here’s a list of advice I wish I had given myself before I taught reading. In fact, I wish I had known these things when I first started social studies. Some of this might be “duh” information, but for me, it was all new. I was raised around books and magazines. Everyone in my house read for fun.

1. Read more with less interruptions. Silent, sustained reading isn’t a bad thing. It’s what builds up endurance and helps students grow in true reading fluency. I know, I know, there needs to be an accountability piece. However, I’ve found that two post-reading reflective questions can make a huge difference. Typically, I’ve varied between using self-reflection questions and peer discourse questions.

2. Choose “close reading” only when you want to slow down. There are some things that require a ton of annotation. The Constitution is a great document to pick apart. Poetry can be analyzed slowly. However, we do a disservice to kids when we use close reading strategies on simple, boring, dry informational text.

3. Let students choose the strategies. Students differ in where they struggle. Some have a hard time making inferences. Others can’t quite identify the theme. So, one thing that helped me as a teacher was to say, “Here is a menu of things you can do based upon the Standards. Choose one that you enjoy, one that you are good at and two that are difficult for you.”

4. Share your passion for reading. Give previews of great books you read (that fit their grade level). Staple interesting articles

5. Take time to read for enjoyment. Put books and magazines everywhere. Get kids into the process of choosing something that they want to read and let them abandon stuff they don’t like. One of the hardest things for me to realize is that sometimes this process can be messy. It can take days before a kid finds a genre or a topic or a theme they care about.

6. Avoid the rewards. Skip the badges. Forget AR. Let them see that reading is more than just a chore they have to endure in order to get a bribe.

7. Reading aloud is allowed. Class read alouds can be great. Sometimes kids need to hear and see quality reading modeled for them.

8. Some kids can’t read. Really. They’ll look unmotivated. They’ll disrupt the class. Then, you realize that they have a few sight words memorized, but they lack the ability to decode text. They can’t blend. They don’t know phonics. Find those students and get them help.

9. Allow kids to do interest-based research to reinforce strategies in an authentic context. This can allow students to build on what they already know or find answers based upon their own inquiry. It’s one of the fastest ways to learn how to answer questions, summarize information and learn some of the harder concepts like loaded language or bias.

10. Connect it to something meaningful. Yes, it’s important to read for the sheer joy of reading. However, it can also be cool to see the practicality of reading. This can be prep for a mock trial, debate, blog post, class Twitter chat, etc.

11. Provide scaffolding only to those who need it. ELL students might need front-loaded vocabulary and sentence stems. However, sometimes we provide too much help and students don’t wrestle with a text the way that they should.

Photo Credit: Reading by Claire Jones from The Noun Project

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John Spencer

My goal is simple. I want to make something each day. Sometimes I make things. Sometimes I make a difference. On a good day, I get to do both.

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