The Missouri Reader Vol. 40, Issue 1 - Page 38

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I absolutely love reading. It is my favorite past time, my favorite time filler, and my favorite hobby. Growing up, I always read three or four books at a time. Most people thought I was crazy...turns out it was the perfect prep work for taking graduate school classes while teaching five sections of high school English! When I was in high school, I wasn’t given regular class time for independent reading. I just had to get my reading time in during the five-minute passing period instead. My love of reading was present regardless of independent reading time, but now that I'm a high school English teacher, I know that students who love reading like I do are few and far between.

About six years ago, my district started funding classroom library sets to use for independent reading. The idea behind it was simple: instill a love of reading in high school freshmen and sophomore students that will give them the tools to be life-long readers. English I and II teachers each received a double set of Gateway nominees. These are high-interest, low-level books that students across the state think are the best books of the year, the idea being that “Reading is an accrued skill: the more you do it, the better you get at it; the better you get at it, the more you like it; the more you like it, the more you do it” (Trelease, 1989, p. 202). These books aren’t Shakespeare or Milton, but the point isn’t for students to be involved in college-level analysis. The point is for them to pick up a book they actually enjoy and find pleasure in reading so that they’ll continue to read for years beyond high school.

As the books are distributed at the beginning of each school year, participants in the Independent Reading Structure (IRS) are asked to follow a few rules: books have to actually be accessible to students (no books in boxes behind desks), at least 15 minutes dedicated to IRS every single class period, and some kind of daily reflection about the reading. That first year, my initial thought as a reader was, "Awesome!" My initial thought as a teacher was, "How in the world will I have time?" Turns out, all these years later, that this is some of the best learning my students have in my classroom. As my sophomores move onto their junior year, several return to my doorway, asking why the reading time had to stop. Vacca, Vacca, and Mraz (2014) explained that, “Independent reading provides practice and pleasure, and develops passion for books. It affords students an opportunity to ‘get lost in a book’” (p. 349). When independent reading time is taken away, students miss the time they had to unwind and transport themselves in the fictional worlds of their choice.

The joy that can come from the lack of strain is the exact same feedback I’ve received from my students. Last year, I had a freshman honors student who claimed to be the busiest freshman in the history of the world, and looking at his daily schedule, I think he might have been. Maddox (name has been changed) told me that the 15 minutes of IRS he got in my class every day was the only time during his week where he was allowed to let his brain relax. He felt so much pressure every day to be perfect and get everything right. It was IRS that gave him the time to just sit back and jump into the world of Ender Wiggins in Ender’s Game. The other students in that class

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