Stage A
My Bold Truth Regarding Independent Reading

Independent Reading has been my nemesis since I began teaching READ 180 and System 44 three years ago. We have a wonderful weekly Enrichment program for our whole elementary school, but this means that my intervention time with students is scheduled four times a week for 45 minutes each. My dilemma? How could I fit independent reading time in and still give students enough time in small-group and on the software?

I tried several things unsuccessfully:

  • Independent reading every other week.
  • Take home books with reading logs.
  • NO independent reading. (Just focus on the intervention!)

It nagged at me every year. How could I encourage students to love reading when I did not give them the opportunity to read books that interested them? How could students practice the very things I was teaching them in small-group instruction? 

Research says that:

In reviewing two decades of research on recreational reading, Block and Mangieri (2002) found that students who engaged in recreational literacy activities during school hours read books outside of school more frequently. Additionally, even with only 15 minutes of in-school reading per day, students significantly increased their reading performance, with average and below-average readers experiencing the greatest gains.


Pilgreen (2000) concluded that they (independent reading programs)

". . . provided at least the same or better benefits for students in the areas of comprehension and motivation than traditional skills classes did. This is an astounding finding, particularly when we consider which alternative is more enjoyable for students. Clearly, free reading is less work than skill and drill and a good deal more fun."

I knew I needed to include independent reading, but I felt frustrated and at a loss.

Then, this summer, I had the opportunity to attend the Model Schools Conference in Orlando and spend time with other READ 180/System44 teachers, along with some amazing coaches and team members from HMH. There were so many inspirational sessions, but after Albert Morton’s breakout, "Creating Readers, Not Taskers," and speaking with others about the results of independent reading, I knew I had to make a change.

With the help and support of my local HMH coaches, I made a plan to teach three days a week and reserve every Friday for independent reading.

 My independent reading time/design was inspired by several things:

  • Marilyn Sankey's Cafe 180: Check out her video on YouTube
  • My favorite places to read at home
  • Bookstores that create comfortable, inviting seating areas and include a place to find a snack or coffee
  • Bookstore organization of books by topic

I set to work arranging my classroom in a way that created some cozy reading areas. I organized my classroom library in a way that students could find books based on topics and displayed the books and novels around the room so that students can “browse” as they would in a bookstore. I created a "recommendation" sheet where students and other teachers could suggest a favorite book. I then also collaborated with my librarian to borrow some additional books on my students’ levels that have Reading Counts quizzes.

 **Side note...there are SO many books on Reading Counts that are in addition to the System 44 and READ 180 libraries. By entering the name of any book, one can check to see if there is a Reading Counts quiz here.

 As students enter the "Reading Eagles Cafe" each week, they can use their earned dojo points to purchase simple snacks. They quietly enter, locate their reading material (each student can keep a book in his/her cubby or check a book out to read in the classroom or at home) and find a comfortable place to enjoy reading.

One table holds computers so that students can complete Reading Counts quizzes. Students who make a passing score can ring the bell and make a choice from the choice board. Students who make 100% can choose a free snack/drink. Within each class are two teams competing to see who can complete the most quizzes successfully. 

Our first few weeks were a bit bumpy, but, as I've been teaching my students, failure is just an opportunity to learn from mistakes! So I pulled over and rerouted with a few adjustments:

  • I found students were spending too much time wandering, so after they choose reading material, students must remain in their reading area unless there is an open place at the Reading Counts Quiz table or I call them to meet with me for a goal-setting/reading/writing conference. They may also "browse" for a new book after successfully completing a quiz.
  • I reorganized a few of my seating areas to promote independence rather than conversation!
  • I made a place for students to write their choice board request on a sticky note so that they were not constantly interrupting me while I was meeting with other students.

Now that we are settling in, the comments are flying in. Here are a few that I love to hear:

"You mean we get to do this EVERY Friday??"

"I can take this book with me?"

"Ms. Gibbons, I read an online book in my classroom…can I take a Reading Counts quiz for that?"

"Can I read that when she’s done?" 

I am enjoying discovering different students' tastes and interests and helping students find books that they love. I like seeing them congratulate each other when they pass a quiz and ring the bell. Students are motivated to enjoy a good book, but are prepared to show their comprehension by taking a quiz. I am confident that their Lexile growth will be equal to or better than when I taught four lessons a week. My next step is to include a technology corner where my kids can read online during independent reading time.

 Now my students and I are in our own "Success" zone and looking forward to Fridays even more! Come be our guest at the Reading Eagle Cafe!!

I always appreciate collaborating and learning from others. Being named a 180 Educator winner has extended my network in Texas and across the country.

Arlinton, TX

Despite the many academic challenges students at her school face, Ms. Gibbons has demonstrated a tireless effort to grow reading levels and build a growth mindset in every child she encounters, using READ 180. As a result, Ms. Gibbons has been a key factor in leading Ellis Elementary School to become one of the top performing READ 180 schools in the Arlington Independent School District. Ms. Gibbons also credits this to being part of a great team of educators in her district, school and READ 180 community that share the common goal to improve academic achievement and build social/emotional skills among students.

According to her school’s principal, Mr. Keith Boyd, "Ms. Gibbons spares no attention to details in making sure her learning environment is welcoming to students. And once the students are seated in front of her, she engages them by teaching from the heart."

"As a reading interventionist, teaching reading is my dream job because reading is important across all classroom subjects, as well as in everyday life," said Ms. Gibbons. "My favorite learning moments are those when I receive the opportunity to watch striving readers become the experts."

Watch Ms. Gibbons' journey to success here. 

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