Charming Readers
Cultivating Independence

The Million Word Reader Tour is officially rolling in our school district. Not only do we celebrate classes that hit the million word mark and beyond, but we commend and honor students who individually read a million words in a school year. These are the readers who have truly become self-determined, independent readers. They've really done a full 180 degree turn from being near non-readers to students who love to read. And, as you keep reading, you will find that getting those 6 zeros following the 1 and Words Read is proving to be a reasonably easy task for many of our classrooms and students.

 Each million-word reader gets a color certificate suitable for framing, some books to read (generally a series), and much social media love. This week one of these readers hugged her books to her chest and refused to let them go. Another skimmed the titles he received, loaned the other two to his fellow readers, and plonked down and plunged into the reading.

But you might be thinking, how is it even possible to develop students to that level in just a few months? The honest truth is that every facet of the READ 180 program is important and vital, teaching students to set goals, measure their progress, and revise their goals is just as important as the reading instruction. The goal setting cycle will benefit them far beyond the walls of the school house. 

Self-assessment and self-awareness are two important cognitive skills that need to be purposefully and thoughtfully taught to students. The architects of READ 180 knew this was important because they included a whole section on it in the Assessment and Analytics Guide.


Begin with Goal Setting

We begin the year teaching the Mindset Matters workshop just like you. Students set some goals for their reading year as well as beyond. From that moment on, the cycle of self-assessment and evaluation begin. Our teachers do ask students to set a goal for the number of words they think they can individually read, starting with figuring out how long it will take students to read a book. If a student can read a page a minute and they read all twenty minutes of READ 180 independent reading time, then it likely will take them 6 days to read a 120 page novel. We let the students add two more days to the total in order to complete the QuickWrites, Graphic Organizers, and to take the Reading Counts! quiz.

 6 days for reading +2 days for reading response tasks= 8 days to read a book

After students figure this out, we get them started on reading books they choose. Teachers encourage progress monitoring by hosting conference days approximately every 2-3 weeks where they check in with students on pace, quiz success rate, etc. It's necessary and good for teachers to check in early in the year, but by this time of year---late in the spring semester we want students to be holding themselves and each other accountable rather than having the teacher doing the work of accountability.

Transferring Accountability to Students

In order for that shift to happen, teachers have to scaffold students to become accountable for their own learning---transferring ownership for being accountable for progress monitoring and development from the adult to the student.

One way this happens is that teachers post the skeleton or pattern of a conference as an anchor chart in their classrooms.

  • What is your goal?
  • Are you on pace to meet that goal?
  • What's the quality of your work? Have you met all the minimum requirements? Have you exceeded the requirements in any way?
  • Do you need to adjust your plan? If so, write down the new steps to accomplish your task.
  • What will you do next?

These steps are almost like a checklist to success. By mid-year when teachers confer, instead of leading the conference, they begin to have students use the anchor chart to lead the conference. In this way students become active agents in their own reading and learning. These steps are generic enough that not only do they work for independent reading, but they work for the software rotation, learning in small group, and also in life and work outside of school.


Using Tools That Grow Independence

Another tool that is useful in helping students become more active in their own learning process are rubrics. Rubrics offer concrete details about exceptional work as well as how to develop from your current level of work.  Sometimes striving learners know that their work doesn't meet the standard, but they have no idea what the standard is. Two rubrics that we use regularly in the READ 180 program are the fluency rubric and the writing rubric that are embedded in the student software.

Once the year is rolling, teachers begin to rate students work in these two sections in the software using the rubrics that are embedded. This feedback is invaluable to students because it offers tips and pointers about what to do next to improve. It also shows students that we care enough about their work to respond.

Teachers demystify the rubric by using the snipping tool on their computer to clip responses and create a chart of what a 1 response looks like as well as a 4 or 6 response is, depending upon your district's settings in the software. When using authentic student responses, it's best to use samples of last year's work or student work from another period to avoid shaming anyone.

Rubrics abound in READ 180. Simply searching the Resources will generate a number of rubrics you can use with students. Begin the process by familiarizing students with the rubrics, rating student work with the rubrics, and then having students rate their own with the rubric. An even more powerful instructional tool is to offer students a chance to improve their response once it has been rated by revising their work to score higher.

By helping students become more aware of their own progress, teachers can cultivate independent learning behaviors for students. After all, while reading a million words in a school year or scoring all 4s on a rubric is certainly an accomplishment worth noting and celebrating, the real end goal is to teach students a process that can be generalized to their whole academic life and even to their personal life.

What generalizable strategies/processes do you teach to your READ 180 students? Please share in the comments box below so we can all do as much as possible to cultivate independent learners.

Houston, TX

Charmion Mohning is the Secondary Reading Coordinator and lead reader in Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District. She has presented at local, state, and national conferences about growing a love of reading, word study, and implementing READ 180 with fidelity. She is passionate about ensuring that every student can read. Before becoming an administrator, Charmion taught English as a Second Language in Grades 4-6 and was a curriculum coach for the district’s structured English immersion program. She has degrees from Upper Iowa University and Sam Houston State University.