Read Between the Lines: Developing a Culture of Reading

Developing a culture of reading at home and at school is going to be a game changer for students this school year. Teaching reading in content areas boosts overall confidence and performance. As we master reading skills and strategies, we become strong readers. We are also empowered to become more independent learners. We're equipped to solve novel problems and address age-old issues.

Did you know?

  • The average U.S. citizen spends only 16-minutes a day reading outside school and work; down from 22-minutes in 2005.

  • People age 20 to 34 read the least outside school and work: 6-minutes a day.

  • People age 75 and older read the most: 51-minutes a day.

Apparently, with wisdom comes the uncanny tendency to appreciate and engage with the wealth of knowledge at our finger tips. This post outlines strategies for developing a culture of reading, so we can outperform yesteryear versions of ourselves.


Getting Started

  • Research shows that independent reading can improve student achievement in language arts and other content areas. Let's begin with book choice. We want to teach students how to choose appropriate books. In addition to choosing interesting books, they need to understand how to assess text complexity. Is the book on grade level? Is the book below a student's reading capabilities? Explicit instruction on Lexile measures, grade level AR measures, DRA reading levels, or other relevant reading measurements is paramount.

  • I usually find myself reading in the same place. On occasion, change of scenery is necessary. Maybe I'll read in a restaurant or near the reservoir in my car. (I hate bugs!) It's not uncommon to wake up feeling different. Just as we enjoy the freedom to express ourselves differently, to behave differently, it's important to make room for flexibility in learning environments. We want to afford students similar flexibility. Yes, this includes flexible seating for reading. Click here for flexible seating ideas for home and school.

  • Success is in your routine. In setting a routine for independent reading time, start small. Situate reading time in the middle of the day, class, or block. Reading shouldn't feel like a punishment nor an after thought. Students are best poised to be intentional when we're intentional about constructing learning opportunities. It's not necessary to write answers to comprehension questions during every scheduled reading. In this way, we promote love of reading. (Or, is it love for reading?)


Reading Pedagogy

  • When facilitating student transition from reading to learn... to learning to read, assessment comes first. Assessments, tests, exams. Oh my! Do these words make you cringe? Only in a fantasy world are we able to get on with the business of providing effect reading instruction without making time for meaningful assessment. Since we know how much reading counts, it's important to concretize the gap between where students stand and growth expectations. Assessment results give us information needed to draft effective reading action plans. The best plans inform instruction, goal-setting, and feedback via student reading log and student engagement inventory (here's another inventory).

  • To remain engaged students must see incremental improvements in their own performance, so we have to design learning experiences that yield quantitative results. Several web-based reading assessment programs offer individualized reading options and performance data. Reading journal prompts yield qualitative results and insight into the mind of the reader. One cool way to take this approach up a notch is by placing sticky notes with questions about the text inside the book. Also, consider impromptu verbal questioning throughout the day to infuse reading and comprehension skill into everyday life.

  • Cooperative goal setting involves getting buy-in. Student patterns reveal opportunities to improve reading engagement (e.g., resisting distraction, choosing appropriate texts, increasing stamina) and strengthen comprehension performance (e.g., building vocabulary, leveraging textual evidence, thinking beyond literal meaning). Let's aim for several small victories over time. Armed with relevant samples of student work and performance data, schedule 5 to 10-minute goal-setting conferences to get students on board with setting smart goals via questioning. Consider writing a goal card (maybe used as a bookmark) as a reminder for the student. See deconstructed sample goals here. (Read one educator's experience with setting smart goals with her students here.)


Raising Readers

  • Reading goals are most impactful when teachers provide ongoing, real-time feedback. It's worth noting that reading support strategies are different than reading feedback strategies. Reading support may involve strengthening phonemic and phonological awareness skills (e.g., sounding out words); whereas reading feedback involves praising student ability to attempt to sound out words before asking for help. Another example of support involves providing additional context to drive home word meaning; in a similar case, feedback would involve commenting on a student's use of an online dictionary to independently make sense of an unfamiliar concept.

  • When setting reading goals for learners and planning instructional supports, think about the nonverbals. How does engaged reading look? What does a focused person look like? How do we respond to the environment when we're immersed in a text? Whatever your answers, it's important that you're not just observing students, that you're also modeling reading engagement during student reading times. Young people do what we do, not what we say.

  • Student motivation to read is linked to both enjoyment and perception of growth.(I advocate facilitating the transition from external to intrinsic motivation, so the end goal would be that more emphasis is on reading for understanding than on reading to demonstrate understanding. Still, this is a different conversation that I'll likely address in a future blog post; you're invited to share your experiences and thoughts on this distinction.) Dissect the difference between student perception of growth and actual growth; keenness in this area is key to addressing low reading motivation.

I'd love to be a resource as you work to develop a culture of reading. Schedule professional coaching for yourself and private tutoring for your student by visiting You're also invited to keep the conversation going by sharing this content, leaving a comment, and clapping back in a guest blog submission.

Jillian Smart10 Comments