The Power of Independent Reading and Opening Writing Exercises
Photo by Gaelle Marcel on Unsplash
When I first began my English Internship at Plymouth Elementary School, I was eager to have the opportunity to learn my mentor teacher’s style of instruction. The first few days consisted of observation, note taking, bright smiles, handshakes, and fist bumps from students and faculty. As I lay in bed at night, I reflected upon my mentor teacher’s methods. I quickly learned the importance of daily independent reading or writing exercises to begin classes. Implementing independent reading and writing exercises improves the productivity and enrichment of an ELA classroom.
Students need balance, structure, and consistency. With all the internal and external stressors that middle school students face, it is important for them to have a sense of routine. Ten to fifteen minutes of independent reading or writing at the beginning of an ELA class also gives students the time to turn on their English lightbulbs. It is also allows them to transition from another subject.
Implementing these exercises into daily teaching can benefit all students; however, they must be done right. For example, you are bound to find students flipping through pages without reading or kids scribbling shapes in the corner of their writing handout. I have learned that when you are working with middle school students it is important to hold them accountable. My mentor teacher has a daily chart for independent reading. On independent reading days, she goes to each student and asks them the page they are on and the name of the book they are reading. Once students finish a book, they are instructed to take a test on Accelerated Reader, a computer-based program that schools use to track reading practice.
When students begin their free-writing, Mrs. Tanner gives them the option of a few prompts. She either uses the book The Quickwrite Handbook or 642 Things To Write About. At the end of the exercise, Mrs. Tanner gives all students the opportunity to share their responses. Some students embrace having the opportunity to share their writing while others keep their thoughts to themselves. Mrs. Tanner never forces students to share if they feel uncomfortable. She often refers to sharing writing as “taking a positive risk.” Creating a safe, nonjudgmental classroom environment allows students to feel comfortable sharing their writing with their peers.
After being at Plymouth Elementary School for nearly three weeks, I have noticed that the majority of students prefer independent reading over writing exercises. You could say that the 8th graders of PES are book worms. Students regularly come into class begging Mrs. Tanner for independent reading instead of writing. Although it’s great to see such voracious readers, I question why so many students dislike creative writing. One possible reason is that many middle schoolers still struggle with abstract ideas; other classes focus on concrete ideas and answers, whereas writing requires them to capture abstract ideas on paper. I’m still learning how to teach skills and design exercises that will make students more interested in writing. What types of writing prompts would a math-oriented student enjoy?
When I have my own classroom I will definitely introduce independent reading and writing exercises. I just know that I will have to diversify my prompts so that all students feel passionate about writing and sharing their thoughts and ideas.