A couple of days ago I read a post by Larry Ferlazzo in which he offers a list of resources that document the effectiveness of free voluntary reading. I haven’t read the documents yet, but the post reminded me of an experience I had some years ago.
I had a group of 11 year old kids. I’ve always worked with teens and adults; kids are a mystery to me. I felt really resourceless. I couldn’t anticipate the results of any new activity I introduced to the class. One of them was really successful.
I came up with the idea of starting a silent reading project. We had classes twice a week and one of those days they would go to the library before the class, pick up a book and bring it to class. They read for the first 10 minutes. When I introduced them to the project, they all complained. And went on complaining for about a month, maybe even a bit more.
I insisted. I know reading is a habit. Once you’ve established a routine, it’s impossible not to enjoy reading.
When they accepted I was not going to give in, they started to focus and have fun. By the beginning of the second term they were spontaneously commenting on what they’d read and using new vocabulary I’d never taught them. Moreover, they were reluctant to close the books when the 10 minutes were over and some of them even started borrowing books from the library to read at home.
The activity had an extra, unexpected consequence. They were quite an heterogeneous group, they didn’t get on well with each other and on top of that they came to the English classes after spending the whole day at primary school. It was very difficult for me to get their attention. However, the days we started with silent reading the classes ran smoothly.
I think the key to success was to strictly follow the schedule: always the same weekday and the exact amount of time assigned. But it’s also important to let them choose what to read freely and most of all, not to start asking questions or doing follow up activities.