Slice of Life: Turn Up the Volume!


“Reading became my rocket ship out of the second-floor apartment in the projects. I traveled the world through books.”
~ Sonia Sotomayor ~

“Reading became my rocket ship out of the second-floor apartment in the projects. I traveled the world through books.” Sonia Sotomayor
Space Station Expedition 17 crew holding Jules Verne book and manuscript inside ATV Jules Verne. Credits: NASA

There’s a welcome chill in the air this morning, and in just a week, students will be streaming into my school. They’ll be eager to see their friends and meet their teachers. I’m eager to greet them. My summer has been filled with reading and attending conferences that have given me a plethora of ideas about ways to help my students learn and grow as readers, as writers, as people.

As I reflected on all of the professional development I’ve participated in the past few months, one work kept coming up: volume.

Kelly Gallagher talked about the importance of reading volume at ILA in Boston: “If the volume doesn’t happen, it doesn’t matter what standards we cover.”

At TCRWP’s August Reading Institute, Kylene Beers shared that research shows that “reading volume is the single best predictor of how good a reader is.”

She also shared Richard Allington’s finding that “the more minutes of high-success reading completed each day is the best predictor of reading growth.”

How will I translate this into classroom practice? By keeping my minilessons truly MINI. This is a huge challenge for me, but I know it’s critical. It’s critical because the less time spent on a minilesson means more time for students to read and write independently. It means more time for me to confer with individuals and small groups, where powerful learning is more likely to happen.

Kids also need this space to practice the skills they’re learning. Because, as Kathleen Tolan recently reminded teachers, “it’s in the over and over again of trying that you get better at something.” She also pointed out that “it’s not always about moving them higher, but for them to get better at it.” And, according to Mark Overmeyer, in order to be effective and lasting, “practice must be done in context.”

This means that kids are practicing reading in books that they choose. I might guide this choice, but the child should have the final say. In his decades of research, Richard Allington has found that “the best intervention is a good book that a child can and wants to read.”

How will I ensure that kids have books they can and want to read? I’ve read more books this summer than I’ve ever read in a single summer. I’ve done this because I want to be able to say to a student, “I thought of you when I read this book.” In his Newbery Medal Acceptance speech, Matt de la Peña told listeners that he didn’t identify himself as a reader until college, when a professor gave him a copy of Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. “When I finally fell for literature, I fell hard.”

He went on to say, “But what if I can nudge a few…kids toward the magic of books at a younger age?” That is my mission. To know my students well enough that I can read a book and know that it’s a book they might love. A book with a character they can look at and say, “I know how she feels.” Or, “That’s me. I’m not alone.” A book that nudges them toward the magic.

Stephanie Harvey says that when we give them the access, the choice, and the time, the volume will follow naturally. Because when students find that magic, they read more. 

And when they know they’re not alone, that we’re there to cheer them on, to lend a hand, an ear, a shoulder, that is when they do their best learning. That is how we, in the words of Kylene Beers, “change tomorrow, each and every day.”

Thank you to StaceyDanaBetsyBeth, KathleenDeb, Melanie, and Lisa for creating this community and providing this space for teachers and others to share their stories each Tuesday. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.