Rip-Roaring-Ready to GO! with Independent Reading

Posted on June 21, 2017


I go to a lot of concerts. I LOVE live music and dancing, especially Cajun and Zydeco dancing.

One time, I was seeing Terrance Simien at the Ark in Ann Arbor. I was on the dance floor, and I was getting DOWN, when Terrance turned his attention on me! First he started dancing with me, then he offered his hand, and then he pulled me up on stage with him. Then, to my utter delight, he placed a rubboard (French: frottoir) over my shoulders and handed me some spoons, and gestured for me to play.

I had never touched a rubboard in my life, but I was ready to GO! I had been playing “air rubboard” along with zydeco recordings for months, after I had become fascinated with a coworker’s stories about playing the instrument. He had described and demonstrated the motions for me while we stocked cds at Schoolkids Records.

So, when Terrance put that scrubboard on me, I was ready to GO! I listened intently and concentrated on playing a steady rhythm, just like I had always imagined, and it worked! I was playing with Terrance Simien’s band! YES!

When the song ended and I returned to the dance floor, people around me said, “That was great! I didn’t know you could play! How long have you been playing washboard?”

I said, “How long was that song?”


That’s how it is with Independent Reading and me. Since learning about Reading Workshop from Nancie Atwell’s first edition of In The Middle as an undergrad at EMU, I’ve been learning about supporting independent reading, YA literature, classroom libraries, reading conferences, helping students find books they enjoy reading…but my students’ reading lives were constrained by a tradition of whole-class reading of a half-dozen, teacher-selected works. I have always maintained a classroom library, but only a few students used it–the ones like me who always read because they always want to read–naturally. I always loved talking about books with those students after school, and I always wished that my students could know the joys of Reading Workshop.

So when the district adopted the MAISA curriculum last year, with Independent Reading as Unit #2, K-12, it felt just like that moment at the Ark, when Terrance put those scrubbers in my hands. It was time for me to use all that knowledge and wisdom I had stored up over the years. When school opened, I introduced the idea of Independent Reading to my students, then I concentrated on keeping a steady rhythm of reading YA titles, giving book talks, recommending books, asking students to talk to each other about their books–and it worked! Students read MANY more books than they would have if we had read the traditional whole-class half-dozen. I had countless meaningful conversations about books, with ALL of my students, not just a handful readers after school.

Not every student devoured dozens of titles, but as I look at the data from the first year of Independent Reading in ELA9, I am very pleased at the reading my students did. I will use what I’m learning to improve my practice for next year, and I will challenge more students to read more books.

I really love imagining what the in-coming ninth graders will be like in five years, after they’ve had five years to develop as independent readers…it’s going to be a lot different from working with this first group, many of whom said that they really didn’t consider themselves readers because they hadn’t really read a book of their own choosing in years.


And now, I’m going to take a break from reading artifacts and analyzing data. I’ll be reading the landscape in Baraboo, WI at the Building a Land Ethic conference at the Aldo Leopold Foundation. I must remember to pack my well-loved copy of A Sand County Almanac

As I make preparations to go, I must face the reader’s dilemma: WHICH BOOKS should I pack?!?

This is the 7th post in a series on ELA9. The links to earlier posts in the series are below:

#1 Growing Readers–Through READING!

#2 Organizing the Archive for Research

#3 What’s here? What am noticing?

#4 Artifact Analysis: Finished Book Lists 2017

#5 Photo Essay: Artifact Analysis

#6 Artifact Analysis: Daily Lesson Plans