Monday, March 17, 2014

Pockets of Time

As I was teaching my social studies class today, I realized that the lesson would likely end about ten minutes early.  Usually, I plan so much for a given lesson that there isn't a lot of "down time" on any given day, but once in awhile, it happens.  I didn't want to start another part of my next social studies lesson, however, because I found that many students were still working on an assignment; they were engaged in partner work that was beneficial, so I wanted to give them time to work on it.  

I talked with the class briefly to remind them about materials to bring to class--one of which was a current independent reading book.  I shared with them that when they finished the given assignment for today, they should read independently for the remainder of the period.  We started to talk about the importance of reading independently, and I mentioned that I couldn't think of a better activity to do when finished with their classwork.

I know this is a topic that could be met with some criticism, but for the most part, I just don't believe in busy work or centers.  These activities "fill time" for early finishers, and may provide ways to manage students in an organized way.  Some teachers spend hours creating multiple activities, centers, or worksheets in response to students exclaiming, "What can I do when I am done?"  While I don't disparage any teachers' efforts to be deliberate about planning meaningful activities for students to keep them on track, I just have a different take on what method I use to get there.  I believe that independent reading is essentially the best activity for students to do when they finish work.  There are a whole host of reasons for this, but primarily, it helps to promote the love of reading even further with students. I do not default to independent reading as an "out" to preparing things for my students.  I am not a lazy teacher.  The reality is that I believe independent reading is so important, and building in maximum time for it only helps students in developing reading as an automatic habit.  Think about it:  What do we adults do when we finish a required task?  Do we do more of the same task, just to pass time?  No way!  We fill our extra time with an enjoyable hobby so we can relax and rejuvenate.  Teachers who value reading this much will always find time for these small bits of time, realizing the power of books and their impact on young readers.

Donalyn Miller also addresses this topic in The Book Whisperer.  It's good to hear that I am not alone in my thinking.  Like Miller, I believe that small windows of "down time" through the day can be wonderful pockets of time for meaningful reading. Depending on a given teacher's schedule, these small windows of time are very special opportunities in building the habit of a lifelong reader.  I related to an example that Miller explains about her school's picture day, where her students brought their independent reading books with them to read during moments they were waiting. Whether they were waiting to get their picture taken, or waiting for other classmates after they finished their picture, students were invited to read their independent reading book.  While there isn't essentially anything wrong with students spending twenty minutes of time socializing while waiting, structuring this time purposefully for reading is a perfect example of a way to honor the love of reading and the habit of a reader.  Will every student embrace this quality reading time?  Maybe not, but the example is powerful, and peer pressure from other students setting an example to read will be almost too hard to resist.

As a teacher, so much of my time is filled to the brim with everything a teacher has to do.  My time for personal reading, like most teachers, can sometimes be stretched incredibly thin if I am not careful to literally carve out time for reading. How can we do that?  I do that in those small "pockets" of time where I'm waiting in line, while fixing dinner, before going to bed.  I build in those times for reading, because it's what has made me a lifelong reader.  And, I want this for my students, also.


  1. I carry at least one book in my purse all the time. My students are third graders, so I make sure they know that and we make a point to encourage them to "steal" time to read throughout the day.

  2. Best thing you can teach your kiddos... To enjoy reading in any moment they can! :-)

  3. I LOVE this post. I, too, have felt "lazy" at times for encouraging reading a book during "down time" in the room, but like you, I can't imagine a more useful or productive activity for my learners! Reading breeds readers and modeling this in the classroom is the best way to make this happen for so many of our kiddos.

  4. It seems time reading is a much more meaningful way to fill those little extra bits of time we find across our day. We just spent 50 minutes waiting in the gym on pictures the other day. I would have been wise to have thought about using that time to read.


  5. Oh my gosh I had to laugh because this is the exact topic and the same author that I referred to in my post. I am just beginning to read Donalyn Miller's : Reading in the Wild. She was talking about the importance of carving out time to for students to read to themselves and that sometimes you just have to carry a book wherever you go so that you can be prepared if you have a few minutes to read. I have been struggling with instilling the importance of reading at home with my students. They have have every excuse under the sun and often never finish books so they never see the pleasure of completing a book. Thanks for your insight it just confirms my thinking. :)