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Time to Lean, Time to Read


One often heard mantra from my old food service days (check out resume references from the late ‘80s) was, “If you’ve got time to lean, you’ve got time to clean.” Managers regularly prodded line workers to clean instead of stand around during slow periods. Applying this philosophy to reading, I now believe, “If you’ve got time to lean, you’ve got time to read.”

I am packing for the NCTE Conference this week, and besides tracking down my coat (it is twenty degrees colder in NYC than Texas), I am selecting books to read on the trip. Currently in the pile- Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life by Wendy Mass and A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines. Sadly, I cannot read on moving transport (motion sickness) so reading on planes and shuttles is out, but I know I will spend plenty of time waiting in airports and conference rooms. Prime reading time!

I am suspicious when people tell me that they “do not have time to read”, and even more shocked when teachers tell me that they do not have time in class for students to read a self-selected book. I capture a substantial amount of time for my students to read each day. Students read while they are waiting in line to be dismissed, waiting for class pictures, or when an interruption such as a phone call halts instruction. These moments can stack up significant reading time for students. Disruptive behavior during unstructured time becomes a non-issue, too.

I have also abandoned “warm-ups” and “when you are done” activities. I have yet to find a research proven reason for asking students to edit sentences or write journal entries for a class opener- same for those fun folders for the fast finishers. When students walk into my class, they start to read. Reading is the best way to warm-up for my class, and prepares students for instruction that circles back to their own books. If some students finish class work early, I encourage them to grab a few more precious minutes of reading time.

Recently, at a curriculum writing meeting, a colleague was alarmed when I told her I did not provide extra activities for students to complete when they finished class assignments. “Don’t you think students will rush their work in order to get back to their books?” I waited for a beat, and replied, “Lord, I hope so!”


It's not so much, at least at the 5th grade level in which I teach, that we do not have the time to give them for independent reading. It's that when given independent reading time they will do everything they possibly can NOT to read, i.e., go to the bathroom, get a drink of water, fool around with their friends,and even "pretend" read, even when allowed to choose their own independent reading material. We currently have a new Balanced Literarcy Program in our District that allows for much free reading time but to them that equates to just "free time". Parents have raised a bunch of "lazy" readers with this generation - they are all about computers, technology and things that can be done within minutes, not hours or even half hour blocks of time!

I agree with you 100%+! Reading is the way to grow!!! And as for your reply about children finishing early just to read ---Lord, I hope so too!!!

I am a 7/8 language arts teacher who has worked in the same school for the past ten years. Like you, my students have the luxury of picking up their books when they finish an assignment, as well as when they are waiting for clss to begin. Because of a 43 minute schedule, I do not have a lot of time to take from instruction. The way I've overcome this is to work my kids to the bone Monday -Thursday, and save Friday for "Reading Day." I don't have the trouble of kids looking for other things to fill their time because they don't want to read. I read with them, and the expectation is there. They only interrupt when it is an absolute emergency to use the restroom, or they are needing clarification with a word or sentence in their own reading. Lately, I have had to justify this practice with the administration team, as many don't believe that this is instructionally sound practice. Ask any one of my students, many of whom never completed an entire book prior to being in my classroom, and they will tell you differently. Just yesterday one of my seventh graders shared with me that she only read four books in sixth grade, and she is on number fourteen for the year! This is the lifelong love of books we are missing in this NCLB world...and this is the one thing I am unwilling to bend on in my own classroom.

Ditto on everything I have read so far. I am a middle school Special Ed. ELA teacher. My administration has forbade the reading of class novels, feeling that it will take away from invaluable instructional time, and yet students love the sense of accomplishment that finishing a book gives. What does take away from instructional time is doing pointless "Do Nows" to settle a class down. I have also instituted independent reading as my daily "Do Now," and will continue this until I'm told I'm no longer allowed to.

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Recent Comments

  • Karl Haye: Ditto on everything I have read so far. I am read more
  • Angie: I am a 7/8 language arts teacher who has worked read more
  • Karen, 7th Grade Language Arts teacher in NC: I agree with you 100%+! Reading is the way to read more
  • Pat: It's not so much, at least at the 5th grade read more



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