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If there’s one thing all teachers seem to agree on, it’s the fact that reading aloud to students is highly beneficial. Indeed, one of our most popular blog posts to date was about the magic of reading aloud to your class. This practice boosts literacy and builds community, and it is often a joyful experience for teachers and students alike. National Read Aloud Month is coming up in March, and we encourage you to start planning now for the ways you will participate.

How do you think your students are doing on their summer reading lists so far? It’s fun to imagine them leaned up against a shady tree with a good classic, isn’t it? (A teacher can dream!) Wouldn’t you love that kind of lazy day? Who’s to say you can’t have one—or several? Summer reading is important for teachers too. And usually, after a busy school year, it’s quite a treat.

Plenty of research confirms that schools with positive climates, in which the students have strong social-emotional skills, are ideal learning environments. Teachers and parents don’t need research to believe this—it’s common sense that when people are shown kindness as opposed to hostility, they’re far more apt to succeed in school and beyond.

It was the first day of the semester, and my Creative Writing professor asked us to introduce ourselves to the class. As part of the introduction, we were to name the book we were currently reading. I froze. I wasn’t reading a book at the time. It had been a busy month, and I hadn’t taken the time to read anything beyond a few news articles and the back of the cereal box. As my turn approached, I weighed my choices. I could either lie and name a book I had read in the past, or I could tell the truth and risk making a bad first impression. I’m a terrible liar, so I chose the latter. “I’m not actually reading a book at the moment,” I said, nervously.

Back when Read Naturally founder Candyce Ihnot would present at full-day seminars, she would often start by telling a story about her youngest child, Tommy. One day, Tommy came home from elementary school and angrily declared, “I hate school.” Tommy was the son of two schoolteachers—his declaration was basically blasphemous! When Candyce asked him to explain why he hated school, his lip started to quiver. He told his mom about independent reading time. “She doesn’t even know,” he said of his teacher, “I can’t read.”

In elementary school, I remember participating in a reading incentive program with a simple premise: The more books I read, the more points I’d receive toward a reward. Because of the reward, my classmates and I were highly motivated to spend our free time reading. What’s not to love about a program like that?

There was just one problem. I could read a long, challenging chapter book slightly above my reading level in the same amount of time it took my classmate to read a dozen quick, easy books below his reading level. Who earned more points? My classmate. What did I learn? Quantity beats quality. Don’t challenge yourself.

The program had a fantastic mission, but there was an unintended consequence for me and many other students. Unfortunately, this kind of thing happens often in schools. The only way to avoid it is for teachers to take the time to scrutinize the practices and programs they put to use in their classrooms. Are we doing things out of habit or because others are doing them? Or are we doing things because they truly promote learning? A good educator is one who observes and adjusts—constantly and relentlessly.

When you were a kid, what were your favorite chapter books? I couldn't get enough of the Anne of Green Gables series (the heroine had me hooked from the first pages, when she insisted on the "e" at the end of her name). My seven-year-old currently laughs out loud (and stays up way past bedtime) reading Judy Blume's Fudge books. We loved the B.F.G. so much we're hoping to see the movie later this summer. And who doesn't love the Magic Treehouse series? Everywhere I turn, I seem to meet another Jack and Annie fan.

The easiest Read Naturally stories to read are often the hardest ones to write. Many people are surprised to learn this. Isn’t it easier to write a quick level 1.0 story than it is to research and write a complex level 8.0 story?

“This book is too hard for you.” “This book isn’t at the right level.” Have you ever said these things to a student? Chances are, you have. As you know, a book at the wrong level can easily cause a struggling reader to feel frustrated or incompetent—which may lead to just turning the pages and looking at pictures. Thus, it’s often appropriate for a teacher to direct the student toward easier reading material. And yet, in some situations, a book that’s “too hard” is exactly the right choice. How do you know the difference?

What kinds of texts do you give your students to help them build fluency? Do you offer texts that are easy for them to read and comprehend independently? Or do you push them to work at a more challenging level? Literacy expert Tim Shanahan addresses this important question in his article What Texts to Use to Teach Fluency? We’ve summarized his research-based findings here, some of which may surprise you.

Make Your Student a STAR!

Read Naturally Star of the Month​Share your student’s success story—nominate him or her for our Star of the Month award. Win a Barnes & Noble gift card for the student and a Read Naturally gift certificate for your class!

pointer Submit a Star-of-the-Month entry

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