Part 4 of The Independent Reading Series
(Originally posted on Sept. 10, 2015.)
Students need regular, daily exposure to texts they can read. The more they read with confidence, the more adept they become. I’ve often heard parents complain that their children are reading “fluffy” series books and that they wish they would read books of substance, or the classics. In actuality, these “fluffy” series books give students the practice they need to become more confident readers.
When I think of all of the series books that have influenced my reading life, I can list quite a few. I fell in love with Little House on the Prairie at an early age. I also devoured a collection of The Hardy Boys mysteries that my mom had when she was a kid. In fifth grade, a set of Louis L’Amour books sat front and center when I walked into the library. They had beautiful soft-bound, fake leather covers. I was in love and read them all! Then, it was on to Nancy Drew and Sweet Valley High. As an adult, a great fantasy novel series is still my go-to when reading for pleasure. I couldn’t read the Wheel of Time series fast enough.
What happens when we read a series book? We fall in love with characters and their conflicts. We become a character in the books—feeling all passions and losses the character feels. The more books we read in the series, the more comfortable we become with the author’s writing style. We know how the author will begin the next chapter. We know the key phrases and actions associated with each character. We know how the author will end a chapter. We just know.
This “knowing” is what supports readers’ fluency when reading series books. When readers move to a new book with a new author, it takes awhile to “get into the flow.” We have to get used to the author’s syntax and vocabulary. We have to get used to the rhythm of language and plot, as well as the setting and time period. However, with a series, we get all of that “knowing” out of the way with the first book. Then, we just read—and the more we read, the faster we get. Avid readers tend to read more quickly because they have practice.
Kyleen Beers discusses the importance of automaticity in Chapter 10 of her book When Kids Can’t Read and What Teachers Can Do. Automaticity is when you can quickly do something without thinking of the nuances of the task. Dependent readers spend a great deal of time working through the nuances of reading: breaking apart a word to figure out how to pronounce it. Once that is done, they have to use context clues and background knowledge to figure out what it means. They may even have to look up the definition or ask a peer what it means.
Students may have to encounter a word multiple times before they can decode it and understand it in context automatically. Series reading can help support students to develop more automaticity. Authors tend to use similar vocabulary across all of their books. Some of these words may be new to students; however, the more they see them in context, the more comfortable they will become with them. (I will be discussing the power of independent reading to support vocabulary in the fifth post in this series).
In a post titled Developing Reading Fluency, published in his blog The Reading Genie, Auburn University professor Bruce Murray, Ph.D., identifies sustained silent reading (SSR), and more specifically series reading, as an “indirect approach” to teaching fluency. During my experience as a reading teacher, the “indirect approach” became “THE approach” to support increased fluency for dependent readers.
Teaching tip: Track students’ fluency by having them graph the number of pages they read during each SSR session. Have them chart the number of minutes they read and the number of pages. If you give them consistent time to read each day (15 – 20 minutes) they will notice the number of pages increasing each time, especially when they are reading a series. This is a nice intrinsic motivator for students; it creates a visual that helps them (and you) see how much their fluency is improving.
Click the links below to read the all of the posts in our series on independent reading:
Part IV: The Importance of Series Reading