Classical curriculum is very much a stand-and-deliver, sage on the stage type of instruction. So how do you get the well-documented benefits of independent reading and talking about books (often called “reader’s workshop”) in the classical classroom when you’ve got no minutes to implement it and no mandate from administration? You can, through what I’ve decided to call the Back End Reading Workshop, or, if you like, reading when you’re done with your work and other times during the day.
What will you need? The following are the components:
1) Teach students that when they are done with any written assignment they are expected to read a book. The thing to emphasize is that the book must be open or they are off-task. The completed written assignment should be on their desk where you can see it so you know they are done and free to read. They should bring one book from home and have it in their backpack for this purpose. If they don’t have a book lend them one.
2) Collect books for a classroom library. Label the books with your name and something along the lines of “classroom book.” I used to put the classroom number but since room numbers change, that’s not efficient. Just your name.
3) Teach the students how to evaluate whether they want to read a book. Tell them they must be able to read enough of the words so the book makes sense. Tell them the book should be interesting. Tell them if it’s not working, to take it back and get something else.
4) Allow students to raise their hands and go to the library and switch books. Let them take the books home as long as they ask you first.
5) Now is the time to get the beehive of the classroom library really humming. Observe the kids, talk to the kids and if necessary take a reading interest inventory of the class and start collecting the books they really want to read. That means considering subject matter and reading ability level. The easiest way to do this is to do this is to do a Scholastic Book Club, sending book catalogues home, getting the parents to buy a few books, and choosing classroom books offered for free with your order.
That’s really all you have to do to radically increase the independent minutes read daily by your students. And the workshop, or discussion of books aspect? That will happen naturally, as the students find books they are excited about and share and talk about them (whispering, of course) while they’re at the desks, eating lunch, waiting in line at the restroom and before and after school. It happens in my classroom every year — just try it and watch.