How to Hold Students Accountable During Independent Reading

upper elementary reading workshop

If your classroom is like mine, than there are many different reading times throughout the day.  

There is formal independent reading time during reading workshop, silent reading after specials or recess, and the all-encompassing  "read a book" direction that you give when a time filler is needed.  

This means that students are probably reading different books, at different times, throughout the day. With each different reading time comes different objectives and expectations for students. Often time the expectations can become muddled if students do not fully understand the difference between each reading block of time. 

Taking the time at the beginning of the year to explain the different types of reading that will take place in your classroom is a must! It allows students to understand how they will be held accountable and helps them to select appropriate books to read during the different reading times throughout the day. 

So what exactly does each of my reading blocks of time look like?

Independent Reading

In my classroom, independent reading is the time that students are reading on their own during reading workshop or reading instruction. 

This means that the students are working on a specific skill or strategy that was taught and discussed in class, and are now trying it out in their own, self-selected, just right book. Although the students self selects a book during independent reading time, there is a direction given to them before they choose the book. This means that if we are working within a character unit, students are expected to select a chapter book with a strong main character, not a non-fiction book about scientists. During this reading time, students are held accountable for their reading in a variety of ways. The reading that students complete during independent reading time is always accompanied by a task designed to help them meet the reading objective of the day.

Here are some ways that I hold the students in my classroom accountable:
  • Students take reading notes on a graphic organizer or stickies (grab FREE  reading graphic organizers at the bottom of this post.)
  • Students meet with me for a one-on-one reading conference to discuss the reading work that they have been doing.
  • Students meet with their reading partner to discuss a specific reading prompt that I give them about their book during our reading workshop break time
  • Students complete a reading accountability tracker (perfect for at home or in class accountability) to submit so that I can get a pulse of  the strategies that they use while they independently read.
  • Use an interactive anchor chart question of the day. Write a question on the chart paper such as, What Character trait did the main character display and give supporting reasons to support your ideas. While students read, they will collect evidence to answer the question and write their response on a sticky note. The sticky note will then be placed on the chart paper. Easy way for students to be held accountable and see what ideas their classmates have.
reading workshop set up grade 5

On any given day, students will do one or more of these accountability check ins. This is because independent reading time is intentionally designed to help readers grow. Students are given explicit instruction on how to improve their reading skills and then expected to put those newly learned skills into action during their own independent time. Students understand that this reading time is always linked to an objective and has a specific purpose. This type of independent reading time gives students an opportunity to work towards meeting the common core literacy state standard: Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.

Silent Reading

independent reading grade 4Silent reading looks quite different than independent reading in my classroom. Silent reading is a time for all students to read for enjoyment. This is not to say that they do not enjoy the book that they are reading during independent reading time, but during silent reading, students are reading a book that they choose, no restrictions. This book can be a book on any topic, any genre, and any text type with no one asking them questions about what is happening in the book or what reading strategy they just used. It does not have to be a book that is based on our current reading unit. It is the equivalent to us as teachers reading a book for pleasure on the beach, versus us reading a professional book for a book club or college course. Students may select to read the same book for silent reading as they are reading at home, but they should not read the same book that they are reading during independent reading time.  During silent reading, the expectation may be that you are also silently reading to model to students how important it is to read. This is a great thing to do, just make sure to not use this time to work with small groups. No student should lose their silent reading time. Having a silent reading block is perfect to help students unwind after recess or during the last ten minutes of the day, which can lead nicely into a reading dismissal time. Silent reading usually runs for at least 15 minutes and can go up to 25 minutes depending on the day's schedule.

"Read a Book!"

independent reading grade 3I cannot even begin to count how many times at the beginning of the school year I say, "Read a book." Students quickly learn that when they are done with an activity or there is a transition time, they are to read.  Students understand that this direction to read is referring to their silent reading book, not their independent reading book. There is no accountability when students read a book during snack or downtime, which is why they are not to read their independent reading book. This reading time is similar to silent reading time, however it is at different times throughout the day, there is no set amount of time for reading, and all students may not be reading. During this time, students love to read magazines or informational texts as they know their reading time may come to an end abruptly. 

independent reading reading workshop
With so many different times to read during the day, each with different purposes, it is so important to set the expectation right from the start of the school year for each of the different reading blocks. Reading picture books about reading books is a fun way to get the discussion going about reading in the classroom. How to Read a Book* is one of my new favorites! A quick anchor chart will also help students understand the differences and help them to select the best book for the different reading times you have set up in your classroom. 

Looking for upper elementary chapter book recommendations? Visit my Amazon shop to see the titles I always recommend to my own students.

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independent reading upper elementary

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All of Your Smart Goals in the Classroom Questions Answered

setting goals in the classroom

Setting goals, as an adult or child, is a great way to grow!

It tells the world that you know what you want to accomplish, and you are ready to overcome any obstacles that may come in your way. That feeling of determination is something that I want my students to experience. 

Right at the start of the school year, my students set attainable SMART goals, create a plan of action, and then self-progress monitor themselves as they work towards meeting their goals. 

The entire experience of goal setting is empowering for students as they take ownership on growing academically, socially, and emotionally on different areas throughout the year. What I love about working with students to create their own SMART goals is that it helps to build positive relationships with students right from the start of the year. 

If you are wondering how to effectively have students create goals and meet them this school year, here are some answers to questions you may have. Grab a pen, take notes, or pin for later, so that you are prepared to kick off the school year setting student SMART goals.

What is a SMART goal?

A smart goal is a self-selected goal that is specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and trackable. Setting SMART goals are individualized and specific to the needs and wants of each student. By setting SMART goals, students have a focus to help them grow in an area that they feel they want or need to improve.

goal setting upper elementary

How do you introduce SMART goals with students?

Students need to understand the concept of setting goals that are specific to their needs, design action plans to meet the goal that they set, and how to check in on their progress. Here is a quick outline to help introduce the concept of goal setting with your upper elementary students.

  • To introduce students to goal setting concepts, I read the book*, Salt in His Shoes,written by Deloris Jordan. This picture book tells the story of Michael Jordan setting goals, creating an action plan, and working to meet the goals he set. This read aloud is a great way to get the students discussing goals that they want to meet this school year and also pairs nicely with growth mindset discussions and lessons.  Or you can read one of these goal-setting books that I love HERE.
  • There is nothing more valuable than getting your students' parents and guardians involved in setting the first goal of the school year. Send home a simple questionnaire for students to complete with their parents to brainstorm and select different areas that students can focus on when setting goals. This gives you the opportunity to see what hopes and wishes the parents have for their children for the school year. (See the form that I send home HERE.)
  • Go over the acronym of SMART so students can digest each element of setting SMART goals. Students should know what each letter of SMART stands for to help them plan out their own goals. Since setting goals is an ongoing process for the school year, create a bulletin board of SMART goal resources that will help students as they create different goals throughout the year.

How do students select a SMART goal?

By the time that students will be formally setting their own goals, they will have had a chance to think about different areas of focus. For the first SMART goal of the year you might choose to have everyone work on a goal in the same area, for example math. This would mean that every student is working on a math goal, but their individualized math goals are all different. Some students might be focused on problem solving, others on fact work. Or, you might have students select any goal that they want to kick the school year off with. There is no right or wrong way to have kids select goals.  

Whichever you choose, follow these two quick steps:

  • Interview each student individually to get to know their strengths and weaknesses. This is a quick process with many benefits. Not only will it help you to get to know students on a personal level, but it will help you to guide students on creating the best SMART goal for them. (Grab the interview form that I use for FREE at the bottom of this post.)
  • Brainstorm. Have students use pencil and paper to record all of the different ideas that they have. They can use SMART goal sentence starters to help. I always use an inverted triangle brainstorming sheet to help kids get very specific. When students have specific goals, it is easier to set an action plan and monitor their progress. Be sure to model the process of brainstorming so that the students truly understand what is expected.

setting goals back to school

How can students self-progress monitor their goal work?

Have students create an action plan to help meet their goals. Their action plans will be specific to the topic that they have for their goal, but can include simple steps such as:

  • spending more time checking my work
  • reading more challenging books
  • asking for help when needed
  • creating my own practice fact cards

Be sure to help students know where they can go in the classroom for extra support materials and tasks on the topic of their goal. One way you can do this is by having different buckets of support materials in math and language arts. When they know there are support materials in place, they can add that to their action plan. 

Another way to add support for students is by providing them with appropriate websites to support their goals. Students will instantly become invested in meeting their goals and will look forward to doing any additional activities that they have listed on their action plan, especially during small pockets of downtime in the classroom.

Once students have their action plan in place, set a schedule for students to self-monitor how they are progressing towards meeting their goals. Starting with a weekly check-in is a great way to send the message to the students that setting and monitoring goals is something that you value. Be sure to hold students accountable by having them complete check-in forms. It can be a quick response to one or two questions that you pose, or something more detailed. As long as students are being held accountable it will help you track how students are doing. 

back to school goal setting

The goal has been met, now what?

Celebrate! This is the best time to teach students that goal setting is ongoing. Once students have reached a goal, celebrate it, and have them set another goal. Students will be reaching goals at different times throughout the year and that is ok. Once students understand how to set goals, they will easily be able to set a new goal. I encourage students to focus on a different area for each new goal. Remember goals that students set can be academic, social, or behavioral. Encourage students to mix up which types of goals that they are setting.

Setting SMART goals is a great way to kick off the school year and set the tone for students that they will be working hard this year as individuals meeting their own goals. It also helps you to build strong relationships with students on an individual level, showing each and every student that you are invested in their success. By doing this, you are setting up a positive climate in your classroom where students feel valued. 

Check out my favorite goal-setting activities HERE

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back to school goal setting

*affiliate links: “Think Grow Giggle is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.” (source: Section 5)



How To Advice for Building Positive Relationships with Students

how to build student relationships

When prepping  for the new school year, planning to build student relationships is always at the top of my list. The time spent building student relationships is the best time you will spend all year long. 

As teachers we often feel overwhelmed with everything we need to get done in one school day and are always looking for more time. Building student relationships is critical to ensuring a successful school year for our students, a safe classroom community, and a well managed classroom.

It does not take much time out of your day to build those important relationships with students. Both by planning ahead of time and by using classroom down time to build student relationships you will easily be able to engage in meaningful conversation and build the bond between you and each student as individuals. 

Here are some quick and easy to implement tips for building student relationships that I use each year.

Hello there, and Goodbye!

Get away from the computer and your desk! Our time is limited and we always have so many clerical things to do on the computer, but by standing at the door to welcome and greet students individually by name, asking about their day or weekend, and smiling with eye contact makes a huge impact on students and how they feel about coming to school each day. Repeat this process in the afternoon as they leave with a high five and it will have the students leaving on a positive note, no matter how their day went. 

Build Trust

By building trust with your students you are telling them that you will not let them fail. You are allowing them to feel safe and take risks in the classroom. One way to do this is to understand each child's learning style.  You can have them take a formal quiz like this one, or ask them one simple question (see below) to determine their learning preference: auditory or visual. By presenting lessons in ways that will ensure each child's success the trust students have in you will strengthen.  Grab that all important question on the inventory form I use with my students for FREE at the bottom of this post.

how to build student relationships

Get to Know the Complete Child

It does not take long for our teacher instinct to kick in and we instantly know the students academically. But to truly get to know each student take the time to get to know their interests, hobbies, friends outside your classroom, and their hopes and dreams. One simple way to do this is with a quick student inventory. You can interview each child one on one during the first week of school and take notes, or you can have each student complete an inventory form independently. Grab the inventory form I use with my students for FREE at the bottom of this post. Don't forget to complete this periodically throughout the year as students change.

Set Goals and Check In

Helping students set individualized goals is a great way to show them you are invested in them and their success! Whether you set academic, behavioral, or social emotional goals, be sure to set a goal plan to help them meet their goal. Check in weekly or bi-weekly to discuss their progress and set new goals as needed.

Building relationships with students is a must! The time spent building and strengthening relationships all year long is well worth the time investment. 

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Check out the advice from my upper elementary teacher friends. Click to learn more about their tip for a successful school year and grab free reflection tools, checklists, questionnaires, and more! 

Kerry Tracy of Feel-Good Teaching says, "Take the time to reconnect with your calling to get you

Brittany Hege of Mix and Math says, “Incorporate call and response chants as part of your

Laura Hurley of Reading by Heart says, "Build decoding independence by giving your readers white

Kathie Yonemura of Tried & True Teaching Tools says, “Find your teacher tribe!”

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