Teaching Independence to Support Science of Reading-Informed Lessons

In this blog series, Savvas author, educator, and literacy expert Dr. Lee Wright will guide us through the importance of effective classroom management when delivering Science of Reading-based instruction, along with practical strategies you can start using right away to help lead your students to reading proficiency.

One of the ultimate outcomes of Science of Reading-informed lessons is to support students in becoming independent readers. Independent readers are equipped with the ability to read texts proficiently, and when they can read texts proficiently they’re able to learn about any subject in the world around them that captures their interest.

Savvas - Teaching Independence to Support Science of Reading-Informed LessonsYet, learning to be independent, especially for elementary-age students, requires opportunities to practice how to make good choices, assume responsibilities, and make contributions towards the benefit of the classroom community -- opportunities that the teacher needs to provide. 

In this blog post, I’ll show you how to implement those opportunities. I’ll also demonstrate how taking the time to provide students with classroom jobs and responsibilities not only moves them toward becoming independent citizens and individuals in life but also toward positively impacting our Science of Reading-informed lessons. 

How Opportunities for Building Independence Contribute to Effective Classroom Management

We now know how good classroom management practices positively impact the effectiveness of Science of Reading-based lessons. But teachers don’t have to be the only ones responsible for classroom management. When students know that they also play a critical role in the daily classroom responsibilities that make lessons and activities run smoothly, it shows them that they matter and instills a sense of confidence and independence.

For example, Science of Reading-informed lessons are enhanced when students are able to:

  • Make appropriate learning choices, such as which texts to read or which reading center activity to complete.
  • Assume responsibility for their own learning, such as how to keep track and maintain organization of their personal classroom materials: pens, pencils, journals, homework etc.
  • Work cooperatively and collaboratively with classmates, such as learning how to take turns and share in completing responsibilities that benefit the classroom community, and knowing when to ask for assistance from their peers and be willing to assist others.


Setting Up a Classroom Helper System

There are a great many tasks that must be conducted so that Science of Reading-based lessons flow smoothly and efficiently. One really effective way to keep all these tasks moving forward smoothly is to implement a Classroom Helper System. This system is not only effective in maintaining effective classroom management but it also gives students a sense of accomplishment, confidence and, most importantly, independence.

In the Classroom Helper System, students are assigned common classroom jobs, such as desk inspector, librarian, and reading resource manager (more details will be listed below). Teachers can either assign jobs to students or they can select from a choice of jobs that the teacher makes available to them. 

The following are some important ideas to keep in mind when designing your Classroom Helper System:

  • Choose job titles that mirror real life. In the same way weuse real-life academic vocabulary words like author — and not the book fairy — to teach children what the writer of a book is called, we should also use real job titles in our Classroom Helper System. For example, a “line leader” is not a job in the real world, so choose another title like “tour guide” or “usher.” Make as many connections as you can to your instruction and how it applies to the world outside the classroom walls. This helps students see the classroom as a space where learning happens and that everything in it is there to help teach them something — not a place of make-believe. 
  • Plan to gradually and slowly introduce jobs to students. The beginning of the school year can already be an overwhelming time, so you don’t want to make it even more so by assigning all your jobs at once. Start by introducing just one job in the first week, then slowly add on more each week. By the second or third month, you should have all jobs assigned.
  • Provide frequent feedback. Just like in real-life, jobs are also an important element of the Classroom Helper System in that they provide constant feedback. Plan on meeting with students frequently, in short conferences, to discuss how they’re doing with their jobs and review areas in which they might need improvement. 
  • Only assign as many jobs as you can manage. These classroom helper jobs are meant to make classroom management easier. So, come up with a number of jobs that you can easily manage considering that you will need to also play the role of their supervisor. 

For classroom jobs to be optimally effective, each job must be introduced via a mini lesson that includes naming the job, and demonstrating (modeling) the responsibilities associated with the job, as well as explaining why the job is important toward the benefit of the classroom.

The following are examples of Classroom Helper jobs and responsibilities that will specifically benefit your reading lessons:

  • Librarian — Ensures that all decodable readers are sorted into the appropriate bins within the classroom library.
  • Editor— Helps review classmates' writing assignments and makes suggestions as to how to improve spelling, grammar, etc.
  • Writer— Writes information on the classroom news board or other informational chart.
  • Illustrator— Draws pictures onto the classroom charts. Helps classmates form pictures in their written assignments.
  • Reading Resource Manager— Ensures that all reading-related resources (e.g., phoneme phones, letter tiles, etc.) are sorted and stored in their respective areas of the classroom.
  • Quality Control Inspector— Ensures that all reading-related wall displays are securely mounted onto the classroom walls and not falling off or in need of repair. Informs the teacher when a text from the classroom library may be in need of repair.
  • Reading Workbook Manager— Ensures that all reading workbooks are neatly organized in their respective area of the classroom. Hands out and retrieves workbooks, as needed.
  • Instructional Technology Specialist — Helps classmates with technology needs during online reading-related activities.
  • Small-Group Table Manager— Ensures that the classroom small-group table area is organized at all times.
  • Reading Specialist— Assists classmates with reading help when the teacher is occupied with small-group work and the remainder of the class is working independently.

When the classroom is managed well and daily lessons are not interrupted by searching for misplaced materials or confusion about certain tasks, your lessons, specifically Science of Reading-based lessons, will be much more effective. Allow your students to play a crucial part in helping the classroom run smoothly along with you. You’ll not only help them learn better but you’ll also be teaching them how to be confident, independent learners. Happy teaching!

Tip: Just as some students are further along in certain skills development than others, some jobs will require a higher level of skill knowledge. Be sure your classroom jobs have a range of skill-level requirements to match your students’ different levels of development. Do not assign students a job they can’t handle and continue to do incorrectly. If you do find that a student is struggling with his or her job, make sure to have extra jobs available as back up to offer them.


About The Author

Lee Wright, Ph.D.

Dr. Wright began his career as a kindergarten teacher in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas. For over two decades, he spent time as a literacy coach, Texas statewide staff developer, and professor of education. Today, he trains educators on topics that focus on the importance of effective classroom management, small-group instruction, and early literacy. He is a coauthor of Three Cheers for Pre-K and myView Literacy from Savvas Learning Company.