Celebrate Sneaky Reading!

By Kristin Ziemke, guest blogger

I was a sneaky reader. I didn’t have a name for it at the time, but that’s what I was. I’d sneak a flashlight under my bed so I could read when I was supposed to be sleeping. I’d stash copies of Superfudge and The Babysitter’s Club in my long outgrown playhouse, where I’d stop by to squeeze in a few minutes of reading when I was supposed to be walking the dog. I’d even hide books under the bathroom sink before going to bed so I could get up a few moments later, feign a stomachache, and spend some extra time with my favorite characters.
As a child, when I found a title that pulled on my heartstrings, I’d use every free moment I could find at school to get back into that book. Over the course of the day, those moments would add up to 15 or 20 additional minutes with text. As an educator, I recognize the impact sneaky reading had on my literacy development, as I now know those additional 20 minutes of daily independent reading provided me 1.8 million more words a year than my classmates who did not sneak extra reading minutes (Nagy and Herman, 1987). I am a good reader because I read a lot.

“The single greatest factor in reading achievement is volume.”
Stephen Krashen,
The Power of Reading: Insights from Research, 2004

Today I worry that too many of our students are not spending extensive time in text they can and want to read. More and more kids are entering school reading below grade level. There’s a lot of pressure on families and teachers to prepare them for the test du jour. And each year adds more stakeholders who want proof that students are learning. But the best way we can prepare learners for whatever lies ahead is to teach them how to be great readers.
 At school, we provide each child explicit, personalized reading instruction. We build enthusiasm for reading and joyfully celebrate favorite titles, introduce topics that peak a child’s interest, and support them in finding their next “homerun” book. We use new and innovative tools like TheKidShouldSeeThis.com to view short video clips that spark curiosity and high-quality websites like Wonderopolis as a way to leverage tech to bring kids to text they may want to read more about. But more than that, we model how to live like a reader in our classrooms and beyond.

“A classroom atmosphere that promotes reading does not come
from the furniture and its placement as much as it comes
from the teacher's expectation that students will read.”
--Donalyn Miller, The Book Whisperer, 2009

And so, I explicitly instruct my students in the art of sneaky reading. Together we define what it means to be a sneaky reader and look for opportunities to practice our craft. Every morning, we sneak minutes with books as students turn in lunch money, unpack their bags, and settle in for the day. We leave morning work and bell-ringers behind and instead spend time with text. As we travel down the hall for bathroom break, our books go with us and we squeeze in a few more minutes of independent reading while we wait. Weekly, we snuggle in for Flashlight Friday and lose ourselves in stacks of our favorite series and authors. On the bus to field trips, waiting for lunch cleanup, and when our schedule unexpectedly changes, we read.  This becomes a habit not only at school, but a habit for living.

This practice extends beyond the school day as kids advocate for their reading life wherever they might be. Whether in line at the grocery store or cozying up with a book to quiet down after a busy day, extending a child’s time with text creates the conditions where thinking and learning never stop. We recognize that every minute counts, and as teachers, we effectively use the time we have with students and seek a way to steal time we don’t have. We teach students to be sneaky readers so they can independently carve out time to nurture their reading lives.

Looking to foster sneaky reading? Here are a few simple ways to embrace this practice with your students:

  • Share moments when you lived like a sneaky reader as a child.
  • Model what it looks like when you can’t put down a book! With book in hand, use language like, “Hold on…I need two more minutes…”
  • Document your life as a reader.  Think book-selfies on the train or asking a friend to snap a photo of you in a non-traditional reading environment. Show kids when, where, and how to sneak additional reading minutes.
  • Talk about the why. Give kids the facts regarding time on text and reading development.
  • Flip your reading life! Embrace the power of video, and capture a teaching point or reading reflection wherever you are to show how living like a reader transcends all aspects of your life. 

About Kristin:

A teacher of primary age learners in Chicago, Kristin Ziemke engages students in authentic learning experiences where reading, thinking, and collaboration are at the heart of the curriculum. Author of Amplify: Digital Teaching and Learning in the K-6 Classroom, Kristin pairs best practice instruction with digital tools to transform learning in the classroom and beyond. 

Donalyn Miller
Donalyn Miller has taught 4th, 5th, and 6th grade language arts and...