________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 13. . . .February 20, 2009.


Independent Reading Inside the Box: How to Organize, Observe, and Assess Reading Strategies That Promote Deeper Thinking and Improve Comprehension in K-6 Classrooms.

Lisa Donohue.
Markham, ON: Pembroke, 2008.
158 pp., pbk., $24.95.
ISBN 978-1-55138-225-8.

Subject Headings:
Reading (Elementary).
Reading comprehension.
Children-Books and reading.

Professional: For teachers of Kindergarten-grade 6.

Review by Kristen Ferguson.





If we expect our students to be independent learners, we need to give them the strategies to learn effectively. It is not sufficient for students to bury their faces in a book for 30 to 40 minutes a day. Although reading for enjoyment is important, we need to have adequate opportunities to interact with our learners, even when we are occupied with leading small groups. Unfortunately, as teachers, we are not gifted with the ability to be in multiple places at once, thus we must set up our students for independent reading prior to reading times, and provide tools like Reading 8 Boxes to guide their learning in our temporary absence.

     Think outside the box. It is a cliché we teachers often tell students when we want to encourage them to be creative and original. However, in her latest book, Lisa Donohue wants students to think inside the box during independent reading time. In Independent Reading Inside the Box, Donohue’s boxes are Reading 8 Boxes, a flexible and accountable tool for both students and teachers to use during independent reading.

     Most school boards and districts have moved away from the sustained silent reading model in favor of independent reading. Donohue explains that the purpose of independent reading is to “practice the skills that we have modeled through read-alouds, discussed through shared reading, and scaffolded through guided reading. This is the students’ opportunity to strengthen and reflect on these skills.” In chapter 1, Donohue outlines the differences between the two forms of reading, noting that one aspect of sustained silent reading particularly lacking is student accountability: how does the teacher know that the student has spent the period actually reading and practicing his or her skills? Another area in need of improvement is solidifying the connection between independent reading and writing. Donohue notes that, in her school, students had difficulty answering open-ended reading comprehensions in writing. According to Donohue, “It is not sufficient for students to read, enjoy, and share their books. It is essential that we revisit the skill of teaching students how to decode questions, and provide substantial answers in order to correctly represent their thinking while reading.”

     To make students accountable for their learning and practice the reading-writing connection, Independent Reading Inside the Box presents teachers with an organizational tool called a Reading 8 Box. A Reading 8 Box is a piece of paper divided into eight equal boxes and, as Donohue explains, “in each box, students complete a different task to reflect their understanding of their reading.” The first four boxes consist of one box for each of: My Reading, Text Elements, Word Skills, and Taxonomy of Thinking, and the last four boxes are for four different Reading Strategies. First, in My Reading, box number one, students can complete a task relating to how they selected their book. Box 2 is Text Elements wherein students respond to and explain various elements of fiction and non-fiction texts. Word Skills is Box 3 and in this box, students complete vocabulary and word skill tasks. Box 4 is Taxonomy of Thinking, and students answer different comprehension questions using Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy. Boxes 5 through 8 each focus on one of Harvey and Goudvis’ comprehension strategies (connecting, inferring, questioning, visualizing, determining importance, and synthesizing) as well as metacognition. Teachers select four of seven above comprehension tasks for students to complete in the remaining four boxes of the Reading 8 Box.

     Chapters 2 through 7 of Independent Reading Inside the Box are devoted to the each box theme. Every chapter explains the general theme for the box, contains numerous blackline masters for the theme as well as explanations and specific instructions for each blackline master, rubrics, and completed examples. The blackline masters are the appropriate size to be photocopied so that eight masters will fit onto a 11 by 17 inch piece of paper folded or divided into eight equal sections. In chapter 8, Donohue provides some practical suggestions for how to develop routines for students to use the Reading 8 Boxes independently and how teachers can assess the students’ work. An important section in chapter 8 explains how the activities in the Reading 8 Boxes should be introduced using the gradual release model. The activities and tasks in the Reading 8 Boxes should not be new to students during independent reading. Rather, teachers should model how to complete the tasks during read-alouds and shared reading, have the students try them during guided reading, then, finally, having students practice those skills on their own with their Reading 8 Box during independent reading. In an appendix, Donohue also provides teachers with a suggested order for the Reading 8 Boxes and separates them into fiction and non-fiction for both the primary and junior grades.

     Independent Reading Inside the Box is a must-have resource. It is a very timely book for teachers since schools are focusing on implementing read-alouds, shared reading, guided reading, and independent reading. Teaching comprehension strategies is also a current major initiative in many schools and boards, and Donohue’s book helps schools reinforce what they are already teaching as well as providing some new ideas. Independent Reading Inside the Box is also flexible as it is geared towards both fiction and non-fiction texts. Teachers will also appreciate Donohue’s easy-to-read writing style, practical tips and anecdotes, and the many blackline masters. For those who enjoyed and used Guided Listening, Donohue’s previous book, Independent Reading Inside the Box is a wonderful follow-up and a complementary resource.

     Lisa Donohue continues to impress with Independent Reading Inside the Box. She is on the cutting edge of current initiatives in schools and has created another book with in-depth and easy-to-use practical resources for teachers. The idea of Reading 8 Boxes is a simple one, yet Independent Reading Inside the Box is an invaluable book packed with excellent information and resources to make independent reading more purposeful, accountable, as well as a time to practice skills. I cannot wait to read her next book.

Highly Recommended.

Kristen Ferguson teaches Language Arts at the Faculty of Education at Nipissing University and is a doctoral student in Education at York University.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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