20 minutes to Further Student Success

Alexandria Zimmerman, Staff writer

The only sound that can be heard in English classrooms is the turning of pages, as students dive into A Tale of Two Cities, Crooked Kingdom, and Anna and the French Kiss, during the 20 minutes of free reading.    

Ms. Jyoti Demian, English Department Chair, found 20 minutes to be the magic amount of time for silent, sustained, independent reading as most of the articles she read by authors and organizations such as the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD), International Electronic Journal of Elementary Education, and Jill Barshay, an education columnist for the Hechinger report, mentioned a number between 15 and 30. These sources also reported benefits to students such as higher reading comprehension scores. 

“The year I started as department head I started becoming really, really curious about adolescents who struggle with reading and why some adolescents may not read as much as when they were younger,” Demian said.  “So I did a lot of research.” 

“Transforming the First Ten Minutes of Class”, “The Magic of 15 Minutes: Daily reading practice and reading growth,” and a National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) statement discussing independent reading are just a few of the articles that convinced Demian to implement silent reading. Demian, along with reading specialists, were major contributors to establish the initiative for students to read any book for 20 minutes. 

In a survey conducted of the student body, students seem to enjoy the 20 minutes of class with roughly 70% of 294 students saying they enjoy it while 29.9% have a general distaste. 

“That sounds about right,” said Ms. Heidi Parenti, a freshman English teacher. Parenti created a poll that all of her classes took which received similar results.  Including an “overwhelming majority say it’s very relaxing and it eases them into the day or the class,” she said. 

While most students find that they enjoy the twenty minutes spent reading, quite a few students dislike it and would prefer to be more productive during this time, or not read at all. 

“Some kids will stare off into space or stare at a page for a period of time,” Parenti said. 

Students aren’t the only ones struggling to adapt to the new change. Teachers are finding it challenging to modify the curriculum to better fit free reading into the class schedule, all while making sure that students are getting all the information and skills they need to be prepared for the next grade level. 

“Teachers realized right away that some things needed to be taken out of the curriculum,” Ms. Lani Buskey said. “While 20 minutes doesn’t seem like a lot of time, 20 minutes every day is a lot…it’s a challenge to figure out what’s necessary [in the curriculum] and what’s not.”

With all the information Demian has presented to the English teachers, it is no surprise that they all appear to be in favor. The teachers seem unanimously in favor of attempting to raise students’ success in reading in order to become “life-long readers”. 

“Honestly, if it gets kids reading, I’m cool with it,” said  Buskey, a sophomore and senior English teacher. 

Another challenge that arose among teachers is where to take a 20 minute break. While some teachers decided to put it at the beginning or end of class, other teachers move it around, or let the students decide what works best for their class. For some, this resulted in the flow being disrupted during class time. 

“It depends on the day and what we’re doing. There are certain days it works great and it’s nice to break stuff up and have a break in between activities but there are other days… when we’re in a literature class focused on reading anyway to have that time to read and then go and do some more reading does end up getting a little bit problematic logistically,” said Mr. Jonathan Fowler, a grade 11 English teacher. “However, in the writing [semester] I think it’s going to work great.”

The foreign language department decided to do something similar during the 2019-2020 school year by having students read in their target language for 5-10 instead of 20 minutes and has currently been implemented in Spanish, French, and soon, Latin classrooms. 

“We are using our free reading to help [the students] acquire language and vocabulary structures that are really difficult to teach in a typical classroom setting,” said Mr. Mark Phelps, the world language department head. 

“Reading in a new language is much more taxing on the brain than reading in your first language,” said Phelps. Because of this, the teachers who have implemented free reading usually start “at about 5 minutes every class and build progressively to about 10 minutes.” 

This applies to all areas of academics whether it’s literacy in a foreign language, or the reading comprehension section of the SAT.  “Research has shown that pleasurable reading is key to literacy,” said Demian.