selected reading is important, they still view it as a luxury, something to be included only when students have satisfactorily completed the school-endorsed curriculum and are prepared for high-stakes tests (Worthy et al., 1998). Middle school teachers who have 45-minute class periods as opposed to longer language arts blocks may be even less inclined to include free reading time. Allington (1994) suggested that school days are fragmented in ways that prevent students from becoming engaged in books: "Imagine, for instance, attempting to read a wonderful novel in a series of 8-10 minute encounters" (pp. 20-21). Middle school teachers contend that they feel external pressures to prioritize explicit instruction over free reading time, but our hunch is that teachers themselves are not convinced that time spent "just reading" will help students flourish. We also suspect that some middle school teachers are uncomfortable with and unsure of their role as "teachers" during independent reading times.
The disjuncture between who middle school students are as readers and the middle school reading instruction we have is clear, but how can the fundamental differences be reconciled? In the remainder of this article we suggest some critical theoretical and practical issues for middle school teachers to consider as they reflect on their stance toward reading instruction.
What teachers need to know to tailor the fit
Our objective here is not to prescribe a middle school reading program, because we do not believe that programs themselves are responsive to the needs of students. Alternatively, we believe that knowledgeable, reflective teachers can create their own frameworks for instruction. Here we suggest what teachers can do to build a solid foundation for teaching reading to a wide range of middle school readers: (a) moving independent reading to the forefront of instruction, (b) providing access to varied reading materials, (c) approaching reading instruction as a developmental process, and (d) learning about individual students as readers and writers.
Moving independent reading to the forefront of instruction. Although we support already-existing schoolwide initiatives to promote independent reading (e.g., Sustained Silent Reading, Drop Everything and Read), we envision middle school classrooms in which independent reading is the focal point of instruction rather than a supplemental activity. In other words, student reading of self-selected texts (as opposed to specific novels or literary themes) would become the reading curriculum, and consequently, it would consume a significant block of the reading and language arts period.
Also, we envision teachers taking on more of an instructional role during this time. Although we acknowledge the importance of teachers serving as role models by reading on their own during independent reading times, they can use this time judiciously by attending to, getting to know, and teaching individual students as readers. This is a good time for teachers to conduct informal assessments (e.g., listening to students as they read, engaging students in discussions of what they are reading) that help them focus on what students can do as readers rather than on what they cannot do, and at the same time get a sense of individual student progress over time. Roller (1996) described what she did during the independent reading portion of her reading workshop:
I circulate among the children. Each day I focus on three to five children, and I have individual conferences with them. The conferences are about what the child is reading.... I concentrate on the child's particular needs. I identify the needs by asking the child what he or she is working on or by recalling previous interactions I have had with the child.... In the early conferences, there is a lot of discussion about choosing books. (p. 18)
Also, there is no better opportunity to focus on individual needs than when a student is actually engaged in a text that is on his or her instructional level. As teachers listen to students read and discuss their books, they can both model and explicitly point out the strategies good readers use. For example, a teacher might make a prediction about the book a student is reading and explain to the student how she developed the prediction (e.g., using prior knowledge and clues from the text).
Providing access to varied reading materials. Students need specific instruction in how to learn from textbooks and other materials they encounter in their content area classrooms. However, it is apparent from research that in order for young adolescents to develop and maintain interest in reading, teachers must