Wednesday / May 29

The Big Zero: Reading Lessons that Work

I want you to stop covering material, stop covering standards, stop covering a lesson. Instead, I want you to dig deep, to create learning environments where your students read, and think, and question, and write.  I never became a teacher in order to cover curriculum. I am enriched and revitalized when I teach real lessons that work (that means students improve as readers). I am hoping you will join me in this endeavor.

Essentially, I want you to stop throwing a wet blanket on teaching that inspires both you and your students. Before I go on, let’s define what covering means. In the spirit of standardized test scores, we will decide on our definition through a typical five choice answer type of question. Choose the correct answer to the question below.

  1. Covering is:
    1. Opposite of deep, thoughtful teaching.
    2. Teaching that leads to shallow knowledge instead of teaching that leads to powerful learning
    3. Is what we do when we feel pressured to teach too much in too short a time frame
    4. Encouraged by programs and teachers’ manuals designed to meet curriculum guidelines or standards
    5. All of the above.

My goal is to get the number of times a week you cover a reading lesson to zero. Yes. Zero.

I am teaching reading, and reading comprehension with the desire to develop literate students who delve deep into texts without hesitation, who turn to reading of all types of media to gather information and solve problems, and who question what they read and see reading as purposeful. I hope you are on this mission with me. I am going to share with you five steps so you can get the number of times a week you are covering to zero.

Step One:

Notice the number of times you say ‘cover’ when describing your lessons, and planning your lessons. Throw cover out of your vocabulary and replace it with positive, energizing learning focused words, like: model, dig deep, stretch my students, scaffold, break down, and build up.

Step Two

Find texts that interest your students. Survey your students and find out their interests, then go out and hunt and gather! Don’t be afraid to use texts in a medium that you may not be familiar with. In a study I completed in 2014 which focused on middle school students’ reading habits, I found that students not only don’t read, they don’t see a need to read. So, let’s give our students a need to read! If reading is fun, if the reading work is focused on students reflecting, questioning, and thinking out loud about the meaning or purpose of a text, students will be engaged. Students won’t just read because you assign it, they will read because they need to.

Step Three

Have the students read themselves. Students get better at reading by reading. So, find texts they enjoy, but also that they can access. Your struggling students and your English learner students won’t get better at reading if you are reading to them. They need to read, and read a lot. Encourage students to bring in texts they want to read, and share it around the class. Visit student safe websites with written information about their interests. Read a novel, or nonfiction book, aloud, then have the students read the same book in pairs, helping one another with the text, stopping in places they love, or feel their hearts beating fast with anticipation for what happens next.

Step Four

Create lessons where your students write about their reading. Writing is language output. It is one of the authentic ways students can show you what they know, what they think, and how they are comprehending. I know that reading and grading writing assignments is laborious, so don’t grade every single assignment. Use analytic rubrics to score work and to give students specific feedback instead. Let students work together and score their own writing. And don’t forget – writing about reading assignments and the rubrics that accompany them are based on the reading comprehension standards because you are unveiling student comprehension, not measuring their ability to write.

Step Five

Decide on what is good enough before you assign the students reading and writing about reading. Your expectations need to be clear, so make sure you know what you want in their reflections, reports, quick-writes, summaries, or exit slips. Build your assignments by starting with a reading roadmap. A reading roadmap is a simple table where you plan out the assignment, including the standards, the expected pace of the writing, the writing about reading expectations. Check out my reading roadmap for your reading of this article, at the end of the text.

The Challenge

I challenge you to join me on this endeavor of The Big Zero. Stop covering and start teaching deeply, with meaning and focused on students becoming masters of their reading and thinking. I know this is daunting, but just think, if we don’t focus on The Big Zero, our students reading habits and abilities as they grow just might become the big zero we should avoid.

Nancy’s Sample Reading Roadmap
Standard:                                Helping teachers grow as professionals
Reading Writing about Reading (for comprehension)
Assignment Read the blog!  Argue with me about my ideas, or join me in the pursuit of zero coverage lessons. Write the thoughts that pop up while reading the blog on a sticky note to refer to later for planning.
Real Life Application Email Nancy ( with your thoughts and ideas about how to avoid coverage lessons.
Expectations in effort Read the text in one sitting. Reread it again and slow down in places that make you think or wonder about what the author is saying. Write at least five sentences about how to plan rich, deep, engaging lessons.
Expectations for product All sentences use proper punctuation. Each sentence relates to the purpose of the assignment specifically. At least two details, or specific steps are shared to meet the goal of the assignment.


Written by

Nancy Akhavan is a sought after author and speaker who works with teachers and leaders across the U.S. Nationally, Nancy provides professional development and consulting to organizations, schools and school districts. She coaches school leaders and leadership teams to develop effective instructional practices focused on student achievement, to create systems for organizational effectiveness in management and to create coherence within school districts and schools. She has also provided professional development to school and district leaders on leadership, literacy and equity and has helped hundreds of teachers in their classrooms.

Latest comment

leave a comment