Using Independent Sustained Reading to Facilitate Leveled Reading

North Carolina Department of Public Instruction has provided a guide to Independent Sustained Reading (ISR) for students.  This guide provides the “how to” and the differences found between this new independent reading and silent sustained reading sometimes referred to as SSR Time or DEAR (Drop Everything and Read.  


                                                               ISR vs. SSR

Independent Sustained Reading Silent Sustained Reading or Drop Everything and Read
Teacher’s Responsibility
  • Model a strategy
  • Foster collaborative discussion
  • Teach Self Monitoring
  • Reflections
  • Help Make Connections
  • Model Silent Reading
Design or Structure
  • Integrated into Instruction
  • Separate Block of time


Thinking about this guide and “my vision” for TES reading, these are my big takeaways from this resource.  These are my personal opinions and thoughts independent to DPI.


Independent Sustained Reading Time is a great way to integrate reading rotations and ensure rigor.  Instead of the “Guided Reading” structure of 3 groups rotating with 3 levels of text, you can use the same text or text on the same topic chosen by the students to facilitate learning.


Scaffolding is important part of ensuring students are successful BUT it can also deter thinking of students.  By having students read a lower level text, you are lowering the expectation–is that necessary?


I see Independent Sustained Reading as a way to provide scaffolding WHILE providing high quality text and not lowering expectations. Here is how I see it working…


  1. Teacher begins lesson with a whole group lesson to teach a skill, model a strategy, show reflection or how to make a connection or introduce a concept or idea.  
  2. Students are then grouped and given a section of text to read to apply what was modeled or taught.  
  3. Teacher meets with lowest students first to get them started and possibly partner students  to ensure they have the skills to begin. (8 minutes)
  4. Teacher then meets with highest students (reading independently) to extend their thinking and to possibly deepen the expectation for them. Mid group (reading independently) could also pair and check in with low group at this time (8-10 minutes)
  5. Teacher can either check in with mid group or have high and mid group meet to collaborate together while he/she meets with the low group to continue instruction.. (8 minutes)
  6. Teacher pulls all students back together to discuss what they have read and the skill they were applying.


How is this different from a guided reading rotation?


ALL students will be able to:

  • Discuss vocabulary
  • Answer and Ask higher order thinking question
  • Discuss the same text
  • Participate in Discussion
  • Elaborate and discuss how they applied the skill
  • Use examples from the same text to support their answers


This can be POWERFUL because your lowest students are able to contribute and build on the ideas of the class because you provided scaffolding without lowering the expectation. Your highest students completed the reading, applied the skill and you extended their thinking part way through so you did not have quick finishers and wasted time.  When planning your next story or informational text, consider leveling students within the class and abandon the traditional rotation method. This increases the rigor, expectation AND ensures that scaffolding is used when and with whom it is needed.


What are your thoughts?



North Carolina’s Independent Sustained Reading Guide for K-5


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