Students NEED Independent Reading
How valuable is independent reading? How long should I allow my students to read? Should my students read at home? Should I hold them accountable for reading at home? At some point in your teaching career you have probably struggled with these questions or will struggle with these inquiries. With all the demands on teachers to meet the ever-changing standards, sustained silent reading seems to be the first to go from classroom schedules. As teachers, we want our students to be life-long readers and learners, but also feel the pressure to have our students perform on state assessments. Let’s set state assessments aside and focus on what we believe is right for our students…time spent reading.
How valuable is independent reading?
Independent reading is giving students the time to read materials of their personal choice. Students have the opportunity to read for information or pleasure, and NO ONE ASSIGNS IT! A book report is not required either! According to Richard Allington, the most important activity for developing literacy is inducing students to read independently. For students to become life-long readers, we need to give them TIME in school to read and CHOICE.
In addition to readers becoming life-long readers, they also increase their knowledge by having time to read. “I think it is clear that vocabulary knowledge is largely a product of independent engaged reading (Stahl & Nagy, 2006). But there is also evidence that almost everything, from phonemic awareness, to phonics, to comprehension is developed through independent reading and writing (Allington, 2009a).” Krashen, Cunninham, and Stanovich research proves students who read independently become better readers, score higher on achievement tests in all subject areas, and have greater content knowledge than those who do not (Krashen 1993; Cunningham and Stanovich 1991; Stanovich and Cunningham 1993).
Do students really need choice?
The easy response to this question, and a slightly arrogant response would be, do you want students to be engaged while reading? Penny Kittle believes, “Students need to make choices in reading that reflect their interests because interest drives engagement. Teachers should encourage wide reading in all genres as well as students who pursue an author or genre study. Allow students to reread favorite books and to abandon a book that no longer interests them.” Students need to be in charge of their reading lives. Our goal as teachers is to guide students in selecting “good fit” books and to introduce them to different genres. By giving students choice in their reading, they will be empowered lifelong readers.
How much time do students need?
We have all heard the collective groans from our students when we announce reading time is over for the day. Of course, this was music to my ears. However, I always wondered if my students were getting enough eyes on print time. Many times during the reading block “other stuff” tended to creep into the sacred time and rob students of their reading time.
When you think about your students’ reading block, how much time do they spend reading? According to Richard Allington, “In many classrooms, a 90 minute 'reading block' produces only 10–15 minutes of actual reading, or less than 20 percent of the allocated reading time is spent reading. Worse, in many classrooms, 20 minutes of actual reading across the school day (Knapp, 1995) is a common event, which includes reading in science, social studies, math, and other subjects. Thus, less than ten percent of the day is actually spent reading and 90 percent or more of the time is spent doing stuff.”
I’m assuming now you are wrestling with a new question – how do I make sure all students have time for protected reading time every day? I think as teachers we need to ask ourselves, what do we value for our students? If it is time spent reading, then we need to do whatever we can do to guard this time – keep the minilesson to 10 minutes, avoid letting other “stuff” sneak into reading, and avoid students leaving the room during this time. By giving students time and choice, we can give students the gift of becoming lifelong readers.
Allington, R. (2013) What Really Matters When Working with Struggling Readers, 66 (7), 4-14. Newark, DE: International Literacy Association.
Kittle, P. (2013). Book Love. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Summer Learning Opportunities
Using Teaching Tools, Strategies and Small Group Instruction to Cultivate Students' Independence (K-8)