Part 1 – The Power of Independent Reading

Part I of The Independent Reading Series
The Power of Independent Reading

I’ve committed my entire career to either teaching English or supporting English and literacy instruction in classrooms. When people find out what I do for a living, they often ask “What do we do about kids these days?” I have even been asked this in the doctor’s office during a check-up. They are asking about the problem with teen literacy skills and most often the poor writing they see in young colleagues entering their respective fields.

I am always taken aback by their assumption that there is a simple answer. I don’t want to go into a full-fledged dissertation on the lack of education funding, the role of socioeconomic factors, the impact of poor nutrition, and the importance of effective instruction. Instead, I pause, take a breath, and offer my one stock answer. Read.

When we consider what best supports children who have yet to develop effective reading practices, it’s reading. Richard Allington (2002) said it best:

Simply put, students need enormous quantities of successful reading to become independent, proficient readers. By successful reading, I mean reading experiences in which students perform with a high level of accuracy, fluency, and comprehension. When a 9-year-old misses as few as two or three words in each hundred running words of a text, the text may be too hard for effective practice. That text may be appropriate for instructional purposes, but developing readers need much more high-success reading than difficult reading. It is the high-accuracy, fluent, and easily comprehended reading that provides the opportunities to integrate complex skills and strategies into an automatic, independent reading process. (p. 743)

Consider how we are exposed to a multitude of sentence structures, writing styles, and new words. It is through reading. We are also exposed to new vocabulary through reading or by hearing language in use. Independent reading is one of the most powerful tools for expanding a child’s vocabulary.

At Inquiry By Design, we recommend a balanced diet of reading in the classroom. In previous blogs, we discussed the important role of complex texts (with the instructional support of the teacher). Today, we want to ensure that independent reading is the foundation for all reading in the classroom. If students don’t have regular opportunities to engage in successful and enjoyable independent reading, they won’t develop the foundational skills they need to address complex texts.

Beers (2003) explains,

The Commission on Reading, the group that prepared the report Becoming a Nation of Readers, found that teachers could pick up approximately two hours per week of time for students to read by spending less time on worksheets and workbooks. No one would ever expect the school football team to get better without actually playing football or the band to improve without actually playing instruments. But for some reason, many of us do expect students to become better readers without actually having time to read. The logic fails and eventually, so do students. (199)


References

Allington, R. (2002). What I’ve learned about effective reading instruction from a decade of studying exemplary elementary classroom teachers. The Phi Delta Kappan, 83(10), 740-747.

Beers, K. (2003). When kids can’t read: What teachers can do. Heinemann: Portsmouth, NH.


Continue to check back for the continued series on independent reading:

Part I: The Power of Independent Reading

Part II: Building a Classroom Library—If You Build It, They Will Come

Part III: Independent Means Independent—The Importance of Student Choice

Part IV: The Importance of Series Reading

Part V: Independent Reading—The Foundation of Vocabulary Instruction