Can school actually diminish a child’s love of reading? When students lack choice about the books they read, it can limit their enjoyment and motivation to read.
Enter independent reading programs: Students can naturally find they love to read and build confidence when they choose their own reading materials. And as a result, independent reading programs can help improve comprehension, vocabulary and fluency.
Here are three reasons why you should use independent reading in your classroom and tips for how to successfully integrate it.
Benefits of Free Choice Independent Reading Programs
Student engagement increases
When students get to make genuine choices about their reading material it increases the likelihood they engage more in reading, and increases their effort and commitment to reading.
It only makes sense that students are more likely to engage when they have some ownership in the reading process. As Judy Newman told the National Education Association, “As adults, we choose topics we like for many reasons: to escape with a good fantasy, get lost in a mystery, read about important figures in history or in the future. The same is doubly, triply, even exponentially true for children. Kids will be happy reading something that they choose—that matches their interests and their ideas of the world.”
Students are also more likely to want to share what they learn with their classmates and gain a desire to know more about the topic they chose. Giving children an opportunity to discuss their chosen reading material can help reinforce what they learned.
Students build stronger reading skills
Research shows 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. The amount of free reading done outside of school has also consistently been found to relate to growth in vocabulary, reading comprehension, verbal fluency and general information.
As reading skills improve, students are better prepared to comprehend other classroom reading materials and subjects.
Students enjoy reading
Reading enjoyment is closely connected to reading proficiency in general, as well as specific skills like vocabulary development and text comprehension and grammar. It is even related to proficiency in mathematics.
But very few children say they enjoy reading, and those numbers decrease as they age. A recent National Literacy Trust study found just 15.6 percent of teens age 14-16 said they enjoyed reading very much.
Independent reading and free choice helps students discover the fun, adventure and pleasure in reading. One study showed roughly 80 percent of children said the book they liked most was one they had selected on their own.
Tips to Bring Independent Reading Into The Classroom
So, how do you realize the benefits of independent reading in your own classroom? Here are a few ideas:
- Build independent reading time into each student’s day whether in school or at home. Class time is especially effective since it provides students a distraction free time in their day to read.
- Offer a selection of books at each student’s reading level and from different genres and help them find books they might enjoy.
- Let each student make a reading list of five books they want to read and set personal reading goals.
- Find creative ways for students to share books with one another, including things like book clubs, video projects, blogs or discussion time.
- Use assignments or embedded curriculum to further engage students, challenging them to think outside of the box or show deeper understanding.
The most critical skill for academic success—and success later in life—is the ability to read well. By creating space for student choice and independent reading, you can help students assume more ownership in their learning and discover a passion for reading.