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How to get kids to read independently

(Photo by Scott Anderson/ AP)
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The Scholastic Kids & Family Reading ReportTM: Fifth Edition is out and offers a snapshot of where young people are when it comes to reading independently.

Here are some of the findings of a nationally representative survey conducted last fall by Scholastic in conjunction with YouGov. Some of the results are surprising, including the fact that kids prefer to read books in print.

Following the findings is an analysis of what they mean for parents and teachers:

The State of Kids & Reading
Spotlight: What Makes Frequent Readers
Reading Aloud at Home
Spotlight: Reading with Kids from Birth
Reading in School
One third of children ages 6–17 (33%) say their class has a designated time during the school day to read a book of choice independently, but only 17% do this every or almost every school day.
What Kids Want in Books


Spotlight: Print Books in a Digital World

Here is a post that puts the findings in context for parents and educators. It was written by Lois Bridges, a former teacher, teacher educator, and literacy publisher who is currently the Director of Educational Initiatives for Scholastic. She’s intrigued with language: how it develops and serves as our most potent learning tool.

By Lois Bridges

 Educators, rejoice! The Scholastic Kids & Family Reading ReportTM: Fifth Edition is just out, confirming what we’ve long known: Independent reading, both at school and at home, builds successful readers. What’s more, the research shows that giving our students a say in what they read is key. And from our experience, we also know frequent reading leads to becoming a proficient reader, which helps a child thrive personally and academically.

The report adds to the abundant data we’ve had for years, demonstrating that in-school independent reading built around time to read books for fun creates kids who love to read. Seventy-eight percent of children ages 12–17 who are frequent readers, defined by the Kids & Family Reading Report as kids who read books for fun five to seven days a week, reported that they have the opportunity to read a book of choice independently during the school day. Only 24 percent of infrequent readers—those reading for fun less than one day a week—in this age group say the same. In addition, 91 percent of children ages 6–17 agree “my favorite books are the ones that I have picked out myself.” My take-away? Classroom-based independent reading programs that invite reading choice and promote reading pleasure give rise to kids who not only read but, more importantly, who want to read.

And why should we be surprised? Our own reading lives revolve around the texts we choose to read together with time in which to read them. Kids need practice with exploring and choosing books to discover the authors, genres, and topics that make their reading hearts soar—and they need lots of time to read the books they choose because, ultimately, the only surefire way to become a first-rate reader is to read.

Some of the first research linking choice to reading pleasure dates back to the seventies to a report titled They Love to Read, written by Dr. John W. Studebaker, who had been Commissioner of Education for the United States under Presidents Roosevelt and Truman. His research showed that among kids who chose their own books through Scholastic Book Clubs, majorities—particularly younger children— read cover-to-cover the books they purchased. And parents reported that their children were “much more likely” to finish reading books they bought for themselves in contrast to books selected for them.

Choice matters. Readers are most engaged with their reading—and derive the most pleasure—when they are able to follow their own reading interests and shape their own reading lives, a key finding also of the research conducted by Jeff Wilhelm and Michael Smith, documented in their book Reading Unbound.

The Scholastic Kids & Family Reading Report delivers the additional research needed to help shape and secure the in-school independent reading programs we know serve our students best—and these four action steps help guarantee successful implementation:

Provide access to books. The research has been in for decades: robust classroom and school libraries raise student test scores. Literacy researcher Warrick Elley (1992) examined reading data from 32 countries and found that those with high student scores supported large classroom and school libraries—and also provided students with access to books both at home and in the community. Easy access to a wide range of books promotes voluminous reading, which, in turn, builds vocabulary, cognitive strategies, and general world knowledge. Award-winning teachers such as Donalyn Miller and Maria Walther watch for book sales to build classroom libraries with several thousand titles—across a wide range of genres, topics, themes, and ability levels. They make it their responsibility to know Young Adult and children’s literature and to track the titles that their students love best.

Invite choice. Some teachers, particularly those who work with younger students, like the support that the “Yours, Mine and Ours” strategy provides. The child chooses one book, the teacher chooses one for the child, and working together, they choose a third book. This is a simple yet effective way to give students the freedom they need to get to know themselves as readers while also providing the support they need to make good choices.

Build time to read and share. Uninterrupted time to read—30 to 45 minutes at school and an hour at home each day—optimizes the benefits of independent reading. And then, too, students need time to talk and write about the books they are reading. Reader’s workshops, book talks, and literature circles provide rich opportunities to discuss and share books.

Guide and support. Kids learn best—no matter what they are learning—with sensitive guidance and instructional support. Independent reading is no different. Every day as her students settle into their books, renowned middle school teacher Nancie Atwell circulates around the room and quickly checks in with each student for an update on their independent reading, recording their responses in her whole class log. Plus, both she and they keep a variety of individual written responses to books, providing a comprehensive overview of every title each student reads (typically 40 or more across the year). This also enables her to track the volume of reading each student is achieving. Given all we know about what reading makes possible, our in-school independent reading programs may well be the most potent learning time of the day. We can’t afford to leave anything to chance.

Research indicates that when our students engage in habitual, critical, passionate independent reading —with books they choose to read— they are most likely to meet and exceed our highest academic expectations for them. Work together with your colleagues to prioritize reading and make independent reading a cherished habit at your school. As reading expert Ellin Oliver Keene says, “There is no greater impact on students’ reading growth than giving them time to read.”