15 Reasons Why Teachers and Parents Promote Independent Reading
by Evan Robb ’80
“A book is a dream you hold in your hand.”—Neil Gaiman
Daily independent reading at school can develop a pleasurable habit that frequently transfers to students reading at home and increases their reading volume. Learners not only improve reading skill, but they also develop a lifelong habit that benefits them in the fifteen ways that follow. By modeling reading at home and helping your child find time to read self-selected books at home, you give them a lifelong gift. And at the same time they’re increasing their reading expertise and skill.
15 Benefits of Independent Reading:
- Refines students’ understanding of applying strategies, for during independent reading, students have multiple opportunities to practice what they learn during instructional reading.
- Develops an understanding of how diverse genres work as readers figure out the likenesses and differences among realistic, historical, and science fiction, fantasy, mystery, thrillers, biography, memoir, informational texts, etc.
- Enlarges background knowledge and deepens readers’ understanding of people as they get to know different characters.
- Builds vocabulary as students meet and understand words in diverse contexts. Independent reading, not vocabulary workbooks, is the best way to enlarge vocabulary because students meet words in the context of their reading.
- Teaches students how to self-select “good fit” books they can and want to read.
- Develops students’ agency and literary tastes. Choice builds agency and as students choose and dip into diverse genres and topics, they discover the types of books they enjoy.
- Strengthens reading stamina, their ability to focus on reading for 20-minutes to one hour.
- Improves silent reading. Through daily practice students develop their in-the-head reading voice and learn to read in meaningful phrases.
- Develops reading fluency because of the practice that voluminous reading offers.
- Supports recall of information learners need as they read long texts that ask them to hold details presented in early chapters in their memory so they can access these later in the book.
- Improves reading rate through the practice that volume provides.
- Develops students’ imagination as they visualize settings, what characters and people look like, conflicts, decisions, problems, interactions, etc.
- Fosters the enjoyment of visual literacy when students read picture books and graphic texts.
- Creates empathy for others as students learn to step into the skin of characters and experience their lives.
- Transfers a passion for reading to students’ outside-of-school lives and develops the volume in reading students need to become proficient and advanced readers.
Keep in mind that the primary purpose of independent reading is to provide students with the practice needed to become skilled, lifelong readers and critical thinkers. I invite you to reflect on the independent reading you do: you have choice, you can abandon books, and no one asks you to complete a project or summarize each book you read. That’s the principle that guides my thinking about independent reading for your children.
In the Classroom:
What does this look like in the classroom? “The enhanced classroom library contains a diversity of genres, topics, authors, and perspectives to excite young readers,” says Mrs. Greenhalgh, a seventh grade language arts teacher. “Each week we enjoy regular silent reading in class (15-20 minute increments) to help build reading stamina and foster interest and engagement with texts. We also examine anchor texts as models for applying reading strategies–such as questioning and inferencing–that may be utilized across genres and curricula.”
“Students engage in reading to self time during an intermediate spin-off of Daily 5 rotations, through which students engage in a variety of tasks devoted to literacy,” comments Mrs. Bell, a fifth grade teacher. Students are also taught to apply their growing understanding of explored reading strategies such as determining importance, inferring, questioning, visualizing, and synthesizing, to the books they are choosing to read and reflect this understanding in written Independent Responses to Reading (IRRs).
In recent years, extensive research has been conducted about the importance of independent reading and it’s relationship to your child’s reading development. The research that follows represents a small part of what’s available. As Upper School Director I am proud that our school remains committed to elevating literacy and providing the on-going professional development our staff needs to bring our best to our students each day!
Research that Supports Independent Reading:
Allington, Richard L. & Rachael E. Gabriel (2012. “Every Child, Every Day” Educational Leadership 69(6), 10-15.
Allington, Richard L. (2014). “How Reading Volume Affects Both Reading
Fluency and Reading Achievement” International Electronic Journal of Elementary Education, 7(1): 13-26.
Allington, R.L. and McGill-Frazen, A. M. (2021). Reading volume and reading achievement: A review of recent research. Reading Research Quarterly. Newark, DE: ILA.
Goldberg, Gravity and Renee Houser (2020). Teacher’s Toolkit for Independent Reading, Grades 3 to 5. Portland, ME: Stenhouse.
Miller, Donalyn (2009). the book whisperer. Sand Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Miller , Donalyn & Colby Sharp (2018). Game Changer! Book Access for All Kids. New York, NY: Scholastic.
Ness, Molly, Robb, Laura, and Evan Robb (2018). The Power of Authentic Texts: Effective Pathways to Developing a Reading Culture and Student Success. New York, NY: Penguin Random House white paper. PRHEd_White Paper, pdfR
Samuels, S. Jay, and Wu, Yi-chen. (2004). How the amount of time spent onindependent reading affects reading achievement: A response to the National Reading Panel, Retrieved from: http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/summary?doi=10.1.1.539.9906