Upper School Notes from Evan Robb ’80 – The Power of independent Reading

Published On: September 16th, 2022 | Categories: Food for Thought |

The Power of independent Reading

by Evan Robb ’80


There is a close connection between the amount of independent reading of self-selected books students do and their reading achievement on standardized tests as well as their ability to read and comprehend challenging materials. Research supports the benefits to your child of a rich, independent reading life. In 2004 a scientific study completed by researchers Samuels and Wu pointed to a strong correlation between students’ reading achievement and the volume of reading resulting from independent reading of self-selected books. In 2020, Finland conducted an extensive study that examined the independent reading of 2,525 students from age 5 to 15. The study concluded that independent reading promotes reading development. Moreover, the practice and volume that results from independent reading may surpass the benefits of the amount of reading students do for school. Both studies also validated an earlier research project completed in 1988 by Anderson, Wilson, and Fielding.



Variation in Amount of Independent Reading

Percentile RankMinutes a DayWords a Year


Anderson, R., Wilson, P. & Fielding, L., Reading Research Quarterly, Vol.3, No. 23,1988 “Growth in reading and how children spend their time outside of school”

Reading volume is the combination of the time students spend reading plus the number of words they actually read. This combination affects students’ cognitive abilities, their vocabulary development, background knowledge, understanding of genre, stamina, and cultivates an enthusiasm for reading self-selected books.


Takeaways and Conclusions

Independent reading of self-selected books builds:

  • reading, speaking, thinking, and writing vocabulary;
  • background knowledge;
  • understanding of diverse genres;
  • concepts;
  • literary language;
  • reading stamina’
  • students’ literary tastes;
  • students’ ability to read like writers; 
  • and supports students becoming lifelong readers. 

The visual shows the benefits to students’ reading skill and vocabulary depends on the amount of independent reading they do. Samuels and Wu’s studied identified that forty minutes of independent reading at school as the research-based ideal amount of time. This is a challenge for middle school schedules which is why reading self-selected books at home is a joyful habit we encourage all Powhatan students to embrace.


In the Classroom:

What does this look like at Powhatan School? In Mrs. Bell’s fifth grade Language Arts classroom, readers are challenged with a 30 Book Genre Challenge, during which they’re challenged to read a diverse selection of self-selected books of varying genres during read-to-self time. “We celebrate every book read by adding a paper book spine to our bookshelves in the hall,” says Mrs. Bell. “It is a great visual to motivate and celebrate excellent reading!”

“The nightly homework expectation in seventh grade English is 30-40 minutes of choice reading and demonstrates the program’s prioritization of independent reading for enjoyment and personal connection to literature,” says Mrs. Greenhalgh, a seventh grade English teacher. “Required independent reading also helps bridge engagement with texts between home and school and boosts reading volume and stamina. Students keep reading logs and will periodically note authors’ purpose, word choice, and overarching themes within their independent selections.”


Closing Thoughts:

Reading is like a sport. To become a better soccer, tennis, basketball, or volleyball player, it’s important to practice to develop automaticity of moves, winning plays, and improve overall skill. At Powhatan one of our many goals is for your children to become skilled readers who develop a personal reading life and can think critically and solve problems. This goal supports or mission of learning for life!