Independent reading is a key factor in reading success. But what exactly does independent reading mean? Independent reading is when a child is reading for pleasure at his/her comfort level. It is not reading textbooks to study for the next test. It is not reading for the 10 point comprehension exam to follow. Independent reading is reading for the love of reading.
There are more research studies showing the benefits of independent reading than I have space to list. Here are a few examples:
Independent reading leads to increased vocabulary development. One of the best-established relationships in the field of reading is the very significant relationship between vocabulary development and achievement in reading (Baumann & Kameenui, 1991; Nagy, 1988)
Research clearly shows that the reading of meaningful, connected text results in improved reading achievement (Anderson, Wilson, & Fielding, 1988; Anderson, Hiebert, Scott, & Wilkerson, 1985; Elley & Mangubhai, 1983; Ingham, 1981; Taylor, Frye, & Maruyama, 1990).
In one of the most extensive studies of independent reading yet conducted, Anderson, Wilson, and Fielding (1988) investigated a broad array of activities and their relationship to reading achievement and growth in reading. They found that the amount of time students spent in independent reading was the best predictor of reading achievement and also the best predictor of the amount of gain in reading achievement made by students between second and fifth grade.
So the questions become, how do we promote reading in the home and what can parents do to help increase their children's independent reading time?
First, the child needs to understand the importance of reading a good book. They have to be drawn to good literature that they will find interesting and engaging. If you tell your child to read something they do not find interesting, that defeats the purpose. Go to the public library, ask the experts for guidance to find that perfect book, or go to Scholastic and use the free resources there to find good literature at your child's comfort level. Let them read graphic novels. It can be a door that opens them up to reading more traditional books in the future. Send them to your school's book fair with $5.00 and tell them to get a good book to read at home.
Second, finding the time to read can be challenging if you do not prioritize reading. It is actually quite easy to find time to read. Any time your child goes to soccer practice, drama club, etc., suggest that they read in the car on the way to and from the event. Instead of their playing a video game for an hour, split the time and have them read for half an hour (See Common Core Standards for Parents). Have the students read 10 minutes before they go to bed.
The one part of the equation that is difficult for students to understand is why they never see adults reading. As a parent, think about the last time you took ten minutes to read a good book. Typically even if you get some time to read, it is after the kids are in bed already. Let's think about the other adults in their lives. What about teachers? Do they read for pleasure in front of the kids? Probably not. So who is modeling this good practice for them? The answer is no one. They are told by every adult in their lives that reading is so important and the ability to read will help them get everything they want in their life. The message is confusing when they don't see adults reading.
Although our children don't come with a manual, there are a few proven parenting practices that result in reading success. Reading to your child, reading with your child, and family reading time have all been proven to raise student achievement. You can choose to make a change in your life and schedule and prioritize reading, or you can let them go at it alone and hope for the best. I prefer to know that I am doing right by my kids and I am giving them the best start possible. That means our kids must read independently and hopefully this independent reading will grow into a love of reading that will last a lifetime.