Reading is a fundamental gateway skill. Reading aids children with language, speech, and communications skills. It provides the foundation for learning, comprehension and information processing. Reading is a skill that has the power to change a child’s life.
Today, only one third of U.S. 8th graders are proficient in reading and writing. If a child is not reading proficiently in the 4th grade, he or she will have a 78% chance of not catching up. The problem will continue to compound from there, and even extend beyond the classroom. Employment prospects grow dim and the chance for antisocial behavior increases.
Every day teachers, librarians, reading specialists, and dedicated educators try to excite children to read. Billions of dollars are spent on reading programs and instruction. What else can we do?
In one of the most extensive studies of independent reading conducted, “Growth in reading and how children spend their time outside of school” (Anderson, Wilson, Fielding) the authors concluded that the amount of time students spent in “independent reading” was the best predictor of reading achievement, comprehension, and verbal fluency. Amount of independent reading was also the best predictor of the gain in reading achievement made by students between the second and fifth grade levels.
“Independent reading” is defined as reading students choose to do on their own, and usually includes the reader’s choice of material, time, and place. According to Andersen, Wilson, and Fielding, even 20 minutes a day of independent reading during the school year can expose students to more than 1.8 million words of text during their elementary school years; those students routinely score in the 90th percentile on reading tests. In contrast, students who spend about one minute a day are exposed to only 8000 words and tend to score in the 10th percentile or less on reading scores.
Personalized Reading Recommendations
To excite children to read independently, we need to help match them to books that interest and engage them. Children should also be encouraged to participate in the process of selecting the books they want to read. For some, it starts with a particular genre or topic and the realization that books will allow them to explore that topic thoroughly and at their own pace; for others, it is an author or series (that offers an intriguing blend of character and suspense or some unusual fictional universe) that jumpstarts the process. Many children catch the reading bug with popular and child-friendly books like Junie B. Jones, Big Nate and A to Z Mysteries and then move on to Harry Potter and Percy Jackson books. Captain Underpants with its funny titles is popular among boys, as are books with sports themes such as those written by Matt Christopher and Mike Lupica. In addition to these very popular series, there are thousands upon thousands of wonderful books that correspond to children’s interests. This is reflected in the over 77,000 unique titles that children have catalogued on BiblioNasium’s virtual bookshelves!
A quality independent reading program recognizes that reading interests are deeply personal and that reading lists and book recommendations for each child can and should be individualized at a detailed level.