The Benefits of Independent Reading

The value of the classic cannon of literature has decreased in middle schools and high schools over the last several years. Specifically, the value of reading entire books in general has decreased in the past decade, both for kids and for adults. Thanks in part to the country’s move to Common Core standards, in the classroom the philosophy of teaching an entire novel has been replaced by the idea of “close reading” shorter passages, with the argument that this should, in theory, help students more on standardized tests.

However, many in the field of education believe that something is lost in not reading entire texts- most importantly, a love for reading. As the Million Word Campaign describes it, “Reading informs us, transports us, empowers us, and brings us joy. It is through reading that we learn about ourselves and the world around us.” Don’t you want your kids to have this same experience with literature?

Many schools have initiated “sustained silent reading” (SSR) programs to allow students (and staff) the opportunity to read entire books while in school. These programs allow for a set amount of time (usually 20-30 minutes) for students to read a book of their choice. Research shows that an SSR program is worth devoting time to in the classroom – which means independent reading can have the same value in the home.

Caldwell & Gaine (2000) found that independent reading:

  • results in more than 33% of vocabulary growth

  • provides students with a wide range of background knowledge

  • enhances reading comprehension

  • promotes reading as a lifelong activity

The amount of time students spend reading independently is directly correlated to their success in reading achievement. But what’s most important is choice. If kids are being forced to read something they may not be interested in, it will not necessarily foster a love for reading. Growing up, my younger sister claimed she hated reading- until she discovered that the problem was only that she didn’t enjoy the novels she had to read at school. Now she picks up a new biography every time she goes to the bookstore.

So how do you begin independent reading in your home? Start them young by reading your child a book before bed; once they’re reading on their own, evolve that into a 30-minute reading time before bed. If your child says they don’t like reading, help them find books about their interests. Even reading comics and graphic novels can foster the same skills as traditional genres.

I challenge you to convince your child to trade that iPad time for a book – and maybe you can even model it yourself!

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Atlanta | Georgia | United States

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