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Part 1: The Power of Independent Reading

Part I of The Independent Reading Series
The Power of Independent Reading

The research on the power of independent reading is clear about several things:

  • To become good readers, students need to read a lot.
  • Studies show that students who read the most (1,000,000 to 10,000,000 words per year) do the best on measures of reading achievement. Students who score poorly on those measures frequently read less than 10,000 words per year.
  • A reader’s general vocabulary knowledge is the single best predictor of comprehension.
  • Studies indicate that a significant percentage of an individual’s vocabulary growth during the course of a year can be attributed to the acquisition of words, through the use of context and morphological clues, during inde pendent reading.
  • Low-performing students get taught differently than high-performing students. Despite overwhelming evidence that students who spend a lot of time reading become good readers, many remediation programs fail to increase reading volume, leading some to suggest that these efforts actually contribute to an increase in the gap that divides low-performing and proficient readers.

At Inquiry By Design, we recommend a balanced diet of reading in the classroom, and we want to ensure that independent reading is the foundation for all reading in the classroom. If students don’t have regular opportunities to engage in successful and enjoyable independent reading, they won’t develop the foundational skills they need to address complex texts.

In When Kids Can’t Read: What Teachers Can Do (2003), literacy consultant and educator Kylene Beers explains it best:

The Commission on Reading, the group that prepared the report Becoming a Nation of Readers, found that teachers could pick up approximately two hours per week of time for students to read by spending less time on worksheets and workbooks. No one would ever expect the school football team to get better without actually playing football or the band to improve without actually playing instruments. But for some reason, many of us do expect students to become better readers without actually having time to read. The logic fails and eventually, so do students. (199)

The question is, how do we help our students develop a rich reading life and improve student attitudes toward reading? Check back for our continued series on independent reading!