Friday, January 16, 2015

How to Make a Frequent Reader

New research provides an old recipe for success

Scholastic, Inc. is out with a new research report based on a survey of 1,000 children between the ages of 6 and 17. Motoko Rich reported on the research in the New York Times in an article titled, “Study Finds Reading to Children of All Ages Grooms Them to Read More on Their Own.” Rich’s title tells a part of the story. The full report is good news for teachers who need all the data they can to support good instructional practices in literacy in the face of the attack of the Big Bad Standardized Test mania.

Here is what Scholastic found as characteristics of frequent readers (kids who read more than 40 books a year) ages 6-11:
·         They were read aloud to 5-7 days a week before entering kindergarten.
·         They are currently being read to at home.
·         They want books that allow them to use their imagination and that have characters that “look like me.”
·         They do not go online 5-7 days per week.

As Rich alludes to in the title of her article, one of the most important findings of this research is that frequent readers are still being read to at home even after they have begun reading on their own in school. This is critical, of course, because so many parents stop reading to their children once the kids start reading. This is a mistake and teachers need to highlight this research for parents and continually campaign for parents to continue the read aloud practice throughout elementary school and beyond.

Teachers, of course, cannot control what parents will and will not do, but teachers can be read aloud advocates encouraging parents through back-to-school night messages, newsletters and classroom web sites to keep up the home-based read aloud. One overt way to do this is to allow a child to take home from the school or classroom library a book that the child is interested in, but that may be too difficult for that child to read independently. The teacher could send the book home with a quick note to the parents that the book would make a good family read aloud.

Scholastic found the following characteristics of children who are frequent readers (read an average of 39.6 books per year) ages 12-17:
·         They read independently during the school day.
·         They read more books after being introduced to e-books.
·         They live in a home with 150 or more print books.
·         They know their own reading level.
·         They have parents who help them find books and encourage reading for fun.

Here I have highlighted the important practice of having kids 12-17 read independently in school. This in school reading opportunity seems to be particularly important for low-income children who reported they were more likely to read for fun in school than at home.

Independent in-school reading with middle and high school children is central to creating frequent readers. It is one variable that is completely under the control of the school and the teacher. It would be inexcusable if this effective practice were to fall by the wayside in the name of test preparation or some other less productive use of instructional time. We need to remember that all of our instruction in the skills and strategies of reading are for naught if children do not choose to read on their own.

I remember Mrs. V, a wonderful eighth grade teacher I supervised for many years. She had dedicated time in each of her classes for independent reading. Mrs. V built up, over the years, a wonderful library of young adult fiction from which the students could choose books that matched their interests and abilities. Students also made trips to the school library to broaden their choices.

As more and more pressure for test-based accountability began to creep into her school after NCLB, Mrs. V. found her independent reading practice under siege from some administrators. She bravely fought it off with calm reason and clear research on the benefits of what she was doing. Her kids kept reading independently. We all must continue to do the same.

Secretary Duncan says that annual testing of children is a “moral imperative.” Reading aloud to children and providing time for in-school independent reading, for me, is also a “moral imperative.” Which imperative do you think will serve students better over time?