February 28, 2017

Should We Avoid Independent Reading for Struggling Readers?

Is independent reading helpful or hurtful for our struggling readers? What does research say about independent reading?

Facebook groups can be an amazing way to collaborate and connect with other educators across the state, country, and even the world! While it can be a place to gain amazing new ideas from other educators, it is also a place where we encounter educational beliefs that differ from our own. There is one comment I came across that really bothered me: 

"Avoid silent reading time if they are struggling."

Really?! This goes against everything I believe about helping our struggling readers. In this teacher's defense, I did not engage her in conversation to find out more about her statement as it was off topic from the original subject of the thread. Had I done so, I may have better understood her rationale for making that statement.  

Struggling readers need even more time to read independently than other students but unfortunately that does not always happen. Quite often, these students receive small group instruction within the classroom and are also pulled throughout the day to receive additional instruction from an interventionist. With all this instruction, these students are not given enough opportunities to implement the skills they are learning and practice reading in an authentic manner!

"...poor readers get more work on skills in isolation,
whereas good readers get assigned more reading activity."
~ Richard Allington

Let's use this mindset with the example of athletes, specifically volleyball players.  If the coach only has them do drills to learn proper technique for passing, serving, spiking, and blocking, then the players are likely to become strong with these specific skills but not successful volleyball players in a game. Athletes need to practice incorporating all of these skills together and independently identify which skills to use within an authentic game situation. Are there benefits to practicing skills in isolation? Of course, but it's pointless if it doesn't carry over into an authentic situation.

Is independent reading helpful or hurtful for our struggling readers? What does research say about independent reading?

The same holds true for our students. If they only do activities to learn reading skills in isolation, will they be able to implement these skills independently during authentic reading?  Ultimately, isn't our goal to encourage students to become readers and not just capable of implementing reading strategies during small group instruction?

Richard Allington constantly stresses the importance of independent reading practice for struggling readers. 

"We fill struggling readers' days with tasks 
that require little reading."  ~ Richard Allington

Allington What Really Matters for Struggling Readers

I am NOT saying that we should let students practice reading independently without any support. Instead we should confer with students during independent reading to scaffold their reading. We can use that time to provide tips for picking "just right books," help students monitor their comprehension, and reinforce reading strategies taught during small group instruction. 

Here's a great resource to get you started with conferring during independent reading time:

With all of the research stating the importance of giving students more time to practice reading, I've began creating more opportunities for my students to read independently.  The results have been astounding on standardized test scores, but that is not our ultimate goal. The most rewarding result has been seeing struggling readers become empowered, confident, and engaged readers who WANT to read!  

Do you provide opportunities for independent reading?  How do you manage to find enough time to allow students to practice reading? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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