Independent reading is valuable in providing entry points for a diverse group of students and empowers children with freedom of choice.
This is the view of Mark, an award-winning children’s literature leader with over 25 years in Australia’s publishing industry.
The prominent author joined literacy expert Sharon Callen on Episode 48 of The Teacher’s Tool Kit for Literacy to provide insight into independent reading and why it’s crucial to literacy learning.
“There is research to show that (independent reading) does impact, particularly in the early years of school. In the first two years of school, it is very valuable and can be a good predictor of children’s confidence and expertise in reading,” Mark said.
“There is some research saying if you have independent reading successfully working in Year 1, there is a track for a year 5 and year 6 where it does seem that it produces for some people, more confidence in reading, more skill and more enjoyment.”
While research can be helpful, Mark said the success of independent reading comes down to a teacher’s modelling.
“It’s not easy to make conclusions about the effectiveness of independent reading. I think the most important thing about independent reading is that the teacher models reading as well and it’s not just ‘you do it and I’ll sort of be up here and I’ll do little conferences with you’. The teacher must be involved in the reading too,” he said.
They discussed how independent reading is powerful in providing students a rich experience full of choice and freedom when practicing their literacy skills.
“We’ve just got too much emphasis on quantifying in our society. It’s not the quantity of reading, it’s the quality of it. You know, it’s the kids loving the reading,” Mark said.
“The basic desire of all those (independent reading) approaches is that we should have lots of variety, there should be a lot of fun, the children should make choices, they can set their own goals and be rewarded by their own progress rather than a sort of grade or gold star or whatever it is.”
Sharon added: “And there’s one word that rings out through all of this that absolutely can’t be measured on any assessment form, and that is students’ motivation to read. To be a reader, to know what it is to choose a book or to find an author or to have had that thought or to have made that discovery or to have just dreamed or imagined. That’s actually the entire richness of it.”
This choice can open up children to books which teachers or parents may doubt because they initially appear to not be educational.
“It’s about enjoyment of variety and empowering young people to make their own choices with the books,” Mark said.
“Adults I think often question the kinds of books that children would have. For example, Captain Underpants and Dog Man – two hugely successful series. If you, as an adult, just take a glance at them you think ‘oh that looks pretty rubbish, it doesn’t look like there’s much content in that’. But actually if you look at it more closely, they’re very clever and you could take a sort of post-modern literary criticism approach to them and make useful kind of analysis and comments on what’s going on.
“Don’t just dismiss the most popular series because they’re what you would call reader makers. All the parents when I was younger were concerned about their kids reading Babysitters (Club) and so on. But what they did was a really important stage where the child was collecting their reading experiences, and that’s why the numbering of series is really important on their spine of a book because kids like to collect. So that impulse to collect is an important part of reading competence and confidence, which I think all goes into independent reading.”
Mark went on to talk about how independent reading can empower children with disabilities or disadvantages, if provided with a range of resources.
“One of the things that may be included in a collection is wordless books, for example wordless picture books. Now some teachers are a bit doubtful about the use of those, but to see the children making up their own stories from a wordless picture book is just really exciting to me,” he said.
“So those sorts of books need to be included again … it goes back to enabling the child to make those choices and that the teacher is also making her choice and just sitting there reading as well as the kids, not sort of supervising them or assessing them, is part of that empowerment.”
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