Sunday, November 28, 2010

Meeting Readers Where They Are: Mapping the intersection of research and practice

Boy Reading on a Red Carpet, Pride of Bilbao F...Image by Dr John2005 via Flickr
How can I convince my school to create a sacred "Sustained Silent Reading" or "Drop Everything and Read" time? Is such a simple act seen as not effective because of the simplicity? Jennie

Excerpts from Carol Gordon's November 1, 2010 School Library Journal article.

Young people get better at reading by reading, just as they learn by doing (Shin, 1998; Dewey, 1916).
Do we provide enough reading opportunities? For decades school librarians have assumed the role of reading motivator, arranging author visits, distributing bookmarks, delivering booktalks, creating reading lists and READ posters. A statewide study of school libraries showed that most reading activities sponsored by school libraries are passive, rather than active (Todd and Heinstrom, 2006).
While passive activities create interest in reading, and possibly motivation, they are more effective when balanced with active reading through sustained silent reading. Those who participate in sustained silent reading programs show clear increases in the amount of free reading they do outside of school (Pilgreen and Krashen, 1993), and the effects appear to last years after the program ends (Greaney and Clarke, 1975). Despite these findings, sustained silent reading has declined in schools. Book clubs and summer reading programs also offer time to read, but they are extracurricular. They motivate reading because they create reading communities that extend reading into a social activity.

Free voluntary reading is as effective, or more effective, than direct instruction (Greaney, 1970; Krashen, 1989).
Free voluntary reading (FVR) is not only conducive to reading motivation, it actually works better than direct instruction. Fifty-one out of 54 students using FVR did as well or better on reading tests than students given traditional skill-based reading instruction (Krashen, 2004). In fact, young people who read have better comprehension, research tells us, and they write better, spell better, improve their grammar, and increase their vocabulary.

There’s also evidence that FVR benefits English-language learners as well. In three studies of 3,000 children, ages six through nine, children following a program that combined shared book experience, language experience, and free reading outperformed traditionally taught students on tests of reading comprehension, vocabulary, oral language, grammar, listening, and writing (Elley and Mangubhai, 1983).

People will read when they have access to reading materials (Krashen, 2004).
Access is the silver bullet for reading improvement. Krashen (2004) argues that there’s consistent evidence that those who have more access to books read more. Students who have more time for recreational reading demonstrate more academic gains in reading than “comparison students.” A lack of reading practice results in a decline in reading ability.

[Reading Programmes Damage]
While summer reading is a good idea, it often violates research-based beliefs about free choice, the importance of access, and the social aspects of reading. Teacher- and librarian-authored reading lists often don’t include student input. The classics are emphasized, and choices are limited to books. There is no attention paid to reading across nonprint media formats, i.e., transliteracy. Despite what the research shows us, many educators insist that summer reading should be curricular and students should read “good” books.

Although research shows that stimulating tasks increase situational interest, which in turn increases reading motivation and comprehension (Guthrie, et al. 2006), summer reading programs often lack stimulating tasks. Instead, students are asked to write a report about what they read. Situational reading, or interest in a particular book at a particular time, requires intervention in the form of reading advisory that’s often absent during the summer months. Writing about what they read is not, for most students, a stimulating task that captures the excitement of situational reading. In fact, for reluctant and struggling readers, who are also reluctant and struggling writers, it’s punitive.

The pleasure hypothesis—reading is its own reward (Krashen, 2004).
Summer reading and other reading motivation initiatives are problematic when they offer extrinsic rewards for reading. Intrinsic motivation is found to be a predictor of the amount and breadth of reading more often than extrinsic motivation (Guthrie and Wigfield, 1997). Many reading initiatives use extrinsic motivation by offering points for reading or a grade for “book reports” or summaries presented to the English/ language arts teacher when students return to school after summer vacation. For aliterate and reluctant readers this translates to extrinsic punishment for not doing the written assignment, usually because they didn’t read books.

Extrinsic rewards, often combined with competition, suggest that young people are resistant to reading. This is, for the most part, not true when we broaden our view of what it means to read. Meeting readers where they are, rather than expecting them to meet us where we think they should be, is critical to reading motivation. In fact, it’s a key concept in opening doors to reading for adolescents because it’s related to self-efficacy. Reading is its own reward because it’s enjoyable—even for low achievers and reluctant readers. Reading is described as “perhaps the most often mentioned flow activity in the world” (Csikszentmihalyi, 1991).

What do successful reading motivation strategies have in common with why tweens and teens like being online? Whether teens are reading a book or blogging, they like interactive, hands-on experiences. They thrive on social interaction and inclusiveness. They are self-directed learners who know free choice is part of being creative. Teens expect access to books and computers. School librarians aren’t trapped by institutionalized beliefs about reading. Rather, school librarians are empowered to promote reading, not as a school subject that’s mandated, practiced, and tested, but as a personal experience that fulfills intellectual and emotional needs.

Carol Gordon ( is an associate professor in the School of Communication and Information at Rutgers University, and director of research for the Center for International Studies in School Libraries.

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1 comment:

  1. I see the positive to students reading, but the majority of students (I've witnesses) will not sit and read for a 20-25 minute block. We do a reading time at my school from 8-8:30, but I see little growth except for the students who are already motivated to read on their own. The idea is great, but in a low reading school how does one appeal to the student that does not care to read and simply day dreams out the window or to the student that appeases the teacher by looking in the book but does not read a single word? I would really like to make our time beneficial. I let them read whatever they want (newspaper, articles, magazines, graphic novels, novels, play, etc.) and they still resist. On the other hand, I hated reading until I was a junior in High School. Could it be that the student has to need reading before they will enjoy it or do it on their own? I love reading now. I had to grow into it. Would it do more harm than good to force a student to read when (most likely) they will start reading when they are comfortable with it in their own way? Who says that a student has to read at grade level? Who made the level? We have seen the destruction standardization has caused. Do we really want to continue the cycle? I have more questions than answers, but meeting some readers where they are might be meeting them without having them read anything (for now). When they need it, they will learn it.