In our lives, we gravitate towards things for two reasons; one because we love doing them and two because something in the doing of those things makes us feel powerful and strong. Yet the teaching of reading is too often a frontal activity, controlled by us, with the child’s voice and choice taking a back seat. All the research from this past decade points to one major finding: that children who get to choose what they read and who fall in love with the books they read perform better academically. They also maintain and sustain a lifelong passion and interest in reading. My memories of reading and rereading Anne of Green Gables are among some of the best memories of my childhood. My stamina increased as I reread familiar parts. My comprehension increased as I delved deeper and deeper into the motivations of the characters. I noticed new vocabulary and sentence structures. My own choice was driven not always by plot and theme but also by the sheer act of diving into new worlds, and finding new ones of my own. We must give our kids a chance to do this, every day. Independent reading time can and should be connected to the overall goals of a unit, so if you are studying theme with a whole class text, your students can then explore their favorite texts mirroring this. There is an urgency in this work of modeling and practice. What could be more important than giving your students the joy, passion and self discovery of making choices about what they read? Let’s make sure we create time for at least twenty minutes of independent reading every day. Let’s make sure we connect the richness of students’ own discoveries and choices to the whole class curriculum and the joint discoveries we make as readers. An emphasis on choice and voice matters. It is the best way to raise our lifelong readers.
Pam Allyn is a teacher of teachers, Pearson author, education entrepreneur and overall champion for kids and young people, for their real lives with stories. She created Books for Boys (widely replicated reading initiative for foster care kids launched 1990), LitLife (groundbreaking teacher training initiative launched 2001), and LitWorld (renowned global literacy movement serving children across the United States and in more than 60 countries launched 2007). She is a passionate advocate for innovation in education and in building start ups that grow up to change the world.
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