Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Kids Need Time for Reading--Lots of It!

Lately, I have been reading (and re-reading) Richard Allington's work on struggling readers.  In his book What Really Matters for Struggling Readers, he argues that kids need to read a lot if they are to become good readers.  According to numerous studies, higher-achieving students read about three times as much per week during the school day than their lowering-achieving peers.  The higher-achieving students spend about 70% of their instructional time reading and discussing passages whereas the lower-achieving students spend about 37% of their time engaging in such activities.  Instead, the struggling readers spend the bulk of their instructional time on word-identification, letter-sound activities, and spelling assignments.  A major contributor to this discrepancy in reading volume is probably related to the format of instruction for struggling readers who spend more time reading aloud to the teacher in a small group setting.  When students read aloud, only one student reads at a time.  Although the other students might be following along in the text, they aren't reading the same volume as they would if they were reading silently on their own--like their higher-achieving peers.  If we want our struggling readers to catch up to the better readers, then we need to ensure that they read more than the better readers do.

I have referenced this chart in a previous post, and I am going to mention it again because it is such a powerful depiction of the difference in reading volume at different levels of achievement.

Reading Volume of Fifth-Grade Students of Different Levels of Achievement

Achievement Percentile

Minutes of Reading per Day

Words per Year
 Source: Adapted from Anderson, Wilson, & Fielding, 1998.

To help all of our students improve as readers, how much in-school reading time should we aim for?  According to Allington, we should set a minimum goal of about 90 minutes a day of actual reading time.  One way we can help achieve this goal is by thinking about how we structure our reading time with students.  Typically, in the classrooms of effective literacy teachers, about 5 to 10 minutes is spent preparing the children to read, and 5 to 10 minutes is spent engaging the students in follow-up activities.  40-45 minutes of the class is spent reading while the teacher works with students in small groups or individually.  Typically, in the classrooms of less effective literacy teachers, 15-20 minutes is spent preparing kids to read, and 20-25 minutes is allocated to follow-up activities, such as workbook pages.  Students spend only 10-15 minutes engaged in actual reading.

We can also achieve the 90 minutes a day goal by incorporating more time for reading in content classes, such as science and social studies.  When adolescents read more, they gain a broader and deeper understanding of content knowledge.  Our students can learn more about events in history when they read about them.  Students will think more like biologists by reading beyond the biology textbook and delving into a wider range of higher quality texts.

Allington argues that voluntary, engaged reading inside and outside of school translates into higher levels of reading proficiency.  Although incorporating more time for reading into the school day is a must, we cannot forget the power of motivation.  Let's work to design reading lessons that not only increase reading volume but also reading motivation.

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