The Missouri Reader Vol. 40, Issue 3 - Page 14

Over the last few decades there have been many discussions in the United States among its educators, government officials, and parents about students’ poor comprehension scores on standardized testing. In recent years it has been suggested that students need to be encouraged to read more to help improve comprehension and fluency scores during standardized testing (Cuevas, Irving, & Russell, 2014). One study found that “a variety of studies have found indirect support for the premise that repeated cognitive activity in reading can improve comprehension” (Cuevas et al., 2014, p. 129).

Independent silent reading, as referred to in this article, is the time students spend reading silently to themselves from personally chosen or teacher assigned texts. During independent silent reading, students may have the purpose of reading for their own enjoyment or to learn more about topics they find interesting. Sometimes teachers, especially in middle school or high school, may require students to complete assignments related to the text. However, Topping, Samuels, and Paul (2006) remind teachers that increasing reading practice might not be enough to improve comprehension scores. They contend it is important that quality and not just quantity be addressed when instructing students in independent silent reading.

Supporting the idea that independent silent reading was a vital component to improving comprehension was the belief that, “students need to be able to choose what they read at least some of the time, especially until they are firmly and unshakably hooked on reading” (Kasten & Wilfong, 2005, p. 658). It was believed that when allowing students free choice to choose the books they wanted to read it would help build engagement and encourage students to make the choice to read on their own. It was also hoped that the students would grow to become lifelong readers. Pointing to a positive relationship between independent silent reading and comprehension and fluency, Cuevas et al. (2014) indicated that if students do not read on their own by choice and often, they will not become as proficient at reading and understanding material. In addition, Sanacore (1994) acknowledged that independent reading allowed students to practice comprehension and fluency skills along with growing ownership of their own reading choices. Independent silent reading was then likely to support students’ growth into lifelong readers (Sanacore, 1994).

A study by Burkins and Yaris (2014) conveyed the idea that students’ independent silent reading of just right books was like athletes working their muscles. Burkins and Yaris showed the relationship between athletes and their use of just right weights—not too light, not too heavy—to build their muscles in just the right places and in just the right ways. They also pointed out that the more the athletes work the muscles, the stronger they get. Burkins and Yaris believed working to read longer and to read tricky words or tricky parts of books increased the strength of the brain muscle. This meant stronger reading stamina, fluency, and comprehension for the reader.

The goal of reading teachers and teachers in general is to create an atmosphere that promotes a love of reading. Teachers know that it is important to give students opportunities to read independently and to enjoy self-selected books in order to create lifelong readers inside and outside of the classroom. Allowing students to have time in class to choose their own books to read for extended periods of time can improve both the comprehension and the fluency of the students engaged in the activity (Fisher, 2001). Students who read on their own in and out of school typically score higher in the area of comprehension on standardized tests because they have practiced their reading skills

Teachers’ Perceptions of a Grade-level

Focus on Independent Reading

By: Mary Hall, Dr. Beth Hurst, Dr. Pamela Correll and Dr. Kayla Lewis