Having the ability to read and comprehend text is requisite to effective communication and, in many cases, future success. Reading skills don't just allow for academic success but also for higher income later in life, reports a 2007 New York Times article. Teachers everywhere strive to help their students improve their reading abilities. As they work to help their students, many teachers integrate additional hours of independent reading to their classes with the belief that this added time dedicated to reading will lead to an increase in student reading scores.
The organization Reading is Fundamental reports that, through reading, children develop their fluency, enhance their critical thinking and problem-solving abilities, and improve their imaginative skills. Learning the basic principles of phonics and decoding is only the first step in becoming a reader. To truly develop reading competency, students must practice the skills repeatedly.
There are numerous ways in which students can engage in reading. The most commonly touted type of reading is Silent Sustained Reading (SSR). Teachers who engage their students in SSR set aside time during their class day to dedicate to quiet, independent reading. Teachers also commonly offer whole class reading instruction, working with students as a group on one text. Some students elect to read independently for pleasure or to gain information outside of school. The amount of time spent reading independently, just like the organized in-class reading, is thought by some to help improve overall reading skill and, by connection, test scores.
Reading test scores have generally been on the decline in recent years. A 2007 National Endowment for the Arts report ties this decline to the reduction in reading for pleasure, noting that test scores are strong in elementary but drop in middle schools as the number of students reading for pleasure declines. With less students reading outside of class, teachers need to dedicate more in-class time to the practice of this skill so that students engage with texts regularly and enhance their abilities to read fluently and effectively.
Reading independently provides students with the opportunity to improve their fluency and build their vocabulary. A study by the National Reading Foundation found that students learn 15 new words each school day and that a majority of these words come not from intensive instruction but instead from independent reading. Just like many skills, the more the student does it, the better he becomes at it. Reading practice in class is akin to basketball practice after school in that it allows students to hone their skills through repetition.
While some studies show the benefits of intensive reading programs, others who have conducted research within the field have found conflicting findings. A 2000 National Reading Panel study, for example, reported that there was no statistical correlation between the amount of time spent reading and overall reading achievement. While this study discounts the noticeable impact that extensive time spent reading can have on reading scores, the report authors still concede that reading, regardless of test score benefit, is a useful educational practice and should be used heavily within the classroom.