Nothing about education in the 21st century has changed the fact that reading is a fundamental skill that opens all academic doors. As the slogan from my childhood put it, “Reading is FUNdamental,” and regardless of its importance in school, readers do have fun. Our middle school program stresses the value and fun of reading by giving students time, during school days, to read a book of their choice for a period of time. We call these periods of time SSR, for Silent, Sustained Reading.
Once students are in the habit of carrying a book with them, there are many moments during the school day that can be captured for reading. If students find they are waiting for classmates to finish work before moving on, they can turn to their book while waiting. If we have recess indoors due to weather conditions, the books can come out. A class of active bodies returning from PE class can feel calmer after a few minutes of everyone reading. These are the found moments of reading that many of us take pleasure in finding when we wait for a doctor, or airplane or other appointment to being.
A recent study for Scholastic book publishers shows that our program is on exactly the right track for encouraging frequent readers. The study surveyed 1000 students, ages 6-17, along with their parents. Students who had in-school opportunities to read books were more likely to be frequent readers. Of the students surveyed, 71% were currently reading or had just finished reading a book. Of these frequent readers, 78% said that they read during the school day. We are putting our students in the right company by encouraging reading during the day.
Nationwide, the percentage of students who are given time to read during the school day sharply declines in middle school. It’s a shame– and our program goes in a different direction by deliberately creating a way for students to see each other with books so that we create a community of readers. The community connection is important. While reading itself can be solitary, talking about books and seeing classmates enjoy reading, encourages frequent reading.
The study also found that students who are read aloud to are more frequent readers. Reading aloud is part of our program also. I’ve written about our participation in the global read aloud, a wonderful way to start the school year. In addition, we gather the middle school together and read short pieces to them from time to time, as a way to be together. Our sixth grade program studies The Boy who Harnessed the Wind solely as a read aloud book.
The Scholastic study is a nice, empirical reinforcement for what we already knew was good practice. We know that reading is important, and can bring so much pleasure to the reader. We also know that students, who are so focused on peer interactions, can be encouraged to keep reading once a community of readers has been established. With our understanding of students and our attention to their developing skills, we were several steps ahead of the study in designing an environment to maximize the formation of frequent (and happy) readers.