Cultivating Voluntary Reading in the Classroom

One of the greatest gifts my family bestowed upon me was the love of a good story. My mother read to me daily, as did my grandmother, and my father created stories in which I was the main character. Mom will still sit down and read 3-4 novels a week. (I usually finish 3-4 per month, but I’m not retired.)

Early in my teaching career it became apparent that not all families were like mine, and I dare say we are becoming somewhat of an anomaly. Finding this unacceptable, I have always incorporated free reading time into my classroom in addition to reading aloud daily to my students. Today, however, many teachers feel pressed to teach so many test-taking skills that the reading test has become a genre.

We have lost the idea of balance and as a result are losing a generation of readers. But how do we regain that balance and still maintain rigorous standards? Believe it or not, the research supports reading for choice over direct instruction.

Free Voluntary Reading (FVR) means reading because you want to. No book reports, no comprehension questions, and the book is one of your choosing. And while class novels are preferable over the reading passage/question worksheet, this will not have the same impact as FVR. Research has shown that FVR improves comprehension, vocabulary, spelling, writing, and grammar (Krashen, 2004).

Having students talk about their reading is critical. Sharing the books they’ve enjoyed through Book Talks, Reviews, and Journals promotes comprehension and is more authentic than asking low-level questions (Atwell, 2007; Miller, 2009). Teaching direct comprehension skills has its place, but it should not be the crux of your reading lessons.

So as you look at your classroom schedule, make time for silent-sustained reading, free voluntary reading, or DEAR time. Regardless of what you call it, just make the time.

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“How can I help my child be a better reader?”

This is the question I’m asked all the time, and oftentimes parents don’t like what I have to say. It’s really quite simple: good readers actually read. Every day. Like anything else you want to improve upon, it takes practice.

The question parents need to ask is: “How can I help my child enjoy reading?”

Remember the days when bedtime stories were the norm? Your mom or dad tucked you in and read you a story. This is how we learned empathy. This is how we learned to love a good story. This is how we learned to love language. Many parents today are not reading to their children.

So the child who is not read to enters school and all of a sudden this child is surrounded by print, sight words, stories, and expectations. This is when parents start to wake up and realize they may need to step in and help. Again there is no magic remedy for improving reading, you just have to make it a priority.

To invigorate a sluggish reader, you need to find out what interests them. Visit the library and talk with the librarians. They are the experts at finding good books. Spend money at your school’s book fair and order books when the teacher sends home the book orders. With tweens and teens, share what you’re reading with them and explain why you enjoy the types of books you read.

Assuming you, the adult, are reading…see, that’s the other problem. There is a large population of adults who don’t read. What’s happening here?

It’s easy to blame TV and the internet or the ubiquitous “I don’t have time” whine, but honestly it goes back to priorities. If you want to be a better reader, you need to read. Period.