by Dr. Timothy Rasinski
We’ve all heard it before in various forms – “The way to become a better reader is to read a lot,” “The more you read, the better reader you will become.” While some may think that such expressions are too simple and overused, the fact is they contain much truth.
Reading, like many learned skills, requires practice to be mastered. Learning to drive a car, perfecting a golf swing, or developing the ability to speak publicly requires the learner to not only to understand the nature of what is to be learned but also to practice it to the point of competency. A strong body of research supports the notion that the act of reading improves a reader’s competence in reading (e.g. Morgan, Mraz, Padak, & Rasinski, 2008).
One of my favorite studies goes back a few years (Postlethwaite & Ross, 1992). However, the findings seem to be as applicable today as they did back then. In this very large scale international study, the researchers attempted to identify factors that were associated with high achievement in reading for students in grades 2 and 8. Two of the top three factors identified had to do amount of reading done by students – Number 3 was volume of reading done in school; and Number 2 was the volume of reading done at home. The implication from these findings is clear – if we want to improve students’ reading achievement we need to find ways to increase the amount of reading done by students. The sad reality, though, is that students, in general do not read much. In his book on helping struggling readers, Allington (2011) reports that the typical elementary reader spends less than 15 minutes per day reading at home.
How can we nurture more reading among students? For me, access and interest lead the way. If we want students to read more they need to have easy access to plenty of reading material on a variety of topics. Many students who live in poverty do not have such access. And, if they find it difficult to get their hands on books and other reading materials, it’s unlikely that they will read.
Besides access, there is also the question of precision. In addition to having lots of reading materials accessible to students, it’s also important to match those materials to the reading levels and interests of students. For a student who is reading at a second grade level, having access only to books written for 4th and 5th graders will not be helpful. Similarly, for a child interested in sports, having access to books that deal with topics other than sports may not spur that particular student to read more.
So the challenge for educators is to increase students’ reading. However, like an onion, when we peel back one layer, other layers or questions appear. Certainly, two of those questions are: How do we improve students’ access to reading materials, and how can we sure that those materials reflect a range of reading levels and interests.
Allington, R. (2011). What Really Matters for Struggling Readers (3rd ed). New York: Pearson.
Morgan, D., Mraz, M., Padak, N., & Rasinski, T. (2008). Independent Reading: Practical Strategies for Grades K-3. New York: Guilford.
Postlethwaite, T.,N & Ross, K., N. (1992). Effective Schools in Reading: Implications for Educational Planners. The Hague, Netherlands: International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement.