For the Love of Libraries (and Free Voluntary Reading!)

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Libraries are some of my favorite places. I caught the reading bug at a young age though summer reading programs at my own public library. I sure wish I could go more often. I think libraries are feeling the impact of fewer visitors too. The lead photo is actually of the library in my hometown. The sign doesn’t seem to desperate, does it? I hope not.

I recently re-watched one of my favorite lectures by Stephen Krashen, a staunch advocate of public libraries and free voluntary reading in the classroom. The lecture is about an hour long, and I highly recommend taking the time to watch it at some point.

One key study (Krashen, Lee, & McQuillan, 2012) mentioned in this video cites two interesting factors in reading achievement.

  1. Access to school and public libraries is considered one of the strongest factors in reading improvement after Grade 4.
  2. However, the same study found a negative correlation between reading achievement and total hours of reading instruction.

What gives?

Does this mean we shouldn’t teach reading?

Here are my personal takes on these numbers.

First of all, it seems that students who perform poorly on reading assessments receive more reading instruction, which may have an influence on these numbers. For example, oftentimes students who fail high-stakes tests are forced to attend extra reading classes. In addition, this extra instruction is often inappropriate. Much reading “remediation” is comprised of inauthentic reading experiences, such as worksheets, test preparation, and computer programs. If more reading instruction is given to students, research-based instruction would yield better effects.

Another conjecture I will make is about the increased importance of access to libraries after grade 4. I feel that individualized and high-quality reading instruction is more common in elementary schools, and it declines when students transition to secondary schools. Many secondary teachers are experts in their content yet they lack knowledge of explicit reading instruction. This makes i more difficult for them to attend to students’ individual needs (especially with the great volume of students they serve each day in most secondary school models). I wonder if the reason that access to libraries becomes a stronger indicator of success in eighth grade is because Free Voluntary Reading (FVR) “fills the gap” of declining research-based reading instruction. 

One awesome thing about Free Voluntary Reading is it creates opportunities for students to find their own “homerun” books.

I have experienced my own students’ reading habits improve once we found a book that met both their readability needs and reading interests. In order to be successful in finding “homerun” books, we have to know our students well through a variety of assessments. Standardized test results may give us some information, but other timely assessments such as student interviews, interest inventories, and running records are probably more beneficial.

I fully agree with Krashen about the effectiveness of free voluntary reading (FVR) and silent sustained reading (SSR). In his speech, Krashen discusses that during SSR the teacher also reads (UGACOE, 2012). However, there is great value in conferring with students during this time to assess their progress and to assist them in finding “homerun” books. I also believe that I can be an effective reading role model for students by sharing my own reading during booktalks and conferences while also letting students share their reading with one another. I think that making reading a social act is more powerful for students than simply seeing their teacher read at his or her desk. To become more like America’s number one reading teacher, Oprah Winfrey, we have to discuss reading (Trelease, 2007).

References

Krashen, S. Lee, S., and McQuillan, J. (2012). Is the library important? Multivariate studies at the national and international level, Journal of Language and Literacy, 8 (1), 26-34.

Trelease, J. (2007). How non-reading students are related to their non-reading parents and teachers. Trelease on Reading. Retrieved from http://www.trelease-on-reading.com/whatsnu_morrie.html

University of Georgia College of Education (Producer). (2012, April 5). The power of reading – Stephen Krashen. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DSW7gmvDLag

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