Leisure reading—independent, self-selected reading of a continuous text for a wide range of personal and social purposes—is a critical habit to develop in students as they strive to become college and career ready. And all of us—educators, parents, and communities—have a role in fostering a love of reading and encouraging a lifelong habit of reading for pleasure among our youth.
We also know that leisure reading is on the decline, not only in the United States but around the world and not only at home but at school as well. As the content of a student’s coursework continues to expand each and every year, setting time aside to encourage and promote leisure reading grows more and more difficult. Even the connotations of the term leisure reading may lead many educators to erroneously believe this time is not a wise investment. Research, however, suggests otherwise.
The benefits of leisure reading are well-documented: improved comprehension, language, vocabulary development, general knowledge, empathy, as well as self-confidence in reading, motivation to read throughout one’s life, and positive attitudes toward reading. Additionally, high school students who regularly engage in the practice score significantly higher in reading than do their peers who do not read for pleasure as often.
To address the decline of leisure reading in our classrooms, the joint position statement of the International Reading Association (IRA), the National Council of teachers of English (NCTE) and the Canadian Children’s Book Centre, promotes several recommendations for providing students with leisure reading opportunities during the school day, among them encouraging student selection of reading materials and opportunities to reflect upon, respond to, and share the materials that have been read.
For the benefit of our students we must begin to think of instructional reading and leisure reading not as an either/or initiative but a both/and endeavor. In fact, if we think about the progression of students’ reading skills, we might imagine something similar to what is seen in the visual below. This graphic shows a progression from modeling for students the reading of challenging texts (Read Aloud), to a collaborative, instructional approach to reading challenging texts (Read Along), to finally the independent reading of challenging texts (Read Alone).
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Just as parents should read with their children and encourage independent reading for pleasure at home, educators should make time for students’ leisure reading at school as well.
As the position statement suggests, “To ensure that students experience the benefits of leisure reading, teachers and families should support students’ reading choices by making available a wide range of print, digital, and multimodal texts that align with and expand on students’ interests and that students are able to read without great struggle”(p. 2).
As we gear up another school year, it is important to consider the advantages of leisure reading and also of utilities such as Find a Book that allow educators and parents to help pair students with books that both capture their interests and also match their level of reading readiness.
Inside the classroom, the Find a Book utility can help students create personalized book lists for leisure reading that are tailored to their interesting and readiness and can also help teachers explore a variety of texts that can complement, support, and enrich the content of their curricula while keeping an eye on the staircase of text complexity each student needs for instructional reading to reach college and career readiness.
Outside the classroom, students can continue to access their personalized book lists for leisure reading through Find a Book and parents and communities can support their students’ growth by using the Find It! feature to locate the nearest public libraries and booksellers that have the chosen books available.
With tools such as these in hand, we can match the right student with the right book at the right time and have a profound impact on the reading habits and learning of our children for a lifetime to come.