The Importance of Leisure Reading – Both at School and at Home

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).



(Click image to enlarge)

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.

One Less Excuse

Those of us who like to believe we are artistic and creative because we are left-brained or that we are analytical and that we reason logically because we are right-brained may be disappointed to learn that these explanations may be more myth than fact.

With the ability to collect data from neuroimaging in brain scans, scientists have observed that the functional connectivity and networking within brain functions are not concentrated in a specific hemisphere of the brain based upon the type of activity a person is performing. In a study out of the University of Utah, researchers found that there is little evidence that one side of the brain has a stronger influence upon our personalities or interests than another.

In other words, the functional network system of the brain seems to be so interconnected that many personality traits, strategies for thinking or creating, or personal areas of interest cannot be attributed to the stronger lateral side of our “gray matter.”  It’s not uncommon to hear individuals use the mythic right-brain left-brain theory to support certain abilities or account for specific deficiencies, e.g. reading or mathematics.  This study, however, casts doubt on such claims.  In fact, both hemispheres of the brain are tightly connected and are necessary for proper functioning.  Remember that next time you hear someone say they ‘don’t do math’ because they’re a right brained person.  That reasoning appears to be a fancier, dressed-up version of the idea that they lack the ‘math gene’ or they lack mathematical reasoning as an innate ability.  Math and reading, like any skill, can be learned and improve with practice.

AERA Emergent Reader Symposium, 2013

During the 2013 American Educational Research Association (AERA) Annual Meeting in San Francisco, California, a team of MetaMetrics® researchers along with colleagues from other institutions presented the results of a two-year emergent reader text-complexity study.

Here’s a summary of the research and the implications:

  • The research was achieved by having young students read texts and also by having teachers gauge the texts’ complexity.


  •  As a result of the emergent reader research, the Lexile® scale was enhanced; now any early-grades text can be placed on the Lexile text-complexity scale.


  • The enhanced Analyzer incorporates several text-complexity indicators, including word structure demand, word meaning demand, sentence-level characteristics, and cross-sentence features that model patterning and repetition found in many emergent texts.

What makes the Lexile scale so unique in the field is the degree to which it uses empirical data from students and educators in determining the text complexity of early grades. In comparison, most other text-complexity measures are derived solely from text analysis.

The study was completed by a team from MetaMetrics comprised of; Dr. Heather Koons, Director, Consulting and Development Services and The University of North Carolina Clinical Assistant Professor, Dr. Kim Bowen, Lexile Research Associate, Dr. Jill Fitzgerald, Distinguished Research Scientist and The University of North Carolina Emerita and Research Professor, Mr. Jeff Elmore, Research Engineer, Dr. Mary Ann Simpson, Sr. Psychometrician, Dr. Robin Baker, Director Analytical Services, Dr. Ellie E. Sanford-Moore, SVP Research and Development and Dr. A. Jackson Stenner, Chairman, CEO and Co-founder and The University of North Carolina Research Professor.

The team was joined by Dr. Elfrieda Hiebert, President and CEO of and Amy Clark, Graduate Research Assistant at Kansas University. Dr. P. David Pearson was a discussant at the AERA presentation.

The emergent reader work will be incorporated into the Lexile® Analyzer this fall.

Fighting Summer Loss – “Give Five – Read Five”

The phrase “summer loss” describes the phenomenon in which students suffer a loss of content knowledge and skills over summer break. Research has shown that low-income students are particularly vulnerable to this issue because they lack the resources when they go home.

In an effort to combat “summer loss,” The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction and State Superintendent June Atkinson have launched the “Give Five—Read Five” campaign. The campaign is aimed at promoting summer reading while providing books to those in need. Parents, teachers and business leaders are asked to donate five new or gently-used books to their local elementary school. You can donate books at any elementary school during school hours of 8 am – 3:30 pm.

MetaMetrics®, developers of The Lexile® Framework for Reading, have partnered with The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction to offer incentives for the top three schools that collect the most donated books. Click here to learn more.

On April 23rd, MetaMetrics President and Co-founder Malbert Smith spoke at the “Give 5—Read Five” campaign launch at Hilburn Academy in Raleigh, North Carolina. State Superintendent June Atkinson recognized MetaMetrics for donating 300 books to the school.  You can check out photos from the event on our Facebook page.

Let’s come together and fight summer loss. Please Give Five and don’t forget to Read Five this summer!


Our Own Jill Fitzgerald Contributes to New Book and Named AERA Fellow

We would like to congratulate MetaMetrics’ own Dr. Jill Fitzgerald for her work on the upcoming book, Best Practices in Writing Instruction, Second Edition. Dr. Fitzgerald joins fellow editors Steve Graham, EdD (Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, Arizona State University) and Charles A. MacArthur, PhD (School of Education, University of Delaware) in this latest publication.

Best Practices in Writing Instruction, Second Edition, presents teachers with best practices for helping K-12 students develop their writing skills, while following the criteria of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). The book also reveals how teachers can integrate technology into their writing programs, tailor instruction for struggling writers and use assessment for instruction. This brand new edition from Guilford Press will be published April 25, 2013, but is now available for pre-order online at Amazon.

In addition to her work on the new book, Dr. Fitzgerald was recently named a 2013 American Educational Research Association (AERA) Fellow. The AERA Fellows Program recognizes scholars around the globe for their outstanding achievements in education research. Nominees are considered after 10-15 years of postdoctoral contributions and are nominated by existing AERA fellows. Each nominee must be recommended by the Fellows committee and approved by the AERA Council. AERA has over 25,000 members from a comprehensive range of fields.

Dr. Fitzgerald has spent nearly 32 years with the School of Education at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; serving as professor, chief academic officer, senior associate dean, director of graduate studies and interim dean. In addition to her MetaMetrics position, she also holds a Research Professor position in the School of Education at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her research spans more than 35 years and has resulted in over 100 works.

Since joining MetaMetrics as a Distinguished Research Scientist in May 2011, Dr. Fitzgerald has been contributing to numerous research projects including our work on text-complexity in beginning-reader texts.  She also has been sharing our research findings through journals and presentations at both national and international conferences.

Learn more about Dr. Fitzgerald here.

TextProject: Bringing High Levels of Literacy

An exciting new series of webinars is now being offered thanks to the efforts of TextProject, a site developed by Dr. Elfrieda Hiebert, leading reading researcher and educator.  Devoted to bringing beginning and struggling readers to high levels of literacy through a variety of strategies and tools, particularly the texts used for reading instruction, TextProject now makes available to all of us the insights of influential educational experts.

From the TextProject site: This series of webinars on the Common Core State Standards offers educators the chance to hear from, and talk with experts who served in advisory roles to the CCSS development team.  In their webinars, experts will discuss the knowledge base of the original CCSS report, ancillary documents, reports of foundations and policy groups, current implemation projects, and newly published research.  The webinars will give educators the opportunity to focus on the core goals of the CCSS and to chart a course that supports literacy levels needed for the 21st century.

The first webinar, Research and the Common Core: Can the Romance Survive? by award-winning researcher P. David Pearson took place on January 25. Both audio and presentation slides are available at the webinar site.

Make sure to schedule these upcoming web sessions to schedule on your calendar now:

February 27, 2013

CCSS and Education Policy

Dr. Timothy Shanahan, University of Illinois at Chicago

March 26, 2013

Quantitative Measurement of Text Complexity

Dr. Elfrieda H. Hiebert, TextProject, & University of California, Santa Cruz

April 24, 2013

Key Shifts in Assessment and Instruction Related to CCSS-ELA

Dr. Karen K. Wixon, University of Michigan

May 30, 2013

Informational Text and the CCSS: Pitfalls and Potential

Dr. Nell K. Duke, University of Michigan

Chief’s Summer Reading Challenge

We would like to take this opportunity to thank all of our state participants who have joined us for the 2012 Chief’s Summer Reading Challenge. The Council of Chief State School Officers, in partnership with MetaMetrics®, created this national, state-led summer reading initiative to bolster student reading achievement during summer break. The “Chief’s Summer Reading Challenge” raises national awareness of the summer loss epidemic, shares compelling research on the importance of personalized reading activities to counteract summer loss and provides access to variety of free online resources to support targeted reading.

We are joined by many of last year’s state participants, including: Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky and North Carolina. We’ve also brought on board several new states, including: Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii, Iowa, Kansas and Oklahoma.

This year’s participants have done a tremendous job planning and implementing summer reading campaigns and also hosting related events. Recently, we had the opportunity to work with both Florida and Kentucky’s First Ladies. Florida’s First Lady, Ann Scott recently kicked off the Florida Department of Education’s 2012 Summer Literacy Adventure. First Lady of Kentucky, Jane Beshear, joined the Kentucky Department of Education in supporting summer reading and encouraged children to use the “Find a Book” tool.

Governor Sam Brownback of Kansas and Governor Pat Quinn of Illinois were instrumental in promoting their respected state summer reading initiatives. Last month, MetaMetrics President and Co-founder, Dr. Malbert Smith joined Kansas Governor Sam Brownback to kick off the “Read Kansas Read” statewide summer reading program. Illinois Governor Pat Quinn joined Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White and State Superintendent of Education Christopher A. Koch in urging educators and parents to ensure students commit to reading during summer vacation.

With your efforts we continue to combat the effects of “Summer Reading Loss,” while enabling students to grow in their reading ability and love for reading. These efforts will help to ultimately prepare students for the reading demands of college and their future careers.

Please join us – pledge to read this summer at!

Not Just the What, but the How…

As schools and districts around the country begin planning their summer reading programs, it’s important to remember that the effectiveness of a well-intentioned program depends largely on the strength of implementation. A solid initiative, built around well-established research principles, can still fall apart if the implementation is flawed. The devil is in the details, and implementation is a key component of ensuring that more students read more over the intervening summer months.

Those details often account for whether a summer reading program fails or succeeds – even one built on a bedrock of solid research. This recent IES Regional Education Laboratory study, for example, was built around the idea of allowing students to self-select texts of interest and around targeting students at their individual Lexile reading level. Given the amount of research on the importance of targeting and self-selection, the authors should be commended for their efforts to build a summer reading program vastly different from the majority of programs that simply allow students to pick from a small menu of non-targeted texts, or worse, assign every student the exact same text.

The guiding question of this specific effort was to discern if a summer reading program can be taken to scale without the burden of parent and teacher involvement. Based on what the authors have shown us with this particular implementation, the answer would appear to be a qualified ‘no’. Or, at least, not when administered in this way.  This specific study found that, while there was a small positive effect, it was not statistically significant.

As the authors acknowledge, this effort suffered from a number of limitations. For starters, students received their books en masse. Rather than being given a few books at a time, students were presented with large stacks all at once, making it possible that students felt overwhelmed and without direction on which step to take next. Secondly, students received their books long after summer had already begun – in July. Receiving a large collection of books relatively late in the summer sacrifices valuable time.  In fact, for many students, the program was a 30-day program – not a summer reading program.  Efforts to determine the effects of targeted and self-selected reading on summer reading loss might fare better if those books are provided near or at the end of the school year. Notably, this particular study lacked a way to determine if the books were actually read. The best medicine may be effective, but without ingestion, it’s unlikely to have any effect. Similarly, a well-targeted collection of books may very well stave off the debilitating effects of summer learning loss, but if the students simply neglect the books, it’s unlikely those texts will have any effect at all. Lastly, it’s worth pointing out that the assessment to determine the effectiveness of the program was administered well into the start of the school year. As the authors point out, any positive effects of this particular program may have well been obscured by additional instruction that may have occurred since the school start date.

 Here are the study’s authors commenting on possible reasons why five other similar studies did find statistically significant effects on student’s reading comprehension levels:

One possible inference to draw from this study, and the more recent work of Kim and colleagues (Kim and Guryan 2010; Kim and White 2008), is that some of the components that Kim and his colleagues added—in particular, personalized teacher encouragement of each student to read the books during the summer and brief, small group lessons on strategies for reading—may be essential components to success.

 As schools wrestle with the most effective summer reading programs, the ones most likely to reduce the impact of summer learning loss, it would pay to be mindful of implementation. And to remember that involving the community and parents is an important part of refining even the most thoughtful summer reading programs.

Less Than Prepared

Here’s an interesting new study out from the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) examining the preparedness of Texas students for college-level reading.  Researchers used the Lexile measure to gauge both student reading level and the demands of entry level college reading in English.  Unfortunately, they found that many 11th grade Texas students, particularly among a number of sub-groups, are unprepared for the rigorous requirements of college level work.  Most striking in the report was the depth of the analysis and its meticulous drill down on the readiness of a wide variety of sub-groups.  Though the report found a wide pattern of unpreparedness, a few findings stand out:

  • Economically disadvantaged students were less prepared than those who were not economically disadvantaged.
  • At risk students were less prepared than those who were not at risk.
  • Students taking at least one career and technical education course were slightly less prepared than those not taking such a course.

Read the whole report for a more detailed analysis. 

It’s worth noting that one of the benefits of the Lexile Framework – as the study authors acknowledge – is its easy accessibility as a tool for measuring growth toward college and career readiness.  Because we know the typical reading level of college level text , we have an end point in mind by which to assess growth.  And the Lexile Framework is an especially useful tool for establishing an aspirational trajectory and then responding with increased instruction and remediation for students on a trajectory to fall short of college preparedness.  The Lexile Framework – when coupled with sound instructional practices is not only a tool to measure growth, but to match students to targeted, though challenging, text as well.  Let’s hope teachers across the nation can put this tool to use for all students, particularly those on a trajectory to be unprepared for life after high school.


Double Jeopardy Report: The Importance of Bending the Reading Growth Trajectory

Thanks to Education Week for pointing to a soon to be released study:” Double Jeopardy: How Third-Grade Reading Skills and Poverty Influence High School Graduation”.  The study presents a startling finding: students who are unable to read on grade level by third grade are four times less likely to graduate by age 19:

…Add poverty to the mix, and a student is 13 times less likely to graduate on time than his or her proficient, wealthier peer.

“Third grade is a kind of pivot point,” said Donald J. Hernandez, the study’s author and a sociology professor at Hunter College, at the City University of New York. “We teach reading for the first three grades and then after that children are not so much learning to read but using their reading skills to learn other topics. In that sense if you haven’t succeeded by 3rd grade it’s more difficult to [remediate] than it would have been if you started before then.”

This study points to the importance of early intervention and targted reading as a way to influence a student’s reading growth rate.  Dr. Malbert Smith’s recent policy brief, ‘Bending the Reading Growth Trajectory: Instructional Strategies to Promote Skills and Close the Readiness Gap’  is directly relevant here and provides a blueprint for the sort of instructional strategies that serve to help students remain on track for college and career readiness.

Specifically, Dr. Smith advocates adopting early intervention strategies for young and struggling readers.  In addition to these strategies, he aruges for increasing the velocity of growing readers through the use of deliberate and targeted practice.  Smith also advocates an earlier introduction to more complex texts:

Reading growth can also be addressed by exposing students to more complex text—especially in the middle and high school years—so that they have increased opportunities to stretch their skills. Unfortunately, as Appendix A of the Common Core Standards laments, “K-12 texts have actually trended downward in difficulty” and have become “less demanding” over the past fifty years (Chall, Conrad, & Harris, 1977; Hayes, Wolfer, & Wolfe, 1996). Intended to remove barriers to content with more accessible texts, this trend has had the unintended effect of hampering students’ ability to tackle more challenging texts as they progress toward graduation. It should be noted that exposing secondary students to more demanding text no longer has to result in discomfort, strain or frustration. With measurement tools like Lexile® measures that help students determine their “just-right” reading range to enhance reading growth and lead to readiness, students can challenge themselves with success and a resulting sense of accomplishment.

For more concrete strategies on ways to ensure that students are reading on grade level, be sure to check out the whole thing.  As the recent Double Jeopardy report makes clear, improving the reading ability of young students is vital to ensuring the success of these students beyond high school.

MetaMetrics is an educational measurement organization. Our renowned psychometric team develops scientific measures of student achievement that link assessment with targeted instruction to improve learning.