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Independent Reading Success 1


Finding Success with Independent Reading

Keri G. Harrod
University of New England

Independent Reading Success 2

What Constitutes Successful Independent Reading
Independent reading is an integral component of the Reading Workshop model
of reading instruction at the elementary school level. During independent reading,
students read high interest books of their own choice that are at their particular reading
level. When students confidently and accurately read books that they are interested in
at an appropriate reading level during independent reading, it is one of the best ways for
them to make progress as a reader (Truby, 2012). Although past research concluded
that there was not enough evidence to determine the benefit of silent independent
reading, the sustained silent reading reviewed lacked teacher guidance or support
(National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, 2000). Initiatives such as
Sustained Silent Reading (SSR) and Drop Everything and Read (DEAR), gave students
time to read books of their own choice without accountability (Katz, 2005). Numerous
literature has shown that when students are motivated to read and given autonomy in
book choice while being explicitly taught authentic book interaction in a monitored
environment, gains in reading are achieved.
In order for students to truly be successful independent readers, they must be
motivated to read on their own accord. According to Williams, Hedrick, and Tuschinski,
there are three principal factors that attribute to a students motivation: choice and
control, social interaction, and interest (2008, p. 136). Although prior research also
documented other contributing factors, such as the need to seek new experience,
feedback, achievable success, connections to the real world, and positive learning
environment, as being components of motivation, Williams, Hedrick, and Tuschinshis

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study focused the components they deemed most valuable (Fountas & Pinnell, 2006;
Graves, Juel, & Graves, 2007; Hunter, 2001; Ivey & Fisher, 2006; Lent, 2006; Wolfe,
2001). When motivated to read, students will be more interested in reading and see an
increase in ability (Williams, Hedrick, & Tuschinshi, 2008). Additionally, students who
read outside of school, as well as during class time, are more successful at reading
(Anderson, Wilson, & Fielding, 1988).
In order to provide motivation to read, students often need the social interaction
piece. Coles study of second grade students determined that students were more
motivated to read when they were able to socially interact with their peers (Cole,
2002/2003). When children can talk to each other about their reading, motivation
increases (Williams, Hedrick, & Tuschinshi, 2008). Using methods such as literature
circles, where teachers provide a variety of reading material at various levels, gives
students both choice and an opportunity to talk about books with other students who
have similar interests (Williams, Hedrick, & Tuschinshi, 2008). Literature circles give
students independence of choice and action. Students decide the roles of each
member of the literature circle; every role facilitates a different part of the book
While studies have been done regarding the importance of being able to have a
positive learning environment, there is little literature regarding the effects of life at
home on the motivation to read. English Language Learners (ELL) and students of
parents with little or no education might not be encouraged to read independently.
Additional studies regarding the influence of a students life outside of school with
regards to motivation are required.

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Book Choice/Interest
The choice component allows children to make their own decisions regarding
what they are reading after being taught how to pick books at their particular reading
level. While many teachers level books to help emergent readers recognize appropriate
books, students must learn strategies for selection in order to master the lifetime skill of
picking books (Williams, Hedrick, & Tuschinshi, 2008).
While there had been much discussion on the best method for teaching book
choice, research has shown that students must be reading books at their level in order
to make gains (Giordano, 2011). Teachers must explicitly teach elementary students
how to choose an appropriate text. Successful book choice strategies for elementary
readers tend to use acronyms as a reminder to the steps for picking a book. Whether
using I PICK, BOOKMATCH, CLICKS, or other strategies, one of the primary indicators
of appropriate book choice is interest level (Giordano, 2011; Williams, Hedrick, &
Tuschinshi, 2008). According to Worthy, students should understand that the most
important factor in reading a book for pleasure is interest (Worthy, 1996). Interest in a
text provides greater comprehension and understanding of that text (Williams, Hedrick,
& Tuschinshi, 2008).
While most studies focus on the importance of teacher having a wide variety of
high interest books available to children for independent reading, there has been little
focus on how to achieve this in lower income school districts (Truby, 2012; Williams,
Hedrick, & Tuschinshi, 2008. When access to books is limited, teachers struggle to
provide multiple book choices for students. Although using library resources is
recommended by some literature (Truby, 2012), this is not always a feasible or timely

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option. Additional research is required regarding ways to make independent reading
books available to students of all socioeconomic levels.
Teacher Responsibility
Independent reading is not something students at an elementary level can do
without being first explicitly taught how to do it. Teachers must model and have
students practice in the classroom the skills successful independent readers use, such
as choosing an appropriate book, and having authentic interaction regarding books with
their peers (Giordano, 2011; Kelley & Clausen-Grace, 2009). Teachers also need to
monitor students independent reading. When students are not successfully reading
independently, gains will not be made (Kelley & Clausen-Grace, 2009).
Book Choice Methods
In order for teachers to facilitate book choice by students, they need to direct
students toward texts that might hold their interest. Researchers recommend the use of
interest surveys or inventories to help teachers determine what appropriate level books
their students might find interesting (Giordano, 2011; Kelley & Clausen-Grace, 2009).
Once topics of interest have been determined, teachers can use the variety of methods
using acronyms, such as I PICK, BOOKMATCH, or CLICKS, to remind students what
books might be a good fit. While the most important factor in all of these methods is
interest, students still need to be able to read fluently, recognize most of the words, and
comprehend what they are reading. As students advance in their reading abilities, the
teacher is able to reduce his or her level of monitoring of the book choice process that
occurs earlier in the year (Giordano, 2011).

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Facilitating Interaction
Since a motivating factor for students to read independently is interaction, it is
critical that teachers teach students how to authentically discuss books, similar to adult
book groups. When adults finish an interesting book, they want to talk about it
(Williams, Hedrick, & Tuschinshi, 2008). However before students can discuss
independently chosen books, they must be taught how to do so in a monitored
environment. When books are discussed in an authentic manner, comprehension
strategies are automatically used. Students need to be able to make connections,
predictions, ask questions, and summarize their reading naturally. We do not want them
to only think about strategies while listening to a teacher-led mini lesson (Marcell,
DeCleene, & Juettner, 2010).
Although literature circles are an avenue to pursue authentic book discussion
using comprehension strategies, students must at first be guided through a monitored
version of literature circle. One way to do this is the use of reciprocal teaching which
allows students to practice variety of comprehension strategies with a gradual release of
responsibility (Marcell, DeCleene, & Juettner, 2010). In reciprocal teaching, students
slowly become responsible for comprehension tasks after watching the teacher model
all of the roles (Marcell, DeCleene, & Juettner, 2010). Whether in literature circles or
reciprocal teaching, students practice comprehension strategies together rather than in
isolation, like authentic readers do (Marcell, DeCleene, & Juettner, 2010).
Although the literature on independent reading stresses the importance of
interaction through authentic book discussions, there is little to be found on which
method of teaching, such as literature circles, idea circles, or reciprocal teaching,

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produces the most authentic and effective discussions. In research by Marcell,
DeCleene, and Juetnner, the explicit teaching of comprehension strategies has led
many teachers away from being able to provide a means for independent book
discussion since students are too focused on strategy identification (2010).
In order for independent reading to be successful, students must have the
motivation to read books of their own choice and be allowed to authentically discuss
books with their peers in a teacher-monitored environment. When students are allowed
to follow their interests regarding reading, they are more apt to be engaged readers who
will read and discuss their reading outside of the classroom. While studies have
focused on the importance of book choice and the methods used for choosing books,
further study is required to determine what type of teacher-directed book discussions
produce the most authentic social interaction while providing student gains. If a
motivating factor for independent reading is social interaction, then a study that focuses
on the various types of book discussions and records the independent reading levels of
students prior to and after the social interaction of book discussions should be

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Anderson, R.C., Wilson, P.T., & Fielding, L.G. (1988). Growth in reading and how
children spend their time outside of school. Reading Research Quarterly, 23,
Cole, J. (2002/2003). What motivates children to read? Four literacy personalities. The
Reading Teacher, 56, 326-336.
Fountas, I.C., & Pinnell, G.S. (2006). Teaching for comprehension and fluency:
Thinking, talking, and writing about reading, K-8. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Giordano, L. (2011). Making sure our reading CLICKS. The Reading Teacher, 64(8),
Graves, M.F., Juel, C., & Graves, B.B. (2007). Teaching reading in the 21st century.
Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
Hunter, P.C. (2001). Raising children who want to read. Retrieved October 6, 2006, from
Ivey, G., & Fisher, D. (2006). Creating literacy-rich schools for adolescents. Alexandria,
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Marcell, B., DeCleene, J., & Juettner, M.R. (2010). Caution! Hard hat area!
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