Does silent reading really help children?

Getting stuck into a good book is beneficial but, asks Alex Quigley, how do we ensure consistent outcomes?
13th September 2019, 12:04am
Does Silent Reading Really Help?

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Does silent reading really help children?

https://www.tes.com/magazine/archived/does-silent-reading-really-help-children

Consider those times when, wrought with stress, you got lost in a good book. Think of the pleasure, the blessed release. It seems like common sense, then, to carve out quiet moments like this in the school day for our students to have the same experience.

But does DEAR (drop everything and read) or ERIC (everyone reads in class) deserve precious curriculum time?

We know that the better you become at reading, the more you enjoy it. But it may just be that better readers choose to read more. And so, simply reading for 30 minutes more in the school day may not bring the returns for our students that we desire.

US researchers Garan and DeVoogd present useful insights into how silent reading may be enacted differently in the classroom, with different effects. They describe pure silent reading - with student choice and an absence of teacher assessment - as being at one end of a continuum. At the other is teachers reading along with students, modelling and guiding reading choices. To avoid “fake reading” (students simply staring at the page), we can ask targeted questions at the end of the spell of silent reading.

A recent guidance report from the Education Endowment Foundation titled Improving Literacy in Secondary Schools presented some useful questions to consider:

  • Does silent reading change students’ attitudes to literacy or improve outcomes?
  • How transferable are reading skills? For example, is reading fiction likely to help students understand texts in science?
  • What contribution can non-English teachers make to students’ literacy?

But, ultimately, as with many practices and strategies we deploy daily in schools, there isn’t a lot of robust research to support sustained silent reading. We have to dig a little deeper to tease out insights from the evidence and then exercise our professional judgement.

The research evidence is certainly clear that reading more is a good thing. Silent reading may also have other positive outcomes, such as providing a structured start to the school day, but overall evaluations of silent reading programmes have shown inconsistent effects on pupil outcomes and motivation.

Some researchers have found that reading fiction has benefits for all aspects of the curriculum. However, international data on the reading of English pupils suggests that we need to attend to the gap between our pupils’ success in reading fiction over informational texts (Progress in International Reading Literacy Study, 2016).

And so silent reading, like other instructional methods, needs careful thought and management. Consider whether you will go for pure free reading or read along and model literacy. Some teachers implement it by monitoring the number and type of books students read; they may also administer assessments, keep reading checklists, and ask questions or encourage student discussion about books.

Alex Quigley is national content manager for the Education Endowment Foundation, a former teacher and the author of Closing the Vocabulary Gap

This article originally appeared in the 13 September 2019 issue under the headline “Shhh...it’s time to audit silent reading”

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