In Defense of Easy Reading
I was once asked to judge a public speaking contest (remember those?) in which a middle grade student spoke about the author R.L. Stine. “Goosebumps was the first book I ever read all the way through,” he said. It occurred to me that R.L. Stine had achieved what six years of reading instruction hadn’t: to make this student see himself as a reader.
Most of our struggling students have already experienced several years of reading failure by the time they reach our doors. They lack both competence and confidence in themselves as readers – and often their coping strategy is to simply avoid reading altogether.
With all the current emphasis on complex texts, I fear that too many students are missing out on the gratification of accessible recreational reading. Certainly we want to stretch our students as readers for instructional purposes but even the Common Core State Standards document says… “Students need opportunities to… experience the satisfaction and pleasure of easy, fluent reading” (CCSS, Appendix A, p. 9).
Literacy expert Richard Allington reminds us that if we want our students to become independent, proficient readers, they must have plenty of opportunities for “high success reading.” Allington and his colleagues spent over a decade studying the qualities of exemplary teachers. Here is one of the most important things those teachers figured out: The students who received a steady diet of “easy” reading – texts that they could read accurately, fluently and with good comprehension – made the strongest gains in reading proficiency.
Not only did their proficiency improve, so did their motivation. Dramatically. When people enjoy reading and feel good at it, they read more. And when they read more, they get even better at it. In fact, research suggests that a steady dose of grade-level text for below grade level readers not only fails to help them grow, it can even set them back.
So let’s make sure to balance out those challenging texts for instruction with a whole lot of accessible reading for independence practice. If we can find time every day to provide our students with materials they can read and are interested in reading, it will pay off in both engagement and achievement.
High Interest Publishing (HIP) novels offer easy, but exciting and age-appropriate reading for students at all levels of reading proficiency.