Self-Selected Reading as a Predictor of Reading Improvement (TLA Conference Program)

By Dr. Richard Allington, with Dorcas Hand

Research supports self-selected reading as a predictor of reading improvement. We school librarians know this, but our administrators don’t believe it. Dr. Richard Allington’s two programs at TLA Annual 2015 Conference offer us the data we need to take to our principals and district leadership. I have largely reformatted one presentation to fit into this blog post; both power points will be posted to the conference handouts. Check out his website for additional support: 

Education Week (August 15, 2007) offered this article: “Reading Curricula Don’t Make Cut for Federal Review”: “A long-awaited review by the federal What Works Clearinghouse found few comprehensive or supplemental programs that have evidence of effectiveness in raising student achievement… None of the most popular commercial core reading programs on the market had sufficiently rigorous studies to be included in the review by the clearinghouse.” That’s a powerful opening.

Allington went on to say

  • Reading volume is critical to reading success.
  • Free voluntary reading (FVR) activity [is the] best predictor.
  • Few schools have active programs fostering FVR.
  • Some classroom teachers foster FVR, but only some.

A study of adult readers shows that they do an average of 4.5 hours of daily reading, more on weekdays, more on prose than work documents, and mostly self-selected rather than assigned. Contrast this with teens who spend large blocks of time in school sitting and listening, completing low-level, literal recall tasks after reading pieces of short texts; they rarely design, create, compose or READ anything. Teens report reading less than any other age group, and less reading than they have reported historically.

Why is there so little reading in and for school? There is little use of school libraries; there is no time in the school day set aside for FVR; few teachers read aloud to students after 2nd grade; fewer teachers encourage reading every day. [Dorcas’ side analysis looks to the emphasis on test taking skills as THE biggest reason students are not encouraged to read for pleasure.] Steven Wolk wrote in 2010, “The status quo will only continue to teach kids to hate reading… When seen cumulatively, the reading students do in school appears designed to make reading painful, tedious, and irrelevant." (p. 10) And “readicide”, the systematic killing of the love of reading, often exacerbated by the inane, mind-numbing practices found in schools, is growing. (Gallagher, 2009, p. 2) 

An NEA survey indicates that high school kids read roughly 30 minutes each day, in and out of school; elementary kids read a little more, approximately 30 minutes during school - not very much time to develop strong reading skills. Add this to the fact that self-selection of reading material is powerfully related to the development of reading proficiencies; access and choice foster reading motivation. A one-size-fits-all curriculum may be the single greatest deterrent to developing reading proficiency. But such curriculum are easier to create and deliver, so that is what most schools provide.

Stephen Krashen summarized in 2011 the research demonstrating that students who read more have better vocabularies, read faster, write better, have greater grammatical competence and know more about science and social studies topics. The number of titles available to students was a significant predictor of reading comprehension improvement.

Allington’s talks were perfectly timed as we head to summer. How many books does your school expect kids to read over the summer months? By grade 6 reading at least 6 books during the summer stemmed summer reading loss. In grades 1 thru 3 kids need to read 15 or more books each summer. [Dorcas: every chance we have to offer students chances to self-select free reading is a step in the right direction.] How many teachers have expertise with books to recommend titles to kids? [Some, but how many librarians? LOTS!]

Talk to your teachers, principals and parents about the direct link between summer reading and maintaining reading fluency. 80% of the 3-year wide rich/poor reading achievement gap at 9th grade accumulates during the summer months, when school is out. White & Kim (2011) note that 4th grade students who read 5-8 books over the summer gained 80 lexiles while students who read 1 book or no books lost 50 lexiles. Allington & McGill-Franzen (2010) found that simply supplying self-selected books for summer reading produce growth equivalent to attending summer school. Dorcas: It’s not rocket science. If we can keep students reading, they will improve academic achievement.

Works Cited:

Allington, R. L., McGill-Franzen, A. M., Camilli, G., Williams, L., Graff, J., Zeig, J., et al. (2010). Addressing summer reading setback among economically disadvantaged elementary students. Reading Psychology, 31(5), 411-427.

Applebee, A. N., Langer, J. A., Nystrand, M., & Gamoran, A. (2003). Discussion-based approaches to developing understanding: Classroom instruction and student performance in middle and high school English. American Educational Research Journal, 40(3), 685-730.

Fisher, D. (2004). Setting the 'opportunity to read' standard: Resuscitating the SSR program in one urban high school. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, 48(2), 138-151.

Gallagher, K. (2009). Readicide: How schools are killing reading and what you can do about it. Portland, ME: Stenhouse.

Ivey, G. (2011). What not to read: A book intervention. Voices from the Middle,19(2), 22-26.

Krashen, S. (2011). Free voluntary reading. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.

Lang, L., Torgeson, J., et al. (2009). Exploring the relative effectiveness of reading interventions for high school students. Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness, 2(2), 149-175.

McQuillan, J., & Au, J. (2001). The effect of print access on reading frequency. Reading Psychology, 22(3), 225-248.

Miller, D. (2009). The book whisperer: Awakening the inner reader in every child. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.

National Endowment for the Arts (2007). To read or not to read. Available at:

Nystrand, M. (2006). Research on the role of classroom discourse as it effects reading comprehension. Research in the Teaching of English, 40, 392-412.

Nystrand, M., & Gamoran, A. (1991). Instructional discourse, student engagement, and literature achievement. Research in the Teaching of English, 25, 261-290.

White, T. G., & Kim, J. S. (2010). Can silent reading in the summer reduce socioeconomic differences in reading achievement? In E. H. Hiebert & D. R. Reutzel (Eds.), Revisiting silent reading: New directions for teachers and researchers. (pp. 67-91). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

Wolk, S. (2010). What should students read? Phi Delta Kappan, 91(7), 9-16.

Worthy, J., Moorman, M., & Turner, M. (1999). What Johnny likes to read is hard to find in school. Reading Research Quarterly, 34(1), 12-27.















1 comment:

  1. - Thanks, Jo Reed, for sending this related article out today.