Independent Reading: Whose Choice is It?

Happy Teacher Appreciation Week!

Frame:  Pink Cat Studio; Font: Kimberly Geswein  (KG) Fonts

Independent reading. D.E.A.R.  Read to self. S.S.R.  No matter what you label it, there is no arguing that giving students quality time to read is not only important, but is critical to reading development and to fostering an authentic love of learning in our students. This summer I read Donalyn Miller's wildly popular The Book Whisperer and have blogged about it numerous times. Two major points from her book that resonated with me are~

  •  Miller cites researcher Stephen Krashen who identified fifty-one studies that “…prove that students in free-reading programs perform better than or equal to students in any other type of reading program” (p .3).

  •  An effective literacy program focuses on engaging students, not writing “pretty” novel units. Students’ goal: read for pleasure, not to complete endless activities.  Let me (Lauren) clarify:  this does not mean that students never respond to their reading, complete vocabulary tasks, or are not held accountable for their reading, comprehension, and learning.  However, students are not bombarded with endless activities that diminish the pleasure one gets from reading.

For years, I have not only promoted and allowed for a large chunk  of uninterrupted reading time in my classroom, but have also been a strong advocate of reading at home as well.  Whether students are reading in class or at home, the number one motivator is student choice.  Allow students to choose books that interest them and there is a very, very strong likelihood that they will actually complete the reading.  I do not hover over my students micromanaging their book choices, much as Miller stated in her book. Whether I am teaching a reading/language arts class or instructing an intervention group, they know that they are expected to read at home.  They also know that I trust them to make good decisions. Of course, this is after modeling and supporting them with how to choose an appropriate text that interests them and is a "good fit".  And I am talking about kids from ages four to eighteen.

With elementary students (and the preschool enrichment students I have worked with), I guide their choices, keeping in mind their reading level and interests, but I always, always allow them to choose a book that they want to read, even if it appears to be too easy or too difficult.  If they are reading at a Guided Reading level of  "F" and they want to take home a chapter book, I allow them to do so. If they are begging me to allow them to reread an easy picture book, I allow them.  But why?
  • Because I feel that motivation to read/learn is paramount.  Students may choose a chapter book even though it is beyond their instructional or easy level because they feel proud to have a chapter book and view themselves as a reader. Maybe they want to be accepted by their peers and fit in with their classmates who are already reading these more challenging books. If students do not view themselves as a reader and are not motivated to read, they will not choose a chapter book, something that is much longer and intimidating than a book that is on their easy level. My first goal with any student is for them to view themselves as a reader, no matter what their reading level and to be interested in selecting books to take home to read.
  • Because they must see reading as enjoyable if they select a book and beg me to allow them to take it home or read in class. There is no way that I will squelch that enthusiasm.
  • Because I know that by rereading books, reading books that are too easy, and choosing to read books that interest them, students are building fluency and may for the first time actually find reading to be pleasurable.
Parents sometimes are concerned that the books their child is reading is too easy.  My response:  "But they are reading, enjoying it, and are identifying themselves as a reader.  Isn't this what it is all about?"  Miller concurs when she states:  

"They [students] must choose and read many books for themselves in order to catch the reading bug". (p.77)

 Now, this does not mean that I allow students to choose easy books or reread books all year long.  Not at all. Once the student is "hooked", I can then nudge them toward books that are on their reading level and provide more of a challenge.  But if I don't have their buy-in, if they don't sincerely develop an interest in reading, then I can dictate their reading choices all I want or limit them to books at their exact level, and they may or may not read and they most likely will not enjoy the experience. Usually, we will compromise.  They will select a book they want to read and I will urge them or require them to take home a book that I want them to read (because it is on their easy level, allows them to practice/apply a skill or strategy we have been learning in class, etc.).

To communicate with parents and to avoid confusion, I place little notes inside the front cover of the books the students take home.  This allows the parents to know if the book is too hard and they need to read it aloud to their child, if they may need just a little help, or if they can read the book independently.

The notes I use look like this~

Frame:Pink Cat Studio; Font: Kimberly Geswein  (KG) Fonts; Graphics:  Scrappin' Doodles

As students are selecting books to take home, I simply place one of the notes inside the front cover as in the above picture.  Eventually, even the little ones can do this independently.

Click here to download a copy of the notes from Google Drive.  You can print them on card stock and laminate for durability.  They should also print out nicely in black and white or gray scale.

How do you manage take-home or independent reading?  I'd love to hear your tips and tricks!


  1. I love letting students pick out any books they want. I used to get upset that the librarian at my son's school would let him bring home Batman chapter books in Kindergarten, but we really enjoyed reading them together. We had plenty "kindergarten" books here at school, so he didn't want those.

    Now he loves to read books and can choose for himself and has books ready to read all over the place.

    Reading Toward the Stars

  2. We can never underestimate the power of choice! I send home the guided reading books from our lesson to be reread at home. However, the book is super short. Students choose an additional book or two to read in order to complete their 15-20 minutes of at home reading. As we learn to select 'good fit' books at school, student choices improve.