I Say Let Them Read

This post is actually a comment I left on Annie Murphy Paul’s blog, on her post titled “Teens Are Choosing Books That Are Too Easy For Them”.

Where I agree with the concerns of this report is that secondary students do need more guided instruction. By guided, I mean the teacher conferring with readers on a regular basis, asking them questions about the text and giving support in the form of strategy instruction. And I am not against reading the classics and being challenged as a reader from time to time. But the job of the teacher is to scaffold the students’ experiences with the text so they are successful, with strategies such as questioning and graphic organizers. It shouldn’t be left to the parents.

That said, this report fails to cite any research that would give any validity to these concerns. What research says about reading text that is “easy” for students is very clear:

– The most effective teachers provide text for students they could easily read (Allington and Johnston, 2002; Keene, 2002; Langer, 2001)
– High levels of reading accuracy produce the best reading growth (Ehri et al, 2007)
– Reading comprehension predicts reading volume and reading comprehension performance (Guthrie et al, 1999)

You can read more about this research in the excellent resource What Really Matters in Response to Intervention by Richard Allington. I also recommend his article Intervention All Day Long, found at http://goo.gl/lTWuH. In the article, Dr. Allington actually goes into a secondary school and concretely shows the fallacy of matching readers with text that is too difficult.

Where some seem to see a problem in students not selecting challenging texts, I see this issue as a success story. Students are reading! Who here reads books because they are challenging? I don’t. I choose to read text that is interesting, engaging, and meaningful to me as a reader and a person. Sounds like this is what these students are doing. For the most part, I say leave them alone and let them read.

Author: Matt Renwick

Matt Renwick is an 18-year public educator who began as a 5th and 6th-grade teacher in Rudolph, WI. He now serves as an elementary principal for the Mineral Point Unified School District (http://mineralpointschools.org/). Matt also teaches online graduate courses in curriculum design and instructional leadership for the University of Wisconsin-Superior. He tweets @ReadByExample and writes for ASCD (www.ascd.org) and Lead Literacy (www.leadliteracy.com).

4 thoughts on “I Say Let Them Read”

  1. Your post is “spot on” in that the main point is for students TO READ. Saying, “No, you can’t read that because it’s too easy” means that an external person is going to determine what text is read. Really?
    That would not work for me. I love my professional books but some days I just have to read something “for fun and for me.” That’s okay! I don’t have to be challenged every day!

    Absolutely, leave them alone and let them read.


    1. Thank you for the feedback Fran. I also read professional resources that are challenging, but I am interested and engaged in them. But I can always read them fluently. The concept of “challenging” used in this report is the idea of giving students challenging text to decode. Why would we do that to kids without appropriate scaffolding, by reading it aloud or as a shared reading? I view challenging text as something that encourages me to think deeply about the ideas being proposed and possibly change my thinking. Classics and complex texts can do this, but what is the point if they don’t have the skills to read these texts fluently in the first place? Like you said, we build their engagement, fluency and comprehension by allowing them to read what they want.


  2. Reading at an independent level is different than reading at an instructional level. When students read at their independent levels, they are able to have book talks, analyse characters, and evaluate authors’ choices. At the independent level, student can independently practice skills you’ve taught in small group and individual instruction.

    Yes, we need to challenge students to read texts at their instructional levels. In doing that, we front-load vocabulary, tell students what to watch for with regards to characters and text organisation. Teaching at the instructional level is NOT about throwing students that classics and forcing them to trudge through. The trick is to pick instructional books that are slightly above students’ independent reading levels – not frustrating students with texts they cannot grasp.


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