There has been much debate over whether or not school teachers should let children choose their own books to read or not. Those who are against allowing children to choose say that children are likely to pick books that aren’t challenging enough, which will lead to lower comprehension and various other reading skills. On the other hand, those who are for allowing children to choose argue that it is beneficial because it gets the children more involved in what they are reading, and they will likely read more often during their free time. In my own opinion, I think the best strategy would be to do a little of both.
When I think back to middle school and high school, I remember being so frustrated with reading because I felt like I was being forced to read books that I had no interest in reading. This frustration eventually led to me holding a negative outlook towards reading, and I stopped reading for fun during my free time, because reading wasn’t fun for me anymore. When I think back to elementary school, however, I had a little more freedom to choose what I wanted to read, and I enjoyed reading for fun. Not to mention, I had very involved parents who got me excited about reading at a younger age, and would actively read with me each night. Unfortunately, not all children are as lucky as I was, and for many children, what they experience in school is the sole predictor of their outlook on reading later in life.
Looking at one article published by Syracuse Media Group (found here), it is clear that choice-based reading definitely has some benefits for children. For example, one man named Kyle Good reported that he noticed in his own study and personal experience that, “when you let kids choose the books they want to read, they’ll be voracious readers.” To support his argument, he relied on a study released by Scholastic Corp., a publisher of children’s books, which suggested that “middle and high school students who have time to read books of their own choosing during the school day are also more likely to read frequently for pleasure.” The study actually found that 78% of students who read frequently for fun, meaning at least five days a week, reported that they had time to read a book of their choice during the school day. This clearly shows that there is some correlation between free reading time during the school day and for pleasure reading outside of school. However, “only 26 percent of kids ages 12 and 14 and only 14 percent between ages 15 and 17 said they read for fun at least five days a week.”
So why is this? Just like me, we see this love for reading outside of school decline around middle school. There could be two plausible reasons for this (1) children at this age become more involved in extra-curricular activities and have less time for reading outside of school, and (2) they are turned away from reading due to the lack of freedom in choosing books at school. Even though both probably play a role in this decline of for-pleasure reading outside of school, I would have to argue that, based on my personal experiences, it is more likely due to a lack of freedom in school than lack of time. When I was in middle school and high school, I participated in sports and academic clubs year-round, and although it did reduce my available free time, I still had a lot of time open to read if I wanted to. However, I had become so fed up with reading at this point, that I didn’t see it as enjoyable or worth my spare time. Looking back, if I was able to read more for fun during the school day, it is possible that my love for reading would have remained and I would have read more during my free time.
Therefore, I think it is important that teachers and administrators start making it a priority to allow more free-reading time during school. However, I also think it is important to assign some readings that we wouldn’t likely choose, such as some of the classics, because they are important to our academic curriculum. In all, though, the best way to learn from what you read is to get involved in what you read and read more often, which are two areas that will likely improve if a child feels that he or she has more freedom in what he or she reads. If we enable more choice-based reading in school, we can likely instill a love for reading not only in the classroom, but outside the classroom as well.