Given book choice, kids improve reading skills

Photo: Gamutstockimagespvtltd |

Photo: Gamutstockimagespvtltd |

If you want your children to read during their summer holidays, let them pick out books they’re interested in rather than giving them books that you or their teachers have selected. Okay, you knew that already. But now there is research to prove you right!

Reading is an important life skill that benefits people in many ways, including their health, according to Erin Kelly, the study’s lead author from the University of Rochester in New York. She and her colleagues were interested in countering the “summer slide”, wherein children’s reading scores drop after the long summer holiday. “This is more than a problem for the school system that kids aren’t doing well. It’s a problem for all of us,” she said.

As reported by Reuters, in one experiment a group of class 2 students were allowed to pick 13 books at start of the holidays, while another group were sent a few books at a time, that they had not chosen, during the holidays. By the time they returned to school after the holidays, those children who were allowed to choose had improved their reading scores. Children who were assigned books that they had not chosen showed no change in their scores.

The experimental program was expanded the next year to include a larger group of children from Kindergarten to class 2. This time they were allowed to select 15 books. For comparison, another group of students were also allowed to choose books (the researchers wanted to let them also choose because the benefits seemed so clear), but not as many. The researchers observed an improvement in the reading scores of both the groups, with a 75% majority of the students maintaining or improving their reading levels over the break. The research is especially meaningful for low-income students, who usually show a decline in their reading scores after the holidays.

A few schools have started adopting free choice, said Sheridan Blau, a education specialist at Columbia University’s respected Teachers College, which trains teachers. Blau was not involved with the research. “Of course free choice is going to be better,” Blau said. That doesn’t mean that teachers should not assign reading a classroom setting, since there is value in working through challenging text with students.

So it looks like the key to getting children to keep improve reading skills during long holidays could be as simple as letting them pick out the age-appropriate literature they’re interested in and thereby most likely to read.

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