Saturday, 22 August 2015

The Power of Reading

Stephen Krashen's book The Power of Reading: Insights from the Research is one of those books that has ended up with scribbles crawling all over its pages and sections that have been so heavily underlined that they leave a little dent on the next couple of pages. I often find myself reading it while nodding furiously and/or mumbling agreement. In other words, this is a book I very strongly agree with.

Simply put, Krashen makes the case for Free Voluntary Reading (FVR) and how this is the key to language education. Allowing children the freedom to choose what they want to read and allowing them the space to simply enjoy the act (i.e. no book reviews, no questions, no stress) is the best way to grow intrinsically motivated readers. Being a reader, as the research shows, brings with it a whole host of benefits such as improved reading comprehension, spelling, control of grammar and writing style. Krashen writes,
"FVR is one of the most powerful tools we have in language education, and... is the missing ingredient in first language "language arts" as well as intermediate second and foreign language instruction. It will not, by itself, produce the highest levels of competence; rather, it provides a foundation so that higher levels of proficiency may be reached. When FVR is missing, these advanced levels are extremely difficult to attain."
It saddens me how often I hear "I don't read, I never have" or "I don't have time to read" because the benefits are so vast. I feel desperate to try and change these statements because the world of reading is so wonderful and the benefits so far reaching. But it goes further; not only is it good for us,it is pleasurable, it is how we make sense of the world around us, how we survive and ultimately it is our attraction to stories that makes us fully human.

Krashen goes as far as to say that reading is the only way that we become "good readers, develop a good writing style, an adequate vocabulary, advanced grammatical competence, and the only way we become good spellers." In an educational context then, reading for pleasure, that all-consuming moment of being fully drenched by a story, should be elevated not to a convenient add-on "when there is time", but to its central place at the heart of the curriculum.


  1. I agree that freedom to read is critical to creating a life-long reader, so I'd like to hear your thoughts on the types of exercises that teachers have given my children that are designed to increase comprehension and critical thinking. My kids resent these exercises -- going back after the reading is done to write down perfunctory questions/observations -- but they seem unavoidable.

    1. Those comprehension questions are so much part of our school experiences of books and also so much part of what puts so many children "off" books and reading. Having said that, some form of post-reading reflection or questioning is necessary, but when it's overdone, it does sap all the fun out of reading. Reading becomes work and not pleasure.

      For me that seems rather sad, because depending on home context and circumstances, the child will internalise that message and not want to read. At least for those fortunate enough to have a print-rich environment where there are others who love reading, there will be other pathways into the world of reading.

  2. I'm trying to remember back to when I was a kid...who/what started me down the path of reading? I honestly don't remember much except that I know my nose was always buried in a book. I find these posts (and I went back through some that your 'you might also like' recommended on the same topic) quite fascinating and yet they make me sad. I don't have children so am fairly ignorant regarding trends in getting kids to read...but I know what I see. Noses buried in electronics rather than books. Seeing there are actually 'programs' to get kids to read? I wonder -- have times changed that much or was my upbringing, one that was surrounded by books, different than others even back in those days?

    I do have 2 nephews and every holiday they get books from myself and my parents...and the love of reading is strong with my brother and that is being transitioned down to the kids. However, the second parent relies heavily on phones and ipads with movies and games to 'distract' the kids...I'm interested to see which wins in the long run.

    1. Hi Rachel
      I have a very similar experience to yours - books were always just "there". It just felt natural to immerse myself in them when I could. I do believe though, that things have changed - there are more distractions now and stories have so many shapes and forms (for example, so many people think that instead of reading the book that we're studying, they'll just watch the movie because it's "the same").

      I don't know what the answer is to how to get children to read (they're all individuals too, which means there's no "one size fits all" solution), but it's a question I continue to grapple with. One thing is certain though, that reading has to be fun, otherwise the incentive to do it isn't there.



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