The Effects of Independent Reading on Reading Achievement

Research clearly shows that the reading of meaningful, connected text results in improved reading achievement (Anderson, Wilson, & Fielding, 1988; Anderson, Hiebert, Scott, & Wilkerson, 1985; Elley & Mangubhai, 1983; Ingham, 1981; Taylor, Frye, & Maruyama, 1990).

In one of the most extensive studies of independent reading yet conducted, Anderson, Wilson, and Fielding (1988) investigated a broad array of activities and their relationship to reading achievement and growth in reading. They found that the amount of time students spent in independent reading was the best predictor of reading achievement and also the best predictor of the amount of gain in reading achievement made by students between second and fifth grade.

Among the many benefits of independent reading are the following:

Builds Fluency

Independent reading builds fluency. There is substantial evidence that unless students can accurately and effortlessly deal with the word-identification demands of reading, difficulties will result in comprehension and overall reading achievement (LaBerge & Samuels, 1974). There is also evidence that unless children read substantial amounts of print, their reading will remain laborious and limited in effectiveness (Allington, 1984; Stanovich, 1991). Finally, evidence exists which shows that when students do read substantial amounts of text, their reading performance improves (Bridge, Winograd, & Haley, 1983; Dowhower, 1987; Herman, 1985).

Increases Vocabulary

Independent reading leads to increased vocabulary development. One of the best-established relationships in the field of reading is the very significant relationship between vocabulary development and achievement in reading (Baumann & Kameenui, 1991; Nagy, 1988). There is also evidence that shows that independent reading is probably the major source of vocabulary acquisition beyond the beginning stages of learning to read (Nagy, Anderson, & Herman, 1987; Nagy, Herman, & Anderson, 1985). This same research shows that while the probability of acquiring the meaning of any specific word simply through reading it in the context in which it appears in independent reading materials is not high, students who read widely can learn the meanings of thousands of new words each year.

Builds Background

Independent reading builds background knowledge, or schema. Another extremely well-established research finding is that students' reading ability is dramatically influenced by the amount of interrelated information (schema) they have about the topic about which they are reading (Anderson & Pearson, 1984; Ausubel & Robinson, 1969; Bartlett, 1932). By reading widely, students are exposed to diverse topics and information which they can then use in future reading.
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