“Read on. Right on.”

It seemed apropos to borrow the title for this entry from my five-year-old son’s Pete the Cat T-shirt. “Read on. Right on.” This simple sentiment wonderfully expresses the power and benefit of reading.

Before the end of school, I asked students and parents to complete a survey on their experiences with Independent Reading.  The questions were simple and there were no length requirements on answers:

  1. Describe your/your child’s reading habits PRIOR TO this year.
  2. Describe your/your child’s reading habits THIS YEAR.
  3. Have you noticed a change in your/your child as a reader and a student this year? Please explain.
  4. Have you been reading/seen your child reading this year? In what capacity? Explain.
  5. Have you witnessed or engaged in conversations about books outside of the classroom? Please explain.

I was trying to get a gauge for how students and parents perceived the reading program we were trying, and I honestly didn’t know what people would say.  I was inspired and impressed by the brutally honest and overwhelmingly positive comments from both students and parents, and you can view the full document here if you choose.  Here are a few excerpts that are representative of  the majority of student answers to questions 1,2, &3:

Sophia – 9 honors:

I NEVER read!! In fact it took me about 2 years to read the hobbit. I just never felt interested in reading. I read so much more. I like to read because I found books I am interested in. Also, not only did the independent reading requirement help, but also I was inspired by my friend who busted out her independent reading book at a sleepover. I have noticed a change in my reading. I enjoy it a lot more than I used to.

Catherine – 9th grade honors:

I barely read, getting through maybe one or two books the entire school year, not including required books for school. I liked reading, but never made the time for it. Now, I read almost daily, and since we have started independently reading I get through one or two books a month. I really like having time in class because it makes the reading more constant and I never fall out of habitual reading. I have noticed a change. I read a lot faster and am able to get deeper meanings more easily and quicker. I would almost consider myself a “reader” now.

Kayla – 11 ACP:

I didn’t like reading and I only read if I was forced to. My reading habits have improved. I actually enjoy sitting down and reading now. I have actually began liking to read. Before I felt like it was a waste of time but now that I read a little each day I find myself wanting to read more at home.

Richie – 11 ACP:

Prior to this year, I never tried to find the time to read. I use to like reading, but by the summer it felt like another chore and I couldn’t find the time to read. I would read good books but I wouldn’t openly go to the library and search for new titles. After our independent reading books, I love finding the time to read. It’s something I actually look forward to whenever I have a little time. I look forward to going to work so I can read and if I finish my homework early I could read a chapter or two before I fall asleep. As a reader, I find myself more interested in books. I want to know about books before I’m finished with the one I’m on as it helps cushion the feeling after a good book. It makes me more motivated to finish my book or finish my homework so I could read.

Chris – 11 ACP:

Prior to this year I did not enjoy reading because I did not read anything outside the class book. I did not think of reading anything other than what we were reading in class before. I have started to read a lot more outside of the class. If I am on a long car ride I will read instead of playing on my phone. I have started to be able to read for longer amounts of time without needing a break. Before I could only read for short amounts of time before I needed to move around.

And one of my absolute favorite responses, from Mel, a fourteen-year-old honors student, who nails it:

“Books are the key to the truth, and I have found that most of my decisions are smarter due to lessons I have learned from every book I’ve read this year.”  

Wow.  Mind blown.

Melanie – 9 honors:

Previously, I had little time to read while juggling homework and such. Of course, I still loved to read, but it was put aside as something to do when my electronics ran out of battery, a sad truth. Most of the time if I did read I would only read half of the book, lose interest, and move on to other things. For the most part I never had many serious books that I enjoyed, and most were just memories of great books I read in elementary school. This year, I was almost forced to read, which turned out to be more positive than ever. After months of never finding time for reading, I was able to have an excuse to pick up a book and read; I have tried harder to use my phone less and have in turn found that books provide much more depth than the typical fan fictions on Wattpad. Truly, I am able to explore many more genres with the addition of a mini library in my English class. Books are the key to the truth, and I have found that most of my decisions are smarter due to the lessons I have learned from every book I’ve read this year. Reading relieves a lot of my stress and anxiety about school, and gives me a place to belong for even a temporary time. Although there is no direct influence on my grades, I feel as though I have more to contribute due to what I have learned from these novels. Hopefully I will use these ideas to my advantage as I move on throughout high school.

Overall, students responded that they read faster, and that they increased their vocabulary, ability to focus and reading stamina.  Most importantly, however, they found joy in reading again. Here are some responses to questions 4 and 5:

“I love to read now.”

“Definitely do this next year.”

“I like to lose myself in a story.”

“Please make sure never to end Independent Reading. Allow all of your other classes to partake in this joy.”

 They also wrote about the moment they noticed a change in behavior – when reading became a conscious decision:

“It honestly scared me that I picked up my book instead of my phone.  That’s when you know.”

“During lunch, my friends and I sometimes tell each other what books we are currently reading, and if they have any good recommendations.”

Students are talking with each other about books in the lunchroom, home room, at home, and even at church.  And, I’m going to assert – although I have no scientific proof to back this statement – that reading is contagious as one student writes, “My mom has started to read more as a result of me reading more.”  Well, that’s just awesome.

The parent responses were equally positive.  Parents witnessed their children reading at home, exploring new genres, engaging in conversations about books, and having increased confidence in their reading abilities:

“This program definitely increased the amount of reading that Kaitlyn had done during the school year.”

“If Julia loves a book she is reading, we hear EVERY detail about her favorite part.”

“Emma’s stamina has definitely increased. I also feel she has become a more intuitive reader and is better able to find deeper meaning and inferential details.”

“Thank you for making my daughter a reader!” 

I have read six books so far this summer, but viewing the responses to these questions has been one of my favorite summer reads yet.  Next year, a whole new crop of students will become part of the Reading (R)evolution and experience the benefits and joy of Independent Reading.

Pete, I couldn’t have said it any better. “Read on. Right on.”

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