Research suggests that independent reading is crucial in the areas of language acquisition, reading comprehension, and the development of lifelong reading habits (Gallagher 2009). Unfortunately, many schools are reducing the amount of independent reading required of students in favor of more test preparation. The English department at Byram Hills High School seeks to find a balance between the two. Properly administered, we believe that independent reading can be the cornerstone of a student's development in the language arts classroom.
Since the beginning of the 2010-2011 academic year, students entering Byram Hills High School have been required to read one independent reading selection per quarter. Unlike traditional "outside" reading programs, students have class time dedicated to reading, book conferences, and peer recommendations. Including the summer reading requirement, students will read a minimum of five independent reading titles each acacemic year. Of course, students are always welcome to read more than one book per quarter.
To create a successful independent reading initiative, students must have the freedom to choose books in which they have a high level of interest while exploring a variety of authors and reading material. In order to align with the Common Core Standards Initiative, we are asking students to consider books from the following genres:
Poetry (includes narrative poems, lyrical poems, free verse poems, sonnets, odes, ballads, and epics)
- Stories (includes adventure stories, historical fiction, mysteries, myths, science fiction, realistic fiction, allegories, parodies, satire, and graphic novels)
- Dramas (includes one act and multi-act plays
Our Independent Reading Initiative relies heavily upon a community of readers. Teachers and librarians have compiled a list of titles that have been popular with students over the past few years. Rather than being a static list, the plan is to add and remove titles based on the recommendations of our current student population. We also see parents as an integral part of the book selection process. We invite parents to share in the reading experiences of their sons and daughters and ask that they sign a book selection form for each title. We envision this as a way to include parents in the selection process and to seek their assistance in determining whether a book is an appropriate choice for their child.
The Byram Hills English department believes in the value of independent reading. Teachers are committed to helping students discover the value of reading. We also know how important peer recommendations will be in fostering a culture of reading. At the conclusion of each book, students will be required to reflect on the reading they have done through a variety of projects designed to help them share their reading experience with their classmates. It is our hope that these projects will ultimately become a vehicle for book selection and a representation of an independent reading culture here at Byram Hills.
With so many demands on our students' time, we see recreational reading as an indispensable educational component. If we are to help students create lifelong reading habits, we need to provide access to high-interest reading material and adequate time for students to engage in reading. Allowing students to choose their reading material is critical, but we will not be successful without the support of the community. Together, we hope to inspire a culture that values reading.
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