Monitoring Reading Practice

The ability to read fluently with comprehension is increasingly necessary as requirements and possibilities for information processing -- whether on paper or electronically -- expand exponentially. However, national standards for reading achievement are not rising to keep up with these greater demands.

Debate continues over the most effective (and most cost-effective) ways to teach reading in school (see, e.g., Adams, 1990; Pflaum, Walberg, Karegianes, & Rasher, 1980; Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998). In the midst of this, the simple issue of time on task is often overlooked (Berliner, 1979; Brophy, 1988; Karweit, 1985). Studies conducted in the United States in the 1980s found that from second to fifth grade, silent reading in school occupied only 8 to 15 minutes per day (Greenwood, Delquadri, & Hall, 1981; Kurth & Kurth, 1987; Ysseldyke & Algozzine, 1982), and that this was similar to the amount of time children spent reading at home (Anderson, Wilson, & Fielding, 1988).

photo of the head and shoulders of a small child, reading intently from a book open on a deskSeveral studies have found high positive correlation between reading practice (at school or at home) and reading achievement (see, e.g., Alexander, Entwisle, & Dauber, 1993; Allington, 1984; Anderson, Wilson, & Fielding, 1988; Biemiller, 1978; Bureau of School Program Evaluations, 1976; Cunningham & Stanovich, 1991; Elley, 1992; Greaney, 1980; Heyns, 1978; Rowe, 1991; Stanovich, 1986; Stanovich & West, 1989). Researchers such as Leinhardt (1985), Taylor, Frye, and Maruyama (1990), Cipielewski and Stanovich (1992), Shany and Biemiller (1995), and Morrow (1996) demonstrated that practice has a positive effect on reading ability, just as reading ability has an effect on practice levels.

Recent studies continue to emphasize that the amount of reading practice engaged in by students is a critical variable in determining their achievement (Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998; Topping & Paul, 1999). The U.S. National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) “1998 Reading Report Card for the Nation and States” found that in 4th, 8th, and 12th grades, students who earned higher test scores read more in school and at home than did their lower achieving peers (Donahue, Voelkl, Campbell, & Mazzeo, 1999). It is encouraging to note that, on average, students in grades 8 and 12 reported reading more than did their counterparts in previous years' assessments (data on this question were not collected for grade 4). In these two grades, students whose understanding of what they read was checked frequently by the teacher had higher reading test scores, and this type of teacher activity also showed an increase over previous years.

This last finding suggests that simply increasing time devoted to reading practice might not be sufficient to raise achievement. Indeed, a literature review on the practice of allocating classroom time for Sustained Silent Reading (SSR) revealed mixed results, with six studies noting a positive effect on reading scores and five noting no effect (Manning-Dowd, 1985).

“Reading practice” is not a homogeneous, unitary activity; the quality and effectiveness of that practice also require consideration. Arguably, students need to practice silent reading at a level that exposes them to the challenge of new vocabulary and concepts -- within their zone of proximal development (Dixonkrauss, 1995; Paul, 1995; Tharp & Gallimore, 1991; Vygotsky, 1962, 1978), but not below or beyond it. Furthermore, achievement gains also result when scaffolding is provided by reading to students (Elley, 1989; Meyer, Wardrop, Stahl, & Linn, 1994; Robbins & Ehri, 1994; Rosenhouse, Feitelson, Kita, & Goldstein, 1997) and with them (Topping, 1995; Topping & Ehly, 1998; Topping & Lindsay, 1992; Vanwagenen, Williams, & McLaughlin, 1994).

The question is, how can teachers possibly monitor closely the day-to-day reading behavior of all their students, check if this behavior is optimally effective, and if it is not, intervene to shape it toward effectiveness. Computerized learning information systems for reading (not to be confused with integrated learning systems) -- such as The Accelerated Reader , which is the focus of this commentary -- seek to provide teachers with a tool for achieving this daunting task.

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Reading Online,
Posted November 1999
© 1999-2000 International Reading Association, Inc. ISSN 1096-1232