Kids Need to Be Independently Reading More in School

Boy reading a book in the library

By Maddie Witter, education consultant and author of Reading Without Limits: Teaching Strategies to Build Independent Reading for Life

Students who can read for longer periods have a higher literacy achievement.

There is no greater predictor of reading and literacy achievement than how much time a student spends independently reading. It’s intuitive – students who read 40 minutes a day compared to students who read 15 minutes a day make significantly higher gains in their reading.

But the benefits of independent reading don’t stop there.

According to Stephen Krashen who has studied independent reading over the past 40 years, no other literacy activity can raise achievement in comprehension, vocabulary, spelling, and writing than independent reading.

As a teacher, school leader and mother, I have observed the success of incorporating daily independent reading first hand.

Reading skills underpin academic success

In 2005 I co-founded a primary and secondary school called KIPP Infinity in Harlem, New York. Most of our students entered below grade level, 30% had learning disabilities or were learning English, and 93% received free or reduced lunch. Even though our students entered our school far below grade level, 100% of our students were at or above grade level in literacy by the end of their second year. In 2008, our school was ranked the number one school in Manhattan according to the New York City school report cards, and four years later, 100% of our students passed their high school English Regents with 89% achieving the highest marks.

How did we do it?

One central approach was developing our students’ ability to independently learn on task through reading. We developed specific, kid-friendly tools to support our students’ capacities to read for longer periods of time.

Building a love of reading

When I moved to Melbourne in 2011 and co-founded Parkville College, a school for young people who are or have been detained in custody, I saw firsthand how the reading tools worked with all students, including our cohort who had experienced abuse, trauma and neglect. In fact, the tools worked so well that some classes were independently reading for the entire block!

Encouraging reading stamina

As a mother, I’ve also seen the stamina tools help my children’s stamina and learning. With four young children, I struggle finding the time for nightly readers and frankly I used to only find time for my children to independently read once or twice a week. By creating a schedule of daily reading and using one of my favourite tools, the stamina calendar, my daughter’s reading level increased nearly a year’s growth in only a couple months.

Does your school incorporate daily independent reading?

For more information about why more time reading in school matters, stay tuned for additional blog posts from Maddie.

The Berry Street Education Model is running masterclasses for BSEM alumni that focus on developing students’ independent reading stamina. Teachers will leave with practical tools, a copy of Reading Without Limits: Teaching Strategies to Build Independent Reading for Life, and a cultivated library list.

Find an upcoming Berry Street Education Model course

Watch more about Berry Street’s Education Model


S.J. Samuels and Yi-Chen Wu. How the Amount of Time Spent on Independent Reading Affects Reading Achievement. Educational Psychology, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis: Minnesota (2003).

Barbara Taylor and Barbara Frye. “Time Spent Reading and Reading Growth.” American Educational Research Journal 27, no. 2 (1990): 351-362.

Stephen Krashen. The Power of Reading: Insights from Research. (Portsmouth, New Hampshire: Heinemann, 2004).

Maddie Witter is a Senior Advisor in the Berry Street Education Model team. Maddie started teaching in 2002 as a year 8 special education teacher in New York City. In 2005, Maddie co-founded KIPP Infinity Charter school as a founding reading teacher and Director of Instruction.

In 2011, Maddie moved to Australia and co-founded Parkville College, a trauma-informed school that serves incarcerated young people in Victoria. In addition, Maddie was a lead consultant on the Berry Street Education Model for the Berry Street School.

Maddie is also the author of Reading Without Limits: Teaching Strategies to Build Independent Reading for Life (2013).

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