Four Important Reasons to Give Children the Freedom to Choose Their Own Books
“There’s no such thing as a kid who hates reading. There are kids who love reading, and kids who are reading the wrong books” – James Patterson
We are all well aware of the multiple benefits that reading brings to our health and happiness. The advantages appear endless; reducing the symptoms of depression, staving off Alzheimer’s and Dementia, improving memory, focus and concentration, widening vocabulary, advancing analytical skills, the list goes on. But what if, despite all these beneficial reasons to read, your pupils are refusing to jump on the reading for pleasure bandwagon? One major point to take into consideration is your offering of books. Are they dated? Are they tatty? And most importantly, have you chosen them for your pupil, or have they chosen the book themselves?
To benefit from the advantages listed above, reading for pleasure is key and ‘an important factor in developing reading for pleasure is choice’ (Clark and Phythian-Sence, 2008). Yes, reading is crucial but handing a ten year old a text and demanding they read a certain amount of pages puts a stress on that individual which then becomes associated with reading. Pavonetti, Brinmer, & Cipielewski (2002) state ‘we must not be driven by promises of short-term gains…All eyes are focused on year-by-year comparisons of nationally standardized or state-administered tests. Few stop to consider the effects of such testing on students’ abilities…. Will they be so “tested” that they will remove themselves from all contact with school, teachers, and even books?’. Reading has become associated with passing tests rather than something for enjoyment and we know that enjoyment unequivocally needs to be part of the reading experience. The easiest way to ensure enjoyment is simple; give your pupils a wide-range of choice.
Studies have shown that there are several positive outcomes associated with allowing children the freedom to choose their own reading book. Below are my top four important reasons as to why self-selection should be used in all classrooms
- Proven to increase comprehension rates and test scores.
Studies have shown that when children have two books, one self-selected and another teacher-selected, both comprehension and test results are significantly higher on the self-selected book. According to Hunt (1997), by allowing a reader to choose “a really good book … that has ideas he truly wants to learn about’ then he will ‘outdo his own instructional level of performance’ on a frequent basis.
- Encourages reading for pleasure.
When‘reading enjoyment has been reported as more important for children’s educational success than their family’s socio-economic status (OECD, 2002)’ it is imperative that children do not see reading as a chore. When asked to select their own reading book children will choose something that is related to their own needs, interest and wants. This improves the levels of motivation and enjoyment of the reading experience, which in turn will lead to further reading.
- Improves self-confidence.
By allowing your pupils the freedom to select their own reading material you are showing a certain level of trust and giving them a sense of ownership. This is empowering as a reader as they feel that their decision is valued which leads to pupils growing in confidence. They may then move on to selecting books that broaden their reading experience, perhaps with titles that teachers may not have ever considered.
- Highlights what each pupil is truly interested in.
Permitting your pupils to hand-pick their reading books gives you an invaluable insight into each of their individual interests. This can aid you in suggesting similar books and allow you to keep that passion for reading burning.
It is more important than ever to ensure the classroom and school library have an engaging selection of books to choose from as libraries continue to close year on year due to lack of funding. In order for students to become life-long lovers of reading they must be fully engrossed by books and derive a true enjoyment from it. Freedom of choice makes this possible by producing both a positive attitude toward reading and a better proficiency when reading. This must be the ultimate goal for all readers.
We understand the difficulty in keeping up with the hundreds, if not thousands, of children’s books published every year and then trying to match them up with each individual student. That is why we have created the Children’s Choice collections. Firstly, we narrowed down the initial selection of books to a realistic number per year group then passed these to one of our local primary schools. They then chose their top favourites which is the selection you can see in the finished product. These collections will be an asset to any classroom as they cover a huge variety of interests and will give your pupils the ultimate selections to choose freely from.
Written by Sarah Capon, Book Collections Developer