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Free Voluntary Reading (FVR)“Pays” Big Dividends!

Susan Notes:
This kind of research, now nearly a decade old, won't be called "scientific" by those hawking commercial products, but it is the kind of research that counts for children. It would be interesting to know about the reading habits of these sixth graders today. And what would be fascinating is to know how many of them will read aloud to their children.

by Gary Hopkins
Teacher William Marson shares his success in motivating sixth-graders to read using a program he calls Reading for Fun (RFF).

Free Voluntary Reading (FVR) improves students' attitudes toward reading. That's the finding of William Marson, a sixth-grade teacher at Elim Elementary School in Hilmar, California. Last year, parents of sixth graders who participated in Marson's FVR program said in a survey that their children spent the same amount or more time reading at home than they had the previous year (100 percent) and that their children seemed to enjoy reading more (91 percent).


Free Voluntary Reading is just as its name states. It's free reading; students are free to choose the materials they want to read. And it's voluntary reading; students can choose to---or not to---report in-class on the reading they've done. Students are also free to---or not to---read at home.

FVR is Sustained Silent Reading in its purest form. No requirements! No book reports. No journal entries. No chapter questions. No required home reading. "It's a chance for students to kick back and read, no strings attached," says Marson.

It's a strategy voiced in numerous articles by Stephen Krashen (see below)---a strategy that Marson decided was worth a shot. Anything to motivate students who have lost interest in reading!

"Parents and educators readily agree that reading is the key to success in school," Marson writes in an article published in The California Reader (Spring 1997). "It is my theory that if students spend more time reading interesting and enjoyable (dare I say easy?) materials, they will learn to read better, which will in turn lead to more reading. This, ultimately, will be of tremendous life-long benefit to them."


In the article, Marson cites numerous studies that support the long-term benefits of increased reading. He cites Krashen, who documents numerous benefits of reading for pleasure in The Power of Reading (Libraries Unlimited, Inc., 1993). Among those benefits are

reading comprehension is improved;
students' writing style improves;
vocabulary improves; and
spelling and control of grammar improve.

A study by Anderson, Wilson, and Fielding ("Growth in Reading and How Children Spend Their Time Outside School," Reading Research Quarterly, 23) found that students who had the most success in reading came from classrooms in which

teachers routinely read aloud to the class;
a wide assortment of books was available;
incentives were used to motivate students; and
Sustained Silent Reading was scheduled during the school day.

Marson also cites the research of Jim Trelease The Read-Aloud Handbook, Penguin Books, 1995). Trelease wonders why 100 percent of students beginning kindergarten are enthusiastic about learning to read but, by twelfth grade, only 25 percent of students read for pleasure. Trelease's research reveals that one of the factors that produced higher reading results was the frequency of Sustained Silent Reading in school.


No requirements! But students in Marson's class have lots of options---and there are rewards for reading too!

Each day, a 45-minute period is set aside for Reading for Fun (RFF). The first 30 to 35 minutes is for reading. A ten-minute "book talk" session follows. During book talk, students share their enthusiasm for the books they're reading. "Book talk is the greatest advertisement for reading," says Marson. "The best part is that the advertisements come right from the kids' mouths!"

Of course, book talk is totally voluntary. But as the excitement builds, students want to be part of it.

Students have other options too. Some students choose to review a book for the classroom newsletter. Marson has found that small-group sharing works too. Students share their reading excitement in small groups; then one spokesperson from each group reports to the class about the books the group has been reading.

And there are other motivators. Each trimester, students collect stars on charts that indicate that they've become members of The 200 (pages) Club. As the trimester goes on, new clubs (The 400 Club, The 800 Club…) are introduced. "In the most recent trimester, my top reader joined the The 6,600 Club!" Marson says proudly. In-class and at-home reading are included in the clubs. Marson verifies students' in-class reading; parents verify at-home reading.

Of course, many students are motivated to read. They would read if there was no FVR, no book talk, no 400 Club. Some students, however, need encouragement---and that's the intent of Marson's free-voluntary RFF program. Some students even benefit from providing suggestions for appropriate reading. "One must be ever-mindful of the fact that poor readers need more help than others in selecting interesting and easy books to read on their own," says Marson in [set ITAL]The California Reader.[end TIAL] "Reading unsuccessfully for 20 or 30 minutes can serve to demotivate a student quickly."


"Free Voluntary Reading is not a panacea, and it should definitely not be used as the only reading program," states Marson. "It can be a beneficial addition to a strong instructional reading program."

The results of Marson's own survey of his students' parents supports the effectiveness of RFF/FVR.

Twenty-three parents responded to two survey questions.

1. Compared to last year, how much time did your child spend reading at home? Parents said:
* Less---None
* The same---30 percent (7)
* More---70 percent (16)

2. How does your child seem to enjoy reading this year compared to last year? Parents said:
* Less---None
* The same---9 percent (2)
* More---91 percent (21)

Marson tape-recorded his students' individual reactions to a year of RFF. The kids responded positively. They liked the freedom. They liked the book talk. They liked the clubs. A more formal survey verified those findings. Students were asked:

1. How would you rate reading as an activity that brings you enjoyment?
* Not enjoyable---None
* Sometimes enjoyable---38 percent (11)
* Usually enjoyable---21 percent (6)
* Often enjoyable---24 percent (7)
* Always enjoyable---17 percent (5)

2. Describe your home-reading practice.
* I'm a reading fanatic. I read all the time.---13 percent (4)
* I choose to read at home at least once a day because I want to.---31 percent (9)
* I choose to read at home often, but maybe not every day.---23 percent (7)
* When I have free time, I sometimes choose to read at home.---13 percent (4)
* I don't usually choose to read in my free time, but I read when I am supposed to.---13 percent (4)
* I don't like to read at home, but I do it because my teacher or parents expect me to.---7 percent (2)
* I hate to read. Reading is not fun. I don't do it unless I have to.---None

3. When finished with a book, I like to… [Note: Students were asked to check whichever statements applied; some students checked more than one choice.]
* Do a book report--None
* Do a book talk---21 percent (8)
* Discuss the book with others---21 percent (8)
* Write in my journal about the book---None
* Start another book---55 percent (21)
* Other---3 percent (1)

4. Having to write or create something after reading for fun makes reading…
* Come alive---11 percent (3)
* More fun---25 percent (7)
* Less fun---46 percent (13)
* Dreadful---18 percent (5)

NOTE: William Marson's class of 32 sixth-graders was one of five sixth-grades in a rural school of 1,000 students. The school operates year-round, using a trimester system. Marson's class in the study included 13 students who came from homes where the primary language is Portuguese. Nine students in the class were resource students. The majority of students were from working/middle class families.

Article by Gary Hopkins

Copyright © 1997 Education World™

Related Studies:
ADDITIONAL READING In addition to the readings mentioned in the text of the article, you might check out:

* "Free Voluntary Reading Opens Doors" by Joan Wink and Candi Nightengale , The California Reader, Spring 1997.
* "Sustained Silent Reading: Practical Strategies for Successful Implementation" by Sheila R. Alber, Reading and Writing Quarterly, October 1996.
* "The Effects of Teacher Modeling of Silent Reading on Students' Engagement During Sustained Silent Reading" by Deborah A.M. Widdowson, Robyn S. Dixon, and Dennis W. Moore, Educational Psychology, 1996 (Volume 16, No. 2).
* "How Should Heritage Languages Be Taught? The Effects of a Free Voluntary Reading Program" by Jeff McQuillan, Foreign Language Annals, Spring 1996.
* "The Teacher Role During Sustained Silent Reading" by Robin Campbell and Gill Scrivens, Reading, July 1995.
* "The Case for Free Voluntary Reading" by Stephen D. Krashen, Canadian Modern Language Review, October 1993.
* "Sustained Silent Reading with English as a Second Language High School Students: Impact on Reading Comprehension, Reading Frequency, and Reading Enjoyment" by Janice Pilgreen and Stephen Krashen, School Library Media Quarterly, Fall 1993.
* "The Effect of Sustained Silent Reading and Writing on Achievement and Attitudes of Seventh- and Eighth-Grade Students Reading Two Years Below Grade Level" by Sondra B. Holt and Frances S. O'Tuel, Reading Improvement, Winter 1990.

— Gary Hopkins, Education World™ Editor-in-Chief



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