The Importance of Independent Reading for Students

student reading a book
Masthead Waves

It’s widely recognized by both parents and educators that reading offers a multitude of advantages for students. In fact, for elementary grades 2–5, the majority of the school day is spent on reading and language arts, providing students with the foundation for a lifetime of reading skills. Yet, not all reading is created equal, nor does it require the same reading material. Independent reading is a type of reading requiring reading material that’s different from instructional reading. Here’s a closer look at the differences, as well as a discussion on why independent reading is important in developing students as lifelong readers.


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What Is Independent Reading?

Independent reading involves students reading the books of their choice for a sustained period. While there may be some occasional conferences or lessons with the teacher, the main focus is on allowing the child to read independently. This approach allows students to fully immerse themselves in their chosen books and develop a genuine love for reading, without feeling limited by specific reading levels. 

What Is the Difference Between Independent and Instructional Reading Levels?

To better understand the difference between independent and instructional reading, it’s important to know the differences between independent and instructional reading levels. Independent reading levels involve the level at which a student can read successfully without help. Students can read the material fluently with little difficulty at an accuracy rate of about 98%, according to Read Naturally.


Instructional reading levels are different. This is the level at which a student can read with a teacher’s guidance. Students must read materials at a 90% accuracy rate with support. Typically, instructional reading levels are slightly higher than independent reading levels.


To measure independent and instructional reading levels, educators use the Fountas & Pinnell Benchmark Assessment System. It measures reading behaviors and accuracy as well as comprehension and assigns a reading level based on these metrics. Each level is given a letter, and that letter allows the teacher to assign reading material or guide students to reading material that’s on their level, both for independent and instructional reading.

How Independent Reading Impacts Reading Achievement

When students engage in independent reading, it boosts their confidence and also cultivates a positive attitude toward learning. Additionally, the freedom to select their books and immerse themselves in reading for extended periods empowers students with a sense of ownership over their learning. By nurturing a culture of independent reading both inside and outside the classroom, educators can pave the way for students to thrive academically. Below are four crucial ways in which this transformation unfolds.


Allows Students to Develop Reading Habits and Preferences

Encouraging students to participate in independent reading helps them develop a sense of what they like or dislike in books. When they are given the freedom to choose reading material that’s of interest to them, it sets the stage for a positive and excited attitude toward reading. On the other hand, when students aren’t allowed the freedom to choose their reading material, they can become frustrated with materials that aren’t interesting or engaging to them.


Improves Overall Literacy and Reading Stamina

When students engage in independent reading, their reading speed picks up, turning them into skilled readers. Moreover, they develop an impressive reading endurance, allowing them to easily handle the challenges of reading. As a result, these improvements contribute to an overall boost in literacy as their vocabulary grows and their reading skills thrive.


Gives Students Full Control Over the Reading Process

When it comes to independent reading, students have the opportunity to choose their literary adventures and set their own reading pace. This not only gives them a sense of control but also helps them excel in other subjects, ultimately empowering them to take ownership of their learning journeys.


Encourages Students to Apply Independent Learning to Group Settings

As students engage in independent reading, they acquire valuable skills that they can apply to various aspects of their learning journey. Independent reading not only promotes lively group discussions and collaborative efforts but also provides a platform for students to nurture their unique thoughts and ideas. Additionally, many students experience a noticeable improvement in their critical thinking abilities as a direct result of their independent reading efforts.


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Eight Advantages of Independent Reading for Students

When students engage in independent reading that aligns with their abilities, it goes beyond just improving their reading skills. Studies have shown that independent reading for students fosters whole child development. Let’s delve into some of the specific advantages that have been proven to positively impact students who embrace independent reading.


1. Increases Amount of Language Acquisition

One of the most effective ways for students to expand their vocabulary is through independent reading. By immersing themselves in the context of the text and the visuals within the books, they can effortlessly learn new words rather than relying on rote memorization. This organic approach to language acquisition not only speeds up the learning process but also enhances its effectiveness.


2. Promotes Concentration and Improves Focus

Sustained Silent Reading (SSR) is a technique in classrooms that provides students the opportunity to completely immerse themselves in a book. When given this uninterrupted time, students also enhance their concentration and focus skills. They gain even more benefits if they select a book on their own and find it enjoyable.


3. Boosts Analytical and Critical Thinking Skills

Students are exposed to fresh new ideas and worlds as they immerse themselves in books. This experience can boost analytical and critical thinking skills by helping them learn to interpret text. Reading, especially if it brings an emotional connection, has the power to challenge a student’s bias and prejudice and expand their worldly perspectives.


4. Improves Writing and Literacy Skills

Proficient readers often excel in writing as well. Students who read take in the nuances of written language. Over time, that translates into their writing skills. Ultimately, both reading and writing translate into improved literacy skills.


5. Reduces Stress and Anxiety

According to the University of Minnesota, reading for pleasure reduces stress by 68%. Surprisingly, reading has a greater impact on boosting one’s mood compared to listening to music or simple relaxation techniques. Encouraging children to read independently for pleasure will help them benefit from these stress-reducing activities early in their development.


6. Builds Empathy

Exposure to a variety of literary characters and the emotions the characters portray can help students build empathy. As they begin to relate to characters’ emotional journeys, students develop an appreciation for the thoughts and feelings of others. These internalized emotions can create empathy and cast a net of understanding in their day-to-day interactions with others. 


7. Encourages Open-Mindedness

Students become more open-minded as they expand their worldviews and learn about the cultures, beliefs, and practices of other cultures. They learn that the world is bigger than their community, and that helps them grow into well-rounded adults.


8. Creates a Community Reading Culture

Engaging in independent reading creates a wonderful sense of community where everyone cherishes the importance of reading. This feeling of togetherness is not limited to just peers but also extends to the adults in their lives. You can make reading a part of students’ everyday lives and create a thriving literary community that’s full of energy and excitement by introducing a fun reading challenge, like the ones offered on Beanstack.

The Benefits of Sustained Silent Reading

SSR is one of the techniques educators can use to promote better concentration and focus through independent reading. This approach involves giving students structured silent reading time in their day. Many educators call this D.E.A.R., which stands for Drop Everything and Read. No matter what you call it, it benefits the students by increasing their excitement over reading.


Specific benefits of SSR beyond improved concentration and focus include:

  • More enthusiasm for reading
  • Promotion of student choice in reading
  • Improved reading comprehension
  • Increased reading culture in the classroom and beyond

To ignite enthusiasm for SSR in your classroom or school, participate in the Beanstack D.E.A.R. challenge. Set aside dedicated time in your school day for this enriching reading experience and watch the excitement grow.

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How Beanstack Supports Independent Reading

Beanstack's reading challenges not only provide incentives for independent reading but also play a vital role in fostering a reading community within your classroom and community. By offering rewarding reading challenges and user-friendly tracking tools, Beanstack encourages every student to develop a habit of independent reading, achieve higher reading accomplishments, and truly engage with their reading material. Our platform is specifically designed to encourage active participation from students. Let’s explore some of how it achieves this.


Encourages Student Choice

Students are encouraged to make their own reading choices and to read beyond their suggested level without feeling penalized. Without imposing restrictions on which books or levels they can explore students can choose materials that align with their interests and abilities. This approach encourages independent reading because it places student choice at the forefront of this effective reading technique.


By eliminating the restrictions of predetermined reading levels, Beanstack recognizes that every student’s reading journey is one of a kind. Some students may excel in specific areas while needing additional support in others, and Beanstack’s nonjudgmental approach allows them to navigate through books at their own pace. Students will begin to challenge themselves, diving into more intricate texts, building their confidence, and broadening their knowledge base.


Motivating Features for a Fun Reading Experience

Beanstack uses gamification to build excitement and ignite friendly competition with students about reading. When they participate in challenges, they earn digital badges and have an easy-to-view reading log where they can track reading streaks and view benchmarks like how long they have read and how many books they have completed. Schools can level up their reading challenges by offering prizes when students earn a reading achievement; however, many students find themselves motivated by achievement badges alone. 


Inspires Students of Every Grade Level

With an innovative platform designed to cater to readers of all grade levels, students can effortlessly track their reading time or pages read, whether they are at home or school. They even have the option to connect their accounts with their local library, streamlining the process of tracking their reading. Our versatile platform not only works with younger readers, but it also serves as a source of motivation for high school and middle school students.


Get Started Today

To cultivate a passion for reading in students, it’s vital to equip them with essential resources. Schedule a demo today to see how Beanstack can help you emphasize the importance of independent reading, or get a quote to add Beanstack to your school district.

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