Research suggests that independent reading is crucial in the areas of language acquisition, reading comprehension, and the development of lifelong reading habits (Gallagher 2009). Unfortunately, many schools are reducing the amount of independent reading required of students in favor of more test preparation. The English department at Byram Hills High School seeks to find a balance between the two. Properly administered, we believe that independent reading can be the cornerstone of a student's development in the language arts classroom.
Since the beginning of the 2010-2011 academic year, students entering Byram Hills High School have been required to read one independent reading selection per quarter. Unlike traditional "outside" reading programs, students have class time dedicated to reading and individual conferences. Including the summer reading requirement, students will read a minimum of five independent reading titles each acacemic year.
Students must have the freedom to choose books in which they have a high level of interest. Our hope is that students will explore a variety of authors and reading material. In order to align with the Common Core Standards Initiative, we are asking students to consider books from the following genres:
- Stories (includes adventure stories, historical fiction, mysteries, myths, science fiction, realistic fiction, allegories, parodies, satire, and graphic novels)
- Dramas (includes one-act and multi-act plays)
- Poetry (includes narrative poems, lyrical poems, free verse, sonnets, odes, ballads, and epics)
- Nonfiction and Historical, Scientific and Technical Texts (includes exposition, argument, personal essays, speeches, opinion pieces, biographies, memoirs, journalism, essays about art or literature, and historical, scientific or economic accounts written for a broad audience)
Our Independent Reading Initiative relies heavily upon a community of readers. Teachers and librarians have compiled a list of titles that have been popular with students over the past few years. Rather than providing a static list, we add and remove titles based on the recommendations of our current student population. We also see parents as an integral part of the book selection process, inviting them to share in the reading experiences of their sons and daughters.
The Byram Hills English department believes in the value of independent reading. Teachers are committed to helping students discover the value of reading. We also know how important peer recommendations will be in fostering a culture of reading. At the conclusion of each book, students will be required to reflect on the reading they have done and share their experiences with classmates.