3 easy and inclusive ways to develop self-guided reading habits

Developing independent reading habits is one of the biggest predictors of academic success across all subject areas.
Felix Lloyd
Felix Lloydhttps://www.beanstack.com/
Felix Lloyd is the CEO and co-founder of Beanstack and a former teacher of the year in Washington, D.C.

The proportion of kids who read for fun has been on the decline for decades. The decrease has become even more precipitous in the past few years, with less than a quarter of 13-year-olds reporting that they read for fun.

Developing self-guided reading habits is one of the biggest predictors of academic success across all subject areas, from math to social studies. But too often, reading can feel like just another assignment—especially when it involves stressful quizzes and restrictive reading levels.

Instead of a quiz-based approach, motivational psychology and gamification focus on growing students’ autonomy, competence, and community connection to reading in order to foster a deep-rooted intrinsic motivation to read. To best facilitate students’ long-term reading success, schools should pursue inclusive reading strategies that instill confidence and support self-guided reading development.

Challenges that build community momentum, offer differentiated options, and reward student success are key to encouraging reading for fun and all the benefits that come with it.

Self-guided reading strategies

Implement these three data-driven motivational strategies in your school or district’s reading programs to unlock your students’ love of reading.

1. Set achievable reading goals for students and the whole school—and then build up. Working toward attainable individual reading goals within bigger community reading competitions helps students find their reading momentum and get swept up in the excitement of contributing toward a school-wide or district-wide reading effort. This is a powerful strategy to help struggling or reluctant readers, who can develop learned helplessness after repeatedly failing comprehension quizzes or missing their goals.

Within reading challenges, awarding badges for smaller amounts of reading, like 10 or 20 minutes, can feed students’ confidence and help them work up to bigger goals. Promoting reading time and effort instead of pages read or book points earned is another crucial step to reshaping students’ self-view and creating a love of self-guided reading. And at the school or district level, tracking progress toward bigger community reading goals or contests can create an all-in mindset and widespread culture of reading. Plus, a little friendly competition can activate a positive and contagious drive to read and succeed.

2. Offer differentiated reading options and diverse topics. We all want to feel ownership over and connection with our reading choices. Encouraging free choice reading and offering lots of reading options, both in terms of format and topic, is critical for helping students see the value and relevance in reading.

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Rather than locking students into set reading choices at a prescribed reading level, promote exploration through all different types, topics, and levels of books. Large print books, graphic novels, and ebooks with read-aloud options all play an important role in students’ reading success. Giving students a library with a variety of subjects and topics that recognize the diverse experiences and interests of your student body gives every reader something to love.

3. Reinforce gains with small rewards, surprise prizes, and lots of recognition. Positive reinforcement is hugely important in forming long-lasting habits, and reading is no different. Schools that publicly uplift and reward reading create a positive feedback loop that encourages star readers and struggling readers alike.

A few specific types of rewards, like books, small prizes, surprise rewards, and public praise and recognition, are especially impactful in fueling students’ intrinsic motivation to read. Weekly reading leaderboard announcements, surprise “Prize Patrol” classroom visits that recognize star readers, and library treasure chests of small baubles and tokens for hitting key reading milestones are all great ways to encourage continued reading success.

Using positive and inclusive reading programs can transform your school’s reading culture, grow students’ intrinsic drive to read, and uplift academic outcomes. There’s no better time to revamp your literacy strategy and reading platforms to incorporate reading challenges that scale up individual and community reading goals, encourage self-selected reading choice, and reward reading gains.

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