How do adults decide when a child has read enough? How much is enough as part of homework, or a read-a-thon of Harry Potter or other popular books, or interesting websites?
There are lots of folks waving red flag figures targeting what is too little time for children reading on their own. One common recommendation is for primary and even upper-grade students to read for no less than 15 minutes each day.
Children reading one thing or another, on their own, for about 50 percent of the available instructional time every day in elementary schools was recommended by a group of eminent researchers in 2002*. That included reading stories, history, science, mathematics texts and other sources of reader appropriate material. It excluded worksheets, board work and the like. That recommendation was held up as the glaring exception to what was common instructional practice at the time, despite abundant research prior to that date that supported such a volume of reading engagement.
But is there ever a situation of too much reading during school hours? Does 50 percent of instructional time sound like too much reading? Well, evidently it does in a public school system that directs teachers to spend much of that 50 percent amount of time doing test preparation, busy/seat work, one-size-fits-all instruction and the like.
We’ve had two more decades of literacy research to put up against concurrent decades of stagnancy in the literacy test scores that are the chief touchstones of school boards and their administrators. Can’t they see this isn’t working?
Perhaps a more appropriate answer to “How much is enough reading?” lies in determining Enough reading for what? … or better, Enough for whom? How much is enough for a 1st or a 6th grader? …a shy child? … an isolated child …for YOU? How do schools help each individual student decide when they have read enough and to move on to something else?
I used to make fun of my cousin for always having a book in her hand. I of course was too busy running around her family’s home in rural Iowa instead of reading. Predictably, she turned out to be a whiz kid and I am still catching up.
Once folks leave school, their time spent reading, and therefore improving as readers, becomes self-determined. Like my cousin, we read as much as we like, as much as we feel we need to, as much as the other demands of a normal life dictate. We expand our tastes to reflect our personal talents and interests, and when we have gotten from reading what we came for, be it entertainment, information, inspiration or inquiry, we have arrived at exactly our right times to stop.
So, when do we typically teach children to decide such a personal thing as when to stop reading?
What children read and how long is most often dictated by others and most often can be a very poor match for the kind of independent personal development for adulthood that schools might truly nurture.