Reading & Literacy

Study: Teachers Value Independent Reading But Lack Class Time for It

By Liana Loewus — April 26, 2017 3 min read
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Nearly all teachers and principals believe students should have time for independent reading at school, yet only about a third of teachers set aside time each day for this, according to a recent survey by Scholastic.

The new report, released today, looks at how nearly 3,700 preK-12 teachers (including several dozen school librarians) and more than 1,000 principals answered questions about student reading and access to books. The findings, considered nationally representative, were part of a larger study that the education-publishing company released in November on equity in education.

The literacy findings show that 94 percent of teachers and principals agree or strongly agree that “students should have time during the school day to read a book of their choice independently.” But just 36 percent of teachers say they’re able to make time for such reading every day. Nearly a quarter of teachers say they never make time for it—though it’s important to note the question was asked of teachers for all subjects and grade levels.

When independent reading occurs, students spend an average of 22 minutes on it.

Asked about the primary barrier to independent reading time, 9 out of 10 teachers cited “demands of the curriculum.”

The value of in-class independent reading has been the subject of much controversy over the years. In 2000, the National Reading Panel, convened by Congress, determined that there wasn’t enough evidence to show that silent, independent reading without feedback and guidance had a positive effect on reading achievement. In turn, many schools and teachers abandoned the practice. But steadfast champions of independent reading time, such as Stephen Krashen, say the volume of reading students do matters, and that choice reading fosters a love of books.

Michael Haggen, the chief academic officer for Scholastic Education, said in an interview that independent reading time should not be a free-for-all—rather teachers should help students choose books at their level and guide them on what to look for as they’re reading. “It’s important when you’re talking about independent reading time, that that time is deliberate,” he said. Teachers need training in what productive independent reading looks like, he said.

Additional findings from the literacy report include:

In School

  • About 1 in 10 teachers have no books in their classroom or personal libraries for students to read. About a third of teachers have fewer than 50 books. And 14 percent have more than 500 books.
  • Many teachers update their classroom libraries infrequently. About a quarter do it every couple of years and 13 percent never do it.
  • Teachers who do in-class independent reading were asked about its benefits. About 40 percent said “students’ skills have increased/ students are achieving more.’ A quarter said “students learn to love reading.”

At Home

  • Nearly half of educators say students don’t have enough fiction and nonfiction books at home. The problem is, not surprisingly, more severe in high-poverty communities.
  • About half of all teachers talk with families about the importance of summer reading.


  • Nearly 4 in 10 principals said they do not have a full-time school librarian, yet 8 in 10 said a librarian is a critical resource for schools.
  • About half of principals and librarians say they need more culturally relevant books, books in other languages, ebooks, books with diverse characters, and high-interest, low-level books.
  • Nearly 30 percent of principals and librarians said they’re able to add new titles to their library “once a year or less.” About 20 percent add books at least monthly.

Charts: Teacher & Principal School Report: Focus on Literacy, 2017, from Scholastic

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.