Back when Read Naturally founder Candyce Ihnot would present at full-day seminars, she would often start by telling a story about her youngest child, Tommy. One day, Tommy came home from elementary school and angrily declared, “I hate school.” Tommy was the son of two schoolteachers—his declaration was basically blasphemous! When Candyce asked him to explain why he hated school, his lip started to quiver. He told his mom about independent reading time. “She doesn’t even know,” he said of his teacher, “I can’t read.”

In Tommy’s case, independent reading time—often used as a way to help students love reading—made him feel like a failure. This incident occurred nearly 30 years ago, but unfortunately, it still happens all the time. Research analyzed by the National Reading Panel suggests that just encouraging students to read independently does not improve reading achievement as effectively as other practices. This is because, too often, independent reading time doesn't actually result in increased reading. What do at-risk and struggling readers do during DEAR (Drop Everything And Read) or SSR (Sustained Silent Reading) time? Often, they just look at pictures or, even worse, they grow to dislike reading (and school) as their confidence diminishes.

Instead, struggling readers need a program like Read Naturally, which uses interesting, leveled passages and a highly effective strategy to build motivation and confidence. The support provided by Read Naturally’s strategy of teacher modeling, repeated reading, and progress monitoring allows students to tackle slightly challenging, self-selected reading passages about interesting topics and see frequent, motivating proof of their progress.

When struggling readers use the Read Naturally program, they experience the opposite of what Tommy felt during independent reading time. They come away knowing they CAN read, and this euphoric realization makes them want to keep doing it.

Tommy’s story was one of the driving forces behind Candyce Ihnot’s creation of Read Naturally. Not only did the program help him become a fluent reader, it helped him realize how enjoyable reading can be. Today, in his 30s, he happens to be an avid reader.

Many teachers incorporate independent reading time into their classroom routine, and we acknowledge that this practice does have merit in certain situations. But we encourage teachers to analyze this practice to ensure that all students are truly benefiting from it.

In addition, stock your shelves with high-quality and eye-opening literature, not boring and tedious material. Allow students to self-select texts that are “too hard” but that they’re motivated to attempt. Give them a chance to experience the joy of engaged, authentic reading. Support the students who need help with their self-selected material. And, of course, create an environment in your classroom that celebrates books as the magical windows to the world that they are.