Content Literacy, Reading

A Case For Wide Reading




Photo Credit: Reading / Alan Cleaver / CC by 2.0

This post is inspired by and adapted from the text I am happily using in my summer semester course on content literacy: This Is Disciplinary Literacy by ReLeah Lent.  

As the push for content area reading increases, and becomes more complex with the growth of technology and new literacies, I hear a lot of buzz around “wide reading.”  Wide reading is a push for students to have regular reading time integrated into daily classroom practice, in all content areas. The idea that students need to read isn’t a new one.  What is new, however, is how students should go about this reading and why.


Why Wide Reading?

Daily, regular practice in every class sends the message that reading isn’t something that’s done in English classes.  It’s something that everyone does, regularly, in life. It connects students with the act of reading in a way that is not accomplished in an English classroom and reminds students that literacy happens all around them.  


The research supports wide reading.  “Students who read more have distinct academic advantages over students who read less–and they do better in content-area studies as well” (Lent).  Students’ exposure to words is exponentially increased by wide reading. Word exposure is what builds vocabulary. Vocabulary builds content knowledge.  And students with better vocabulary and content knowledge are more successful in future schooling and careers.


Research shows students who read 65 minutes per day are exposed to a whopping 4,358,000 words per year.  In contrast, students who read 21 minutes a day are exposed to less than half as many words–only 1,823,000.  And on the scary-low side of the spectrum, students who read only 1.3 minutes a day are exposed to a mere 106,000 words in an entire year.  If more words translates to more knowledge and educational and career success, the opposite is also true of less words.  Students who are exposed to fewer words have inadequate reading skills, which compounds into a plethora of potential learning issues.  Wide reading is crucial for students.


How To Get Students Reading

So how can you get students reading?  In content areas, reading doesn’t have to look like a duplication of the reading that’s done in English classes.  No, reading should look different in each content area, because there are very important differences in the types of texts in different disciplines and the kind of reading those in that field actually do.  This is what makes it authentic for our students. We don’t ask them to replicate a forced process that they’ll never encounter in the real world, like using English class reading strategies to tackle nonfiction texts.  Instead, we ask students to do the work of historians in the history class. Read like mathematicians. Read like scientists. Read like musicians. Read like real people who want to learn something.  Isn’t that why we read as adults?  To gain something new? Encourage students that reading doesn’t have to be a forced activity that’s followed by a quiz.  Allow students the time, reading material, and flexibility to follow their interests and the wide reading will follow. In case you missed it, check out these Seven Tips for Encouraging Independent Reading at All Levels for more tips on how to get your students reading.  


Remember, reading from the textbook doesn’t count.  Barely anyone does that for enjoyment! And if reading textbooks made students better readers or students, there wouldn’t even be a conversation about how to encourage wide reading, now would there?  Students have been reading textbooks for quite some time; textbooks aren’t exactly known for being page turners. Get your students some content-specific magazines, online newspaper subscriptions, an awesome classroom library of age and grade appropriate level books, and set aside time for reading.