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Striking a Balance: Reading for Skill vs. Reading for Pleasure

Striking a Balance: Reading for Skill vs. Reading for Pleasure

In education, we often talk about unlocking the joys of reading, noting how a good book can offer a window into another world and access to far-off adventures. And, while these magical descriptions of reading are certainly true, there are many students who never have those experiences. They look at reading like a chore or a requirement, and they have yet to tap into reading materials that they can connect with in new and interesting ways. Having a negative perspective on reading can hurt a student’s achievement over time. That’s why it’s important to not only celebrate reading as both an academic tool and a fun past-time, but to also pay close attention to how your students feel when it comes time to pick up a book. When we look more closely at students’ feelings about reading, we must also consider what reading instruction looks like in school.

Could an imbalance of focus on “reading for skills” vs. “reading for pleasure” be killing the love of reading in your classroom?

When you take a closer look at your current practices and start listening to your students, you can uncover a lot about how to help turn negative experiences into positive ones. Consider these three common sentiments you’ve probably heard from your students a time or two and think through how, as a teacher, you can use them to understand more about what’s missing from your students’ reading instruction.

What Students Say

What Teachers Should Hear

Reading is so boring!

This student hasn’t found a genre or topic that he or she really connects with yet. I need to ask myself if I am giving this student access to books that interest him or her? I may need to expand my classroom library, but this student might also need help to effectively “book shop” to self-select just-right books that he or she can enjoy.

I hate reading!

This student has not had positive experiences reading. I should think about the circumstances that surround his or her current reading practices. Is this student always reading to answer questions on a test? Does this student ever spend time reading for personal pleasure?

Reading is hard!

This student may appear to be reading every time we begin independent reading, but if reading feels too hard for him or her, this learner is likely not making much effort to be better at it. As a teacher, I need to think about reading strategies, phonics practice, and phonemic awareness skills that might help support this reader, such that the act of reading doesn’t feel so difficult.

As you consider these remarks and teacher responses, some of this “imbalance” should start to show itself. So, let’s take a closer look at what it means to “read for skills” vs. “read for pleasure” and how both have a place in the classroom.

Reading for Skills Practice

As a teacher, you might encourage students to read for enjoyment, but you probably started off by teaching them how to read for skills practice. Considering that every reading teacher has a scope and sequence he or she must follow, skill-focused reading instruction is an obvious area of emphasis. For early learners, this involves teaching basic phonemic awareness and the alphabetic principle before spending time developing phonics skills and strategies. Then, students are encouraged to focus on fluency, and running records or fluency checks become common classroom practice. Along the way, vocabulary and comprehension skills are modeled and practiced until students are able to tackle these areas independently. By leveraging classroom structures such as reading workshops, the Daily Five™, and a balanced literacy approach, you march your students through the stages of developing necessary reading skills and hope that they uncover a love of reading along the way. And, for some, you accomplish this goal beautifully, and they become flourishing readers—while still others would fake a sick day to get out of a reading assignment.

So, why do we teach reading in this way? For starters, years of research on literacy points to this approach. For the students in your classroom who have ever felt “reading is hard,” you are serving their needs best when you’re focused on developing the underlying skills to help them succeed. After all, without basic understanding of reading principles, how will they ever be able to connect and make meaning out of increasingly difficult and powerful texts?

For students in this camp, particularly when you start to see them slip behind, computer-adaptive reading programs can help spot the gaps in learning. Take, for example, our program, Edmentum Exact Path, which uses an adaptive diagnostic assessment to pinpoint gaps in learning for K–8 students. Then, depending on which areas need more attention, students receive unique learning paths to deliver tutorials, practice, and reading quizzes that will help them master those underlying competencies and move toward reading proficiency.

Reading for Pleasure

Often, when we think about reading for pleasure, visions of reading in a cozy chair at home or lounging on a beach might come to mind. And, while those experiences are certainly worth encouraging, not all reading for pleasure needs to happen outside of school hours. Demonstrating and practicing reading for pleasure in the classroom can create positive experiences for students who can stick with them throughout their lives. Personally, I still remember my 4th grade teacher reading aloud Small Steps by Louis Sachar to us while we all found a comfortable place to relax and just take in the story and enjoy each moment unfold of this touching tale. I’m sure there was a class discussion here or there and maybe a vocabulary word explained, but mostly, this experience was about getting lost in a good book, and I’m so glad I experienced how reading could make me feel this way so early in my life.

So, what does reading for pleasure look like in the classroom? Well, it could be as simple as taking 15 to 20 minutes a few times a week to read to students like my teacher did. It could also be structured by encouraging students to read 15 minutes independently at the start of class every day. As a teacher, you might consider circulating and conferencing with students while they read, but there shouldn’t be a quiz or report tied to this time. That’s what makes it different from many of the other reading experiences your students engage in. Another way to promote reading for pleasure is to take an active interest in what your students are passionate about. Read books on their level, do research to gather recommendations, and actively expand your classroom library. All of this work allows you to engage in much more meaningful dialogue with students about what they’re reading in the past, present, and future.

And, if you’re looking for an online program that encourages reading experiences like this, look no further than Edmentum’s Reading Eggs. This dynamic 3-in-1 learn-to-read program for pre-K–6th grade students includes scaffolded reading practice, games, and songs, but perhaps one of its most impactful learning areas is the digital Library. Here, students can self-select reading selections by genre, topic, or Lexile® measure from more than 2,000 e-books. As they choose stories that meet their interests, they can read book reviews from other students, rate the books, or even write a review of their own for the next reader to enjoy.

As you consider how the precious minutes of your reading block are spent, make sure that you’re achieving the right balance of reading for pleasure vs. reading for skill. Start listening closely to the cues students are giving you so that you can feel confident that you are simultaneously building a love of reading and developing the necessary skills to help your students grow as lifelong readers. And, in your search and self-reflection, consider learning more about the foundational literacy solutions Edmentum offers.

madison.michell's picture
Madison Michell

Madison Michell has been a member of the Edmentum team since 2014 and currently serves as a Marketing Manager. As a former Kindergarten and 3rd grade teacher during her time as a Teach For America corps member, she believes education truly has the power to transform lives. She is passionate about connecting educators with online programs, best practices, and research that improve teaching and learning for today's students.