The Power of Self-selected Reading

There is great power in choice. This is true for adults, and it is true for young readers. When every book is chosen for a reader, by either a parent or teacher, or worse, when students are restricted to books within their reading level, motivation and interest are quickly lost. One of the greatest ways to empower young readers is to teach them to independently choose books they will love. This will set them on a path to becoming a lifelong reader.

Every text we read has a story telling how it ended up in our hands. Maybe the book was recommended by a friend. Maybe we read another book by this same author years ago and saw he had a new book recently released. Maybe we watched a movie that sparked our interested in this historical event and wanted to learn more. Maybe we needed an idea for dinner and the picture on the cover of this cookbook looked delicious.

When I sit down with a student and say, “tell me why you chose this book,” an avid reader will have a brief story. “I have been really into fantasy lately,” or “It is the third book in a series I’ve been reading.” This will tell me there was an intentional decision behind this book choice. When a student stares at me blankly, shrugs, and says, “I don’t know,” it is clear this student has not yet learned to self-select a text he or she will enjoy. Some children will make the mistake of grabbing the first book in sight. Other children will spend thirty minutes aimlessly browsing until time is up, forcing them to grab anything.

It is crucial that teachers and parents support young readers so they can become confident and competent in choosing books.

Introduce new books through read-alouds

Keep reading aloud to your children. Introducing them to new authors, series, and genres is the best way to build their confidence and point them to more books.  If you feel your child is too old for a bedtime story, try downloading audio books to listen to in the car.

Discuss your own book choices

Talk about the books you are reading and the story behind your book choices. It is important for young readers to see adults making decisions about what to read or not to read. Talk about your favorite authors, genres, magazines, or trusted friends who give great recommendations.

Provide opportunities to preview books

Surrounding children with books will help them feel more comfortable with the selection process. Make library and bookstore visits an enjoyable routine. Talk with your child about what section they’d like to browse first, and give them time to look. Resist the urge to be their personal book shopper, and instead, provide time for them to build confidence in choosing books they will love.

Encourage your child to seek recommendations

Real life reading depends on good recommendations from a trusted source. I am constantly checking in with friends to see what they are reading. I also have a few blogs I follow that list recent favorites. If you notice your child is having trouble selecting quality books on his or her own, encourage them to check in with a friend, teacher, librarian, or even a site a like Goodreads that will generate book recommendations based on your interests.

Finally, it is important to remember that abandoning a book is part of the reading process. I know enthusiastic readers who cannot bare the thought of an unfinished book, but I prefer not to waste time on a book I am simply not enjoying. There is too much good stuff out there. If your child abandons a book after a few chapters, check in to see why. Is it confusing, too slow, or just not what they expected? These discussions build real life readers. Abandoning books only presents a problem when it comes a habit.

We cannot assume children will just know how to self-select books matching their interest and abilities. This may be the case with stronger readers, but many children will need our support. Much of this support will come from natural conversations emerging from this question: “What made you choose that book?”

Happy reading!

Written by Joy Becker, Connections Blog Contributor