On Reading 20 Minutes a Day
Summertime offers students the opportunity to discover reading for pleasure, especially if they have felt burdened during the school year keeping up with the required texts. Of course, some middle and high schools assign one or two selected texts to be read before the school year begins. This need not, however, preclude the opportunity for students to sink into the delight of their own choices for summer reading.
Summer reading? Shouldn’t students on break from school also count on a break from reading books? Shouldn’t they just be relaxing, seeing friends, enjoying the great outdoors? Not necessarily, not when there is so much to gain from a steady reading habit.
In her book Overcoming Dyslexia, neuroscientist Sally Shaywitz gives us remarkable statistics about the benefits of reading a minimum of 20 minutes a day. When I share these statistics with students of every level – whether they have learning problems or none at all – the students pay attention.
Impressive Statistics on the Benefits of Reading
20 minutes per day 1.8 million words per year
4.6 minutes per day 282,000 words per year
1 minute per day 8,000 words per year
Shaywitz shows why 20 minutes of reading a day guarantees that a student’s vocabulary will continue to expand; she further explains what is lost when the reading habit is not cultivated. Pre-teens and teen-agers usually change their tune about not liking to read when they see the direct effect of strong reading habits on developing a greater vocabulary, which in turn leads to greater comprehension.
Teaching writing means I teach a love of language, a love of ideas, and a love of reading. I must make the connection between these elements crystal clear to my students. Since so much writing in school is based on a clear comprehension of a new subject introduced in class, or of a theme in a novel, or the principles behind a science experiment, it helps all students to have Shaywitz’s words at the ready.
Books offer almost three times as many interesting or complicated words – words outside the general vocabulary of a sixth grader – compared to even the most educated speakers. Books for adult readers have about fifty rare words for every one thousand words; the spoken language of a college graduate has only about seventeen rare words per one thousand spoken words. Children’s books, too, “have 50 percent more rare words in them than does the conversation of college graduates.” And so simply relying on even the most sophisticated conversations to increase vocabulary falls short of what can be gained through reading.
The powerful influence of early reading on later reading and vocabulary growth was demonstrated when researchers had children keep diaries of how they spent their time when they were not in school. The very best readers, those who scored better than 90 percent of their peers on reading tests, read for more than twenty minutes a day (about 1.8 million words a year), while those at the fiftieth percentile read only 4.6 minutes a day (282,00 words yearly). The poorest readers, those children reading below the tenth percentile, read less than one minute each day (8,000 words a year), and would require one year to read what the best readers read in two days.
Overcoming Dyslexia: A New and Complete Science-Based Program for Reading Problems at Any Level by Sally Shaywitz, M.D.