In-school reading program lifting kids' vocabulary, wellbeing outcomes – study

In-school reading program lifting kids

A two-year study has found that dedicating up to 20 minutes per school day for silent reading can improve students’ literacy and their motivation for reading and learning.

The Sustained Silent Reading (SSR) research project was conducted at Queenwood, a non-selective K–12 girls’ school in Sydney’s north where 14% of students receive additional learning support to address literacy needs.

“Past research has shown that reading impacts the academic, emotional and social development of students,” said Dr Geoff Newcombe AM, Chief Executive of the Association of Independent Schools of NSW (AISNSW).

The project was supported through AISNSW’s School Based Research Projects (SBRP) initiative.

Queenwood Principal, Elizabeth Stone, said she had observed falling rates of leisure reading, especially among senior students, reflecting a global trend of declining literacy in young people.

“In 2020, we responded by initiating an SSR program called Just Read to develop a reading culture among senior students and the results have been very positive, in spite of all the COVID-related disruptions,” she said.

Over the 12 months of Just Read:

  • vocabulary improved on average for students in all grades bar one, with the greatest improvement for students in the lowest quartile
  • reading comprehension improved among many year groups
  • the proportion of students who did not like to read silently fell by more than a quarter to under 10%
  • 85% of staff respondents to a survey ‘agreed’ or ‘strongly agreed’ that students had benefited through increased literacy, wellbeing, engagement in reading and educational skills
  • teachers reported that students were ‘more relaxed, more settled, more focused’ with an increased interest in the library and in engagement with books (borrowing rates had increased for both the Junior and Senior School libraries).

Ms Stone said Just Read had also increased incidental conversations among staff and students about books and reading for enjoyment; reading fiction became a habit and books became less “nerdy”.

“Some staff and students have begun enjoying books of fiction for the first time in their lives and others have rekindled a love of reading,” she said.

Dr Newcombe said the project was one of several SBRPs supported by AISNSW each year.

“Now in its eighth year, the SBRP initiative has directly supported over 180 staff from 29 schools to undertake quality research to improve student learning,” he said.

“AISNSW’s Evidence Institute supports these schools to build research engagement and capacity as part of this ongoing initiative.”

The original version of this article was a media release from the Association of Independent Schools of NSW (AISNSW).