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Arkansas State University

Should Students Read Together or Alone?

Historically, educators have debated the benefits and drawbacks of sustained silent reading versus group reading. Strategies for teaching reading have varied concerning which methods are most effective across diverse student populations and ability levels. Each time the educational community agrees on one approach, new evidence arises to refute it.

New educational methods such as student-led inquiry, differentiated instruction, ability grouping and cooperative learning all factor into this debate. Since reading alone and reading together both offer benefits and drawbacks, many educators are reconsidering them in the context of how to combine the positive aspects of each, ideally helping students to explore reading on their own, develop a lifelong love of reading, and enjoy the social learning benefits of group reading. Degree candidates in an online master’s degree in education program, such as a Master of Science in Education in Reading, will study both sides of this debate to capitalize on the positive implications for effective strategies for teaching reading.

Independent Reading

Advocates of self-directed, sustained silent reading claim this practice allows students to explore reading at their own ability levels, motivated by their interests. This can help students develop an appreciation for reading for its own sake. Proponents believe that encouraging self-directed reading can improve student literacy overall. Further, this approach does not force students into the ability comparisons common to group reading. Setting aside time for students to read alone in class, while also offering individualized instruction as necessary, aligns with current strategies for teaching reading and others like differentiated instruction and co-constructing knowledge, which value students’ investment in their own learning.

Opponents of students reading alone suggest that this model is ineffective at improving student literacy. They maintain that students do not challenge themselves sufficiently on their own. In addition, some students react negatively to free reading time because they simply see it as additional work.

Group Reading

Strategies for teaching reading that involve group reading can offer numerous benefits, such as encouraging group interaction and cooperative learning, healthy competition, and the confidence that comes with achievement in the context of social learning. Ability grouping can also allow teachers to differentiate instruction for students at similar reading levels. In addition, repetition of reading materials, verbalization and explanations in group settings can lead to better retention.

The drawbacks of group reading involve challenge levels, confidence and distraction. Students who track into lower ability groups often receive less-challenging instruction and internalize their lower level placement, resulting in poor self-confidence. Moreover, the group setting creates more distraction, which can decrease focus and engagement.

Reading Together and Alone

Educators are looking to combine these two methodologies to make use of their respective benefits. For example, some teachers find success in directing students to read alone in subjects that interest them and then report on the material afterwards in a group setting. This can improve retention through verbalization while encouraging interest in their peers.

There is no simple answer to which approach works best: reading together or reading alone. Each method offers benefits and challenges, yet some combination of both strategies for teaching reading can be effective. By enrolling in an online master’s degree in education program, degree candidates can study these different methodologies and devise ways to incorporate aspects of both.

Learn more about the A-State online MSE in Reading program.


Education Next: All Together Now?

Education Week: A Teacher Revisits the Sustained Silent Reading Debate

Edutopia: Learner Interest Matters: Strategies for Empowering Student Choice

Reading Alone Together: Enhancing Extensive Reading via Student-Student Cooperation in Second-Language Instruction

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