(This is a excerpt from my book and workshop: Hi-Impact Reading Strategies: How to Accelerate Fluency and Proficiency with Reading. Get the book in hard copy here and the eBook here.)

When designing your Independent Reading Program this year, consider this.

An interesting experiment is described in the book Fail Fast, Fail Often by Ryan Babineaux and John Krumboltz (2013). Students on one side of a ceramics class, the quantity group, were told their grade would be based on volume—the more pounds of pottery they produced, the higher their grade would be. The grades of the students on the other side of the room would be based on quality of their work—if they produced just one outstanding piece of pottery, they would get an “A” grade.

The quantity group made piece after piece. Most of it was bad… at first. These students produced many more pieces of pottery than the quality group, who were focused on making just one perfect, artful piece. In the end, the quantity group made both more AND better pottery. It was the practice, the hands on experience with pottery, that made the difference. They had more exposure to the process. They experimented. They made what they wanted to make. They produced piles and piles of shoddy pottery. It must have seemed that they were just wasting both time and clay. But they worked many times more pieces of clay than the quality group students. They had more touches — and that volume paid off. They made poor pieces, then mediocre pieces, but they got better at it. Time spent making bad pottery was not losing. It was valuable practice. It was hidden long-term winning.

Students in the quality group planned out their pieces and tried to produce refined, flawless work. They worked on very few pieces over the length of the course. Some worked on only one piece during the whole term. Despite their intention and focus, they produced inferior artwork. Because of their limited practice, the quality group showed little improvement. In the end, students in the quantity group made both more, and better-quality pieces than the group that was purposefully trying to make only high-quality pieces of pottery. By the end of the course, the students in the quantity group were easily and joyfully creating beautiful and meaningful pieces of art quickly and effortlessly. The amount of experience in the quantity group beat the highly-focused and purposeful work in the quality group. The same principle applies with reading.

For too long, our approach to reading has been more like the quality pottery group. We’ve given our students short reading passages, and then discussed and analyzed those texts. Even in upper-level classes students have often had only occasional short stories, poems, or short cultural passages to read. They have not read hundreds of thousands of words in the target language. They lacked quantity. What students need to become good readers is quantity. We need to get them reading, even if it’s not classic literature. When students read extensively a similar phenomenon to the quantity pottery group will happen: the more they read, the better they’ll get at it. The more interesting and comprehensible words our students read, the more acquisition will occur and the more fluent they will become.

To get to high-quality reading ability, students need to read. A lot. They don’t have to read high-quality materials all of the time. They just need to read. Once they get hooked, 20 novels per school year is not unreasonable—at any level. The more words that pass in front of their eyeballs, the better readers they become. And the best way to get them reading, and keep them reading, is to allow them to choose the target language material and provide a regular time and place for reading. Our students will become quality readers if they get enough quantity reading. They will eventually be able to read quality, authentic, classic literature if enough words from low-quality reading pass before their eyes.

For more, see this blog post on self-selected reading, and this one called “Let Them Read Junk!”

Those and more are on the reading section of my blog:  https://www.brycehedstrom.com/category/reading/