I have been thinking about "independent" reading quite a bit lately and how crucial it is. What if, as educators, we stop thinking about reading as an independent pursuit but as personalized learning leading to social activity? We should be encouraging students to engage with one another about the books they read digitally and in print.
This past November the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE ) released a statement on independent reading (http://www2.ncte.org/statement/independent-reading/). To be completely honest I struggled with it, not because of its intent, but because it defined independent reading as a "routine, protected instructional practice." Independent reading is not instructional but a practice that is...well, independent. Students have a choice in the topics, genres, formats, and titles and then embark on the solo activity of reading. The intent of the NCTE definition is perhaps the discussions with teachers that occur based on the reading choices. However, we must be clear that ELA blocks are for explicit instruction and that independent reading is a time for students to explore, expand, and connect with the content.
As the NCTE statement intends, we should encourage each classroom teacher to schedule time every day for students to read print books, eBooks, and audiobooks independently. We must then follow up with time to discuss, share opinions, and even question what they read with a peer. No preset questions, no expectations of writing or journaling, and no pressure of an end-of-book project...just a discussion based on how they interacted with the characters and events in the book. Imagine the conversations and connections that students will make with each other. Shift the focus of independent reading from instructional to as a personalized activity that leads to social interactions.
You may agree or disagree with my opinions but since you made it to the end of the column you just engaged in an independent reading activity and I encourage you to find someone to discuss your perspectives on what you just read. It might stretch your ideas on what independent reading is or is not.