Here’s Why Independent Reading Matters in a Pandemic

By Daniel Sonnier

We’re in the midst of a back-to-school season like no other. The COVID-19 pandemic has raised lots of questions about how to safely and effectively keep kids learning when traditional classroom teaching isn’t an option. Many schools across the U.S. are focusing on virtual learning for the time being, with classes being held primarily or exclusively online.

Meanwhile, parents from all walks of life are worried about how to make sure their kids are keeping up. Affluent parents have hired tutors or forming learning “pods” with their friends and neighbors. Other families are struggling just to access a stable internet connection or the basic technology their kids need for class, like a laptop with a webcam. These inequities aren’t unique to virtual learning; they are reflections of the opportunity gaps that existed in American education long before the pandemic and are only widening now.

I know that these issues of systemic inequity will not be resolved overnight, or even by the end of this school year. But there’s one crucial learning activity that every child—no matter their circumstances—can do right now, at home: reading.

There’s a reason that Harriett Ball—the master teacher who inspired the creation of KIPP—urged her students, “You gotta read, baby, read!” Independent reading, where students choose the books they read and are given dedicated time to read on their own, has benefits that go way beyond the written page.

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