Getting students interested in reading and ensuring that they have sufficient time to do so is vitally important to growth in reading ability. Research shows that the poorest readers read the least, which widens the achievement gap over time. The only way to start closing that gap is to get those struggling readers to read more. Literacy educator Shelley Harwayne suggests encouraging students to "read widely and wildly".
Wide reading involves reading a variety of materials (books, magazines, websites, etc.) and a variety of genres (mystery, nonfiction, historical fiction, etc.). Wild reading refers to reading voraciously. In order for students to want to read widely and wildly, they must first have a wide variety of reading materials available and those materials must be at the correct reading level.
To help navigate the wide variety of materials available, the students have to be taught how to choose a book. Trying to read something too difficult becomes frustrating and reading something too easy can be boring; both are very demotivating. Learning the "five finger rule" will help students to choose books at the right level.
The next step is learning to choose an interesting book. Students need to be taught to examine the cover of the book, look at who authored the book, read the blurb on the back, look at illustrations (if available), and read the first page or two of the book to see if it seems interesting. Introducing students to authors or genres through read-alouds is a way to encourage them to branch out from their current reading choices. To get students to read wildly, we have to give them time to do it. With constantly increasing curriculum standards and pressure for standardized testing, many teachers feel that it's not possible to provide free reading time.
Sometimes, free reading time has to be found in unusual places. In the classroom, that can be the 5 minutes before lunch or the end of the day when some students are getting ready to transition. If a student completes an assignment before other students, that student can read while waiting for others, or if there is an interruption in class, everyone can have a few minutes to read. Outside of the classroom as well, students can be encouraged to always have a book with them. Some students can read in the car. I explain to my students that I always have a book with me to give me something to do while I wait for a doctor's appointment or for my meal to be served at a restaurant, and encourage them to do the same.
One of my favorite days as a Reading Specialist was when I walked out to the playground and saw one of my formerly struggling students reading a book instead of playing on the equipment; that was her activity of choice that day.
"Wide and wild" readers will quickly start closing that achievement gap.