Social Networks and Independent Reading 1
Connecting Social Networks and Independent Reading
Computers as Learning Tools
Social Networks & Independent Reading 2
The Importance of Independent Reading
Over the past decade, much research has been done on the importance of independent
reading and its’ correlation to student success. According to Cunningham and Stanovich, the
time students spend reading significantly contributes to their acquisition of new vocabulary,
spelling skills, fluency, verbal intelligence, and background knowledge—all of which improves
reading comprehension (American Reading Company, 2008, para. 4). Anderson, Wilson, and
Filding also found that independent reading volume can accurately predict a student’s
performance on standardized testing. “Students scoring in the 98th percentile read
independently an average of 67 minutes per day while students who score in the 10th
percentile read independently for an average of only 10 minutes per day (American Reading
Company, 2008, para. 6).” NAEP solidifies those conclusions, as their data also shows that only
28 percent of teens who read less than six pages per day score in the proficient level (American
Reading Company, 2008, para. 10).
Clearly, one of the most basic ways a teacher can improve a students’ reading ability is
to increase the amount of time the student spends reading self-selected texts. Unfortunately,
reading volume declines for students over the age of eight, as many kids complain they cannot
find enough really good books for boys or girls their age. In fact, Scholastic’s annual Kids and
Family Reading Report has concluded that the struggle to find a really good book is one of the
main reasons tweens and teens choose not to read for fun. Only 15% of students ages 9-17
selected “don’t like to read” as the cause for their lack of independent reading (2008, p. 6).
Social Networks & Independent Reading 3
Shelfari Social Networking and Improving Independent Reading
By participating in a social network, students are connected with others who have
similar interests. A student is often introduced to new ideas and learns how their peers around
the world view objects, ideas, and events (Childnet International, 2008, p. 14). Social networks
also give students a real audience and the opportunity to express their opinions and ideas.
They allow students to realize “that their voices matter, that people are listening and
responding, and that their ideas count. . .By inviting students to become active participants in
the design of their own learning, we teach them how to be active participants in their lives and
future careersquot; (Richardson, 2006, p. 129).
If finding the perfect independent reading book is the main obstacle to helping students
read more, and 89% of students say their favorite books are those they select (not those
assigned by teachers), then perhaps Shelfari, a social network for book readers, can help solve
the problem (Scholastic, 2008, para. 6). Shelfari.com allows users to create a virtual bookshelf
of current, past, and future reads. This function is useful for students who already avidly read,
but for the reluctant reader, Shelfari offers even more. It helps users connect with readers who
have similar book interests. Most every student has at least two favorite books. When a
student adds these books to their virtual shelf, they can read the reviews, view the ratings,
participate in discussion, and connect with other readers. Through this network of reading
“friends,” students have a greater chance of finding the “perfect” book.
In order to benefit from the offerings of Shelfari, students will need to learn to evaluate
the reviews posted by their peers world-wide. Before selecting their next book, they will need
Social Networks & Independent Reading 4
to ask themselves: “How do we make good judgments? Socially, in terms of recommendations
from people we trust? Cognitively, based on rational argumentation?” (Seely Brown, 2002,
para. 19). They will need to learn to nurture and maintain healthy and safe network
connections in order to continue finding good books. They must also be able to contribute to
the book conversations by posting meaningful and helpful reviews and discussions. Therefore,
the use of Shelfari will not only improve the chances that students will be successful in finding a
quality independent reading book, but will also improve their writing and communication skills.
Social Networks & Independent Reading 5
American Reading Company. (2007). Research supports the power of independent reading.
Retrieved December 6, 2008 from
Brown, J. S. (February 2002). Growing up digitial: how the web changes work, education, and
the ways people learn. Retrieved December 5, 2008 from
Childnet International. (2008). Young people and social networking services. Retrieved
December 6, 2008 from http://fraser.typepad.com/socialtech/files/fullReport.pdf
Richardson, W. (2006). Blogs, wikis, podcasts, and other powerful web tools for classrooms.
Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin Press.
Scholastic Reading Corporation. (2008). 2008 Kids & family reading report: reading in the 21st
century: turning the page with technology. Retrieved December 7, 2008 from