(A popular article; by one NEB)
Reading is undoubtedly an activity that will open one’s mind about the outside world. This is true of both adults and children. Adults, especially those studying at college, read mainly because they are assigned to do so, as part of writing a report or reporting their reading. When they choose to read for pleasure, they will resort to reading materials they like best. Children, on the contrary, read for various reasons: curiosity, good pictures, nice colors, etc. Children especially need to be encouraged to read more and to read various reading materials too because it affects many aspects related to their literacy development. Children who read more and read various reading materials too have been found to improve their writing style, vocabulary, spelling, and even grammar (for example, Krashen 1993). One kind of reading associated with this is called free voluntary reading (FVR).
FVR simply means that children can choose what they like best reading out of a variety of reading materials presented to them. These reading materials can comprise both fiction and non-fiction literature too. When children read what they are most attracted to, it can be argued that their interest will be enhanced. And so their achievement or improvement in aspects of literacy is likely to follow. FVR can take place both inside or outside the classroom. Inside the classroom, it is the teacher who will need to provide the variety of reading materials for the children to choose from. Outside the classroom, where in fact real reading occurs, it is the environment which is responsible for the supply of those reading materials. This can be the children’s parents themselves, public library, reading club, etc.
FVR children do in the classroom does not necessarily have to require them to report on their reading once they are finished with it. Children are not adults who can easily understand the tasks following their reading activities. For children, reading is for reading. They absorb what they read, and that’s it. If, still, they are to report on what they have read, that has to be as informal a task as possible. Asking a question as simple as “How do you like the book?” and expecting an answer as short as “Very nice” will have to do. What adults should understand is that a lot more goes on inside the children’s head than the questions can probe.
FVR taking place outside the classroom is even more real. There will be no tasks whatsoever following their reading activities. Yet, if this practice is enhanced by the conducive environment supplying all kinds of reading texts children can choose to read, their aspects of literacy will improve greatly. Before adults know it, children may have surpassed their level of achievement adults would normally set for them. When this happens, children will even read more and more. And this is just how they develop their habit of reading that they will not give up doing once they are grown up. Thus, the so-called sustained reading will occur, that is, in its truest sense, of course.
Some skeptics believe that FVR, especially that occurring inside the classroom, is effective only if the children’s environment outside the classroom is conducive already to support their sustained reading practices and if the children do read too outside the classroom given the supportive environment. If this does not prevail, FVR in the classroom will only serve as a once-in-a-while reading practice that will not go anywhere. It is more like doing something for a change. That is why, they argue, FVR is in itself a western concept adopted and proven to work best in developed countries in which reading in daily life is an observed phenomenon already. It is now being introduced to other less developed (read: developing) countries where reading habit is yet to emerge to see if it works the same wonders, so to speak.
Nevertheless, FVR is a concept that is worth accepting and trying. Especially in the context of Indonesia, this should be observed both in and outside the classroom if we are to see best results. By outside the classroom, I mean that the environment should be one that exposes the children to not only a variety of reading materials but also adults who read everywhere: at the bus stop, in public transports, at restaurants, etc. just like in developed (read: modern) countries that they are really proud of. It is this way that adults can set a good example of reading for real in daily life. FVR that takes place in the classroom will only be a reflection of the whole picture of reading society that prevails outside it.