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The one question that parents have asked me more than any other in my twenty years as a teacher is: “How do I get my son or daughter to read?”
As a young teacher, I didn’t really have an answer for this, probably because I didn’t understand the question. Having always been a reader, I couldn’t really comprehend the thought of not wanting to read or, even harder to understand, not liking the act of reading. However, over the years I have taught thousands of children and have become a parent myself. In this time I have come to learn that not every child is a reader – but every parent wants their child to be one.
It’s not hard to understand why parents want this so much for their kids. Parents know that reading underpins every academic success. There are numerous studies which have highlighted the importance of reading in terms of academic achievement, but it is not the purpose of this blog to examine these studies. In general terms, the research concludes that reading improves vocabulary, comprehension and overall literacy. Readers are recognised by teachers to be better spellers and writers than non-readers. Readers score higher in reading and comprehension tests.
Readers are even said to get better jobs, with studies showing that being a reader can have a big impact on the course of a young person’s life. A recent study at Oxford University which tracked 17,200 people born in 1970 found that reading enhances the likelihood that a teenager will go on to study for a degree at university. The study also found a link between reading and career success and therefore, higher incomes.
Yet as parents we all know that it is becoming increasingly difficult to get children reading. In the 21st century there are just so many other things to do, chiefly those which involve a screen. There is no argument that our teenagers are ‘screenagers’ as they spend a great deal of time in front of various screens: television, video games, computers and personal devices.
As the technological revolution continues to impact on society, particularly the younger generation, this is becoming an area of real concern. Patricia M. Greenfield, an American neuropsychologist, carried out a study in 2009 about the impact of technology on learning. The study showed that whilst Generation Y’s love of technology including television, video games and the Internet is developing impressive visual intelligence, this comes at a considerable cost, namely the ability to process information at a deep level. The ability to analyse and reflect, in short what teachers know as ‘critical literacy’, is not being developed. As visual intelligence increases, the ability of the younger generation to absorb and understand the written word is decreasing. In order to develop reflection and critical thinking skills, the developing human mind needs ample time for reading.
So all the parents over the years who have asked me how to get their kids reading knew something important: that encouraging our children’s reading is the best way to support their learning and intellectual development, and an ideal way to put them on the path to future success.
As a teacher librarian who has worked in all sorts of schools: government, independent and Catholic; single sex and co-ed; primary and secondary; I can tell you this – there are kids who are natural readers. They love reading and with them, the job is done. The reading rules are not necessary for those kids.
The reading rules are for the other kids. First of all, the rules are for the kids who don’t like reading. The reasons some kids don’t like reading are numerous: they may find it difficult; they may have had poor experiences with reading in the past; for many, they think it is simply ‘boring’.
The rules are also for the kids who don’t necessarily dislike reading, they just don’t choose to read. Sometimes this is for the same reasons as above: poor experiences with books, or the belief that reading is ‘boring’. But I believe many kids are choosing not to read simply because there are just so many other things to do. Kids in the 21st century are busy. Not only do they have many extra-curricular activities outside the home happening, such as sport or music, they also have a whole heap of distractions inside the home which prevent them from reading. Television, surfing the net, video games and social networking all form a big part in the lives of young people today. And as kids get older, the more they have to fit in, such as hours of homework and part-time jobs. Put simply, many kids who like reading don’t read because they just have too many other things to do.
Whatever the reason kids choose not to read, and there are many, I know from experience that it is possible to get these kids reading and, in most cases, enjoying it.
The reading rules I have compiled are not a scientific study, nor are they intended to be. They are a compilation of my experience in getting girls and boys of all ages excited about reading. My experiences in promoting reading over the years have led to a core set of beliefs which I think are necessary to create readers. These beliefs make up the ‘rules’. The ten reading rules are designed for parents. Follow them and you will create a reading culture in your home, thereby raising children who are readers. There is no better gift a parent can bestow on their child. It does take a little effort, but anything worthwhile does take effort.
As parents and educators, I believe the most important job we have is to get kids reading. As a society there is no argument that when we find the time to read, the manner in which we read is changing, with much of our reading happening in an online rather than a print environment. However, this does not negate the need for the ability to read in the first place. Whether we read an actual newspaper or the online version, a print book with pages or an e-book, the fact remains that we must still read to access the printed word.
I have not yet met a kid whom I haven’t been able to engage in a reading lesson. I can get them all reading and you can too. In fact, you have more chance to get them reading than I do, because you have much more influence in their lives. All it takes is ten easy steps: the ‘rules’. If you follow these rules, reading will become part of the routine in your child’s life. Better still, it will change their life.
References and further reading
Greenfield, P. M. (2009, January). Technology and informal education: What is taught, what is learned. Science, 323(5910), 69-71. Retrieved from http://www.sciencemag.org
Kim, J. S. (2006, Winter). Effects of a voluntary summer reading intervention on reading achievement: Results from a randomized field trial . American Educational Research Association, 28(4), 335-355. Retrieved from JSTOR database. (4121789)
Krashen, S. D. (2004). The power of reading. Insights from the research (2nd ed.). Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.
MacDonell, C. (2004, April). Making the case for pleasure reading. Teacher Librarian, 31(4), 30-32. Retrieved from EBSCOhost database. (13050673)
Reading at 16 linked to better job prospects (2011). University of Oxford Media Centre. Retrieved 30 August 2011 from http://www.ox.ac.uk/media/news_stories/2011/110804.html
Rideout, V. J., Foehr, U. G., & Roberts, D. F. (2010, January). Generation M2. Media in the lives of 8- to 18-year-olds. Retrieved from Kaiser Family Foundation Study website: http://www.kff.org/entmedia/mh012010pkg.cfm
Vigdor, J., & Ladd, H. (2010, June). Scaling the digital divide. Home computer technology and student achievement (Working paper No. 48). Retrieved from National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research website: http://www.nber.org/papers/w16078
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