I don’t just watch trends happen in education when it comes to reading: I live them daily. In my two decades as an educator in various capacities, I have seen my share of trends come and go when it comes to instruction of reading, but there are some constants and hard data that educators and parents use to make decisions about reading. The research is telling us a number of disturbing trends about how fewer parents are reading to their children and that in the previous 30 years we’ve seen reading decline further and further amongst children.
So, when I hear things like “Kids just aren’t reading these days!” I have to stop myself from arguing against it when the research and data tells us that it’s true. Developmentally, reading is a part of what makes our imaginations blossom and our worldview expand, but I also know that there are other things capturing the attention of children.
Naturally, much of this discussion comes with advances in technology and apps that are appealing to younger and younger children. Getting my own teens to continue reading long after I stopped reading to them was a battle but we got lucky in that they found what interested them early on and it they were varied genres. Of course, I didn’t have to compete with smartphones or easily accessible apps to get my own children to read. While they were growing up the media that vied for their attention was the television or video games and even that wasn’t seen as an “addiction” like many believe it to be today.
Even as the data comes in we are learning that there are concrete reasons for encouraging reading. Readathon focused on the National Literacy Trust data to help us see the important connection that reading has with our own joy:
“The National Literacy Trust cites overwhelming evidence that literacy has a significant relationship with a person’s happiness and success. A deep engagement with storytelling and great literature link directly to emotional development in primary children, according to The Rose Review, 2008 Independent Review of the Primary School Curriculum.”
Not long ago, Time used the data from Common Sense Media to explore what that decline looks like in actual numbers. What they shared is alarming but not surprising:
The decline in reading for fun is most easily explained by technological advances (i.e., kids would rather text than read), but education could have something to do with it as well. It’s no surprise that 53% of 9-year-olds read for fun every day, but only 19% of 17-year-olds do. Yes, the teenagers have more Instagrams to post, but they also have more homework to do.
Readathon tells us that reading matters but that developmental growth is shaped by allowing children to choose their books:
Over 96% believe ‘reading what they want’ helps children develop. Neither the content nor its format is considered as important as it once was. Many teachers welcome anything to encourage reading, including comics (90%), DVDs (55%) and even mobile phones (32%).
All hope is not lost, however, and PBS offered Tips for Encouraging Summer Reading (as many sites do yearly) which includes providing children with plenty of books and making time for reading as a sacred activity. Book Riot also offered a less scientific study that may be considered action research in discussing why we read what we read if we’re constantly naming the classics as our favorite books. Be sure to check out The Problem with Reading for Pleasure because it challenges us to think about our recommendations to other readers:
Whenever I meet someone who says they love books, I am quick to ask them to list some of their favorite books of all time. Most are drawn from a familiar pool (The Great Gatsby, To Kill a Mockingbird, Catch-22, and the like) with a couple of more idiosyncratic titles thrown in. In general, the books mentioned are well-crafted, serious works of literary art. This fact stands in stark contrast to something else I’ve been watching closely: the dominance of crime and romance on bestseller lists.
How is it that most people’s favorite books are neither crime nor romance but these are the books that people buy most often?
The data tells us that children are reading less but just as quickly as apps are introduced and discovered by kids there are ways in which staunch supporters of reading communicate to us the danger in allowing the drift from doing something parents view as fiercely important to simply letting them go with the technological flow. Looking at the data and research did for me what it always does: it made me realize how precious and sacred reading is but it also forced me to actively protect and cultivate it.
For all that research tells us then, is it any wonder that I feel immeasurable joy when I catch my students reading while walking down the hallway or listening to them discuss their favorite books or making recommendations to their friends. Even in teen speak when I hear things such as, “You, like totally, have to read this book. It’s so awesome.” I know that they must see the value, too.
What are you noticing in the reading trends with your own children? Do you agree that kids aren’t reading as much when you consider your own family’s commitment to reading?