Where Have All the Readers Gone?

The National Endowment for the Arts is out with a new research analysis that looks at the nation’s reading habits.  And the results are not pretty.  According to the NEA, less than a third of 13-year-olds are daily readers.  Americans ages 15-24 are spending two hours a day watching TV and seven minutes a day reading.  And reading scores for 12th graders fell sharply from 1992 to 2005.  The full report can be found at: http://www.nea.gov/news/news07/TRNR.html.

For years, we’ve been hearing of the Harry Potter effect, the belief that the boy wizard has dramatically increased the number of teens and pre-teens who have read for pleasure these past five years.  NEA is now saying Hogwarts is not a draw, and My Super Sweet 16 is a better attention-grabber than Harry versus Voldemort.

What’s interesting is that NEA compares TV time to pleasure reading.  Eduflack was surprised to see that 15-24 year olds are only watching TV for two hours a day.  So where’s the rest of the time going?  Video games?  Internet?  Volunteerism?  (Just kidding on the last one.)  If it is the web, how does that factor into reading?  Several unanswered questions.

Regardless, it is easy to draw the line between pleasure reading and reading ability.  When it comes to pleasure activities, just about all of us do the things we enjoy and that we can do.  If reading comes easily, we do it for pleasure.  If it is a struggle, it is a chore.  Some would rather do long division on a Saturday afternoon then be forced to read a book.  It’s sad but true.

So which comes first?  Do we become good readers by reading for pleasure, or do we read for pleasure because we are good readers?  Can one gain vocabulary and fluency and comprehension skills by spending more time with books and practicing their reading?  If adults are not reading, do we honestly think their children are going to choose to?

Reading should be a skill that permeates into just about everything else we do.  In school, reading skills will eventually impact a child’s ability to succeed in science, social studies, and even math.  In life, those reading skills are going to open pathways in high school, postsecondary education and careers. 

NEA does a good job at detailing some of the negative impacts that come from not reading.  But if we’ve learned anything from recent education communications efforts, it’s that scare tactics don’t work.  Students needs to hear what is possible from reading.  They need to hear of the doors it opens.  The jobs it offers.  The successes it results in.  Let today’s middle schooler pick a career.  I dare you to find a 21st century job that doesn’t require reading and critical thinking skills.  That comes from reading, both early and often. 

We can have the best instructional strategies and interventions in the first grade.  We can throw in the best, most effective teachers.  We can assess it and package it into a law.  It all gets lost if we aren’t supplementing it at home.  Kids mimic and copy and model their behavior after parents and family members.  Children will read if their parents make it a priority.  In our house, our 19-month-old eduson now demands two books before he will go to sleep at night.  He knows how to hold a book.  He knows one reads left to right.  He’s starting to identify the pictures.  We can now hope that he will read for pleasure (particularly since eduwife is a voracious reader).  We do it now, in part, so he is ready to read when he hits kindergarten.  And we do it now so he has it with him for a lifetime.

Virtually everyone can agree that students would benefit from additional reading instruction time during the school day.  Now we just have to remember that the learning day is 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.  If we want classroom reading instruction to stick, we need to reinforce it early and often at home and just about anywhere else outside the schoolhouse doors.  

2 thoughts on “Where Have All the Readers Gone?

  1. I agree with this article. To me reading is very important in every aspect of life. Good readers are those who practice often. Children and adults do not spend enough time relaxing and reading. I agree that reading is the most important part of our lives, without it people are lost.

  2. Additionally, after middle-schoolers pick a career, they can be taught the LANGUAGE of that career.Explicit pronunciation. Precise spelling. No skipping, no guessing. Language fluency and literacy is waiting!

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