Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Reading for pleasure has dropped precipitously

According to a report by Common Sense Media:

53% of 9-year-olds vs. 17% of 17-year-olds are daily readers.
The proportion who "never" or "hardly ever" read tripled since 1984. A third of 13-year-olds and 45% of 17-year-olds say they've read for pleasure one to two times a year, if that.
Then there's reading quality:
Not all time spent reading is fully focused. Even before electronic books, some children “media multitasked” while reading — in other words, used some other medium at the same time they were reading, such as having music or television on in the background.  
The Kaiser Foundation’s study of media multitasking (Foehr, 2006), using data from 2003–2004, found that 28% of seventh through twelfth graders used another medium “most of the time” when they were reading, and another 30% said they did so “some” of the time they read.
I'm guessing that listening--especially extended, full-focused listening--is also down, though this is harder to measure. Current trends in education, however, are highly suggestive.


Anonymous said...

It's interesting that the reading rates of 9 year olds have not changed since 1984. It's only the reading rates of older kids - 13 and 17 that have changed. Likewise, younger children's reading comprehension remains strong, and it's older kids who have stalled.

The kids are reading as well as ever through the early grades. Then the older they get, the less they read.

What conclusion might one draw from this?

Maybe school is making children read less - if they stopped going at 9, they might keep reading.

Katharine Beals said...

One of the report's main findings is that *leisure* reading among these older kids has declined. It would be hard to explain this in terms of schools making kids read less.

If school is (partly) responsible, perhaps the problem, instead, is that the school-based reading assignments in the older grades aren't conveying the message that reading can be fun.

Anonymous said...

I can propose a simple explanation for you.

Perhaps every time kids read something for school, they get the third degree - have to fill out forms, answer questions, write reports. This would make reading less fun. Less fun reading -> less reading. Call it aversive conditioning.

For teachers to demonstrate to administrators' satisfaction that school-based reading assignments conveyed the message that reading can be fun, they would come with follow-up surveys to generate data on the precise degree of perceived fun both pre- and post- reading assignment. Which would not increase the fun.

Not being fun is characteristic of school. Other things characteristic of school easily become associated with not being fun. Pretty much anything a kid likes, if you slather some schoolishness on it, becomes less fun.

Sometimes I think that if teachers really wanted to stimulate reading among their students, the best thing they could do is ban it and talk in class about how horrible it is.

Katharine Beals said...

I'm not aware of anyone giving kids the third degree on their reading assignments.

What I am aware of are teachers requiring kids to write "text to self" and "text to world" responses to reading, which, by taking the child out of the world of the text, removes much of the fun, and teachers requiring kids to "annotate" their books, which is removes fun by making the reading process artificial.

I'm also seeing classes assign reading assignments that are either boring in content, or are too difficult in their vocabulary, syntax, and breadth/depth of presupposed background knowledge. Neither of these things is fun either.

Anonymous said...

Teachers usually aren't aware when their behavior towards students is perceived by the students as 'being given the third degree.' One could call it professional deformation.

It is clear that you have plenty of examples of methods of teacher-led fun extraction, however. So you don't really need anybody to walk you through why schools might effectively discourage reading.

Deirdre Mundy said...

One teacher in our area makes all the third graders fill out SQRRR journals for their 'fun' reading at home. She's teaching that SQRRR is the way 'good readers' read, even when they're reading a novel.

That's a good way to make reading into drudge-work....

Auntie Ann said...

Our kid's school dictates their pleasure reading as well as their classroom reading. They read a couple of books for class, but then they also have to read about 6 additional books over the course of the year that they have had pre-approved and that have to be from a variety of places around the world. They also can not be fantasy or sci-fi, which eliminates a large chunk of the books kids actually want to read.

This killed our now-8th grader's reading habits. She's a slow and indifferent reader at best, and getting through 6 pleasure books is a stretch for her during the school year. When her 6th grade year started she was in the middle of reading some of the Redwall books. She had to put those aside and pick up the pre-approved ones. She has pretty much never read for pleasure since.

Fortunately, our 6th grader reads a lot and has kept up his actual pleasure reading in addition to the books for school.


I've also found the transition between the age 9-12 shelves and the teen and adult shelves particularly difficult. Way too much of the teen stuff is "Paranormal Teen Romance" (I actually saw an entire section with that title above it at B&N a couple years ago.) Our boy struggles to find something that engages him. He's spent most of his time this year rereading his old favorites.

Anonymous said...

I guess now you're aware.

Katharine Beals said...

Auntie Ann, this insistence on school-approved pleasure books is horrible!

Deirdre Mundy, More horrors! SQQQR-style journaling  actually sounds qualitatively worse than the third degree–style interrogation would be.

ChemProf said...

There is also the Accelerated Reading program, where students are supposed to get points for their reading outside of school by filling out detail-based quizzes. I've heard many parents complain that it kills pleasure reading.

C T said...

Except for the summer library reading contest (free prizes!), I opt my children out of any kind of reading log at the school they attend part-time. I don't even let them participate in the school's Read-a-Thon. Such events and reading logs teach children that reading is a chore they have to be forced to do or hyped into doing for a fundraiser. My children already see both parents constantly reading and have access to a wealth of children's books, both ours and the library's. They love to read for their own pleasure and learning's sake, and I can't imagine any assignment worth damaging that love.
They do have mom-assigned readings that are short and ability-appropriate, and I usually have them tell me a short summary of what they read and answer any questions I may ask about the readings. They're only 7 and 9 years old; surely the close reading and analysis can wait until they have enough knowledge and maturity to make their analyses real instead of just artful regurgitation.
Oh, and I'm with you, Auntie Ann, on being worried about finding them good literature once my kids hit the teen shelves. How many money-making paranormal romance books can publishers milk out of the Twilight craze? If your library has the historical fiction books of Sally Watson, your 8th-grader might like those. I loved them when I discovered them in high school even though they were targeted to a younger age group. Image Cascade Publishing recently reprinted them all.

Anonymous said...

It seems the difficult explanation has been accomplished.

As for worrying about teen literature, I don't see the problem, unless they get stuck forever on a particular shelf in the bookstore (as never happens to adults, amirite?) Almost nothing should be out of a teenager's ability. Teenagers go to college, don't they?

The problem obviously happens earlier, when schools kill kids' enjoyment of reading and make it seem like a chore. If you can avoid that, a couple of years of nothing but science fiction won't kill them (it didn't kill me, at least).

The key is to keep reading, not to drill, SQRRR, or log. Reading anything - even Redwall, which BTW I quite enjoyed - will build the vocabulary kids need to enjoy literature at large, once the topics become interesting to them.

lgm said...

Reading takes time. Homework and studying takes time. Right now, my junior has three novels and one paper assigned for school, between his English and History classes. Not much time left.

Auntie Ann said...

My problem is what to do for books with a 12 year old (boy), who probably can read almost everything, but has no desire to read "teen" anything, and might not be ready for adult themes.

ChemProf said...

At that age, I read adult science fiction and kind of skimmed over the adult themes. I remember shocking my sixth grade teacher because I was reading The White Dragon by Anne McCaffery, which has a lot of romance/sex, and suggested it as the read aloud for class. Not that I knew why he was shocked.

But especially if you stick to older authors (although with Heinlein, stick to stuff from the 60s), I'd suggest introducing adult books.

If you want a couple of modern science fiction authors, Cedar Sanderson is fun. He also might like The Grimnoir Chronicles. These aren't great literature, but they are good rollicking reads.

Auntie Ann said...

I don't really mean adult themes as in sex, but topics and characters he has no interest in.

GoogleMaster said...

I think Heinlein's "juveniles" and anything by Bradbury (well, maybe not the last couple) would be devoured by a typical 12yo boy. Throw Asimov in there, fiction and non-fiction, and he might just learn something while he's reading for pleasure.

Hainish said...

I'd suggest Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy. And Asimov.

Unknown said...

Rosemary Sutcliff wrote great historical novels set in Roman Britain - young male protagonist - and versions of classic legends; Odyssey , Iliad, King Arthur. Tristan and Isolde etc. My kids loved them. Depending on the kid they are either juvenile or YA level. Even as an adult I can enjoy the hx novels.

GoogleMaster said...

I'm pretty sure we had this same conversation when Catherine's twins were this age...

Yikes, I just went looking for it and found that the original KTM site's domain registration has expired.

Fortunately there is still some content in the web archive.

ChemProf said...

Also, Terry Pratchett has some YA stuff, but his adult stuff should be pretty appealing to a 12 year old too.

Anonymous said...

Twelve years old is old enough to go to the library by himself. You shouldn't have to do anything but give him a card and see what he comes home with.

Yes, this is me again being an Other Parent who can't imagine a 12 year old not being able to find something interesting to read.

At that age, I'd lay on the floor between the stacks browsing one book after another like candy.

kcab said...

My HS junior has recently started reading for pleasure again, sometimes to avoid work, I think. There are several reasons she read less for pleasure the last two years: un-fun schoolwork associated with outside reading (reading logs that consisted of 5 essays per log, 4 logs per semester, required and a major part of grade), lots of homework in lots of hard classes, and too many video games.

Her tendency to read for pleasure hasn't been permanently damaged; she's back to making frequent trips to the library and yesterday told me about several books that she wanted to read this summer.