Reading…

I can still see the poster on my own childhood primary school classroom wall:

Kids who read succeeed

The Conservative politician and current British Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, has recently said that, ‘children should read 50 books a year’.

Who could possibly disagree?

In my (not so) humble (on this issue) opinion our Australian community has very low expectations of how much a child or teenager should read. The issue really is to do with how much an adult reads. Kids know all about those ‘who talk the talk’ about reading but rarely have a book open. Parent-Teacher evenings where Mum or Dad, usually Mum, rue the fact that their son or daughter, usually son, does not read can have an awkward moment when one enquires into what the parent is currently reading. Is it arrogant to expect people to read? Do we need to make reading more an expectation than merely something some people do as a hobby?

My own daughter, aged 7, read 50 books over the Christmas holidays, including the first 5 Harry Potter novels. I know this reads like a terrible ’paragon of virtue’ statement but it is true. We made no attempt to ‘teach her to read’ but read a minimum of three books to her every night from the time she was in the womb. Reading is a socially constructed pleasure…or not. If Mum and Dad do not read the chances of the child doing so are slim. If fathers do not read, doubly so. Do we need hard data to confirm these assertions?

What is your advice to children and teenagers, parents and teachers about reading?

 

BTW 2012 is the National Year of Reading and you may wish to follow lovetoread2012 on twitter.

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28 Comments

  1. Mark:

    As a parent, I am finding my struggle (which is purely internal at this stage) is with my own feelings about WHAT my daughter is reading. She reads everywhere (inlcuding in the car) and all the time, but she gets right into these pretty low level (it seems to me) books in series and devours them- certainly nothing of the order of Harry Potter (so ‘big ups’ to Lucy, Darcy). Anyway, guess I shouldn’t worry too much and just keep making booiks avaialable. She’ll no doubt move onto more ‘mature’ books soon. (I remember reading all of Frederick Forsyth and stuff life Jaws at her age- books lying around at home that weren’t necessarily classic literature but were certainly long and engaging.) A further concern, however, is that her class seems not to bactually read literature as part of the curriculum. There is the scheduled library lesson, but thhat seems to have little structure to it, and certainly no guidance appears to be given to direct individual students towards certain books or authors. Moreover, the Premier’s Challenge is scarcely promoted. I would have thought that this might be a way to give direction and purpose to the library lessons.

    • Alycia:

      I am an Australian YA librarian, and I came from a family of non-readers. I was regularly punished for reading too much as a child and teased mercilessly by my older, sportier siblings for being an anti-social nerd. With no father as a reading role-model (though I was informed when I was in my early 20′s that he was a voracious reader and even had a small publishing business), and with a mother who had been greatly discouraged from reading as a child and who, although she was proud that I was so clever, nevertheless found my near-constant reading discouraging (I was not a social child).

      For Mark, I say that if your child is a voracious reader then she will read whatever you put in front of her. One Christmas I was given both a picture book and a copy of ‘The Power of One’, and although I did read the picture book first, I read ‘The Power of One’ 4 times that vacation (it was a paperback copy and fell apart before January was over and I had to go and get myself another copy). See what she’s reading now, and then see if there’s a more advanced book with the same style. If she’s reading younger books, it may simply be that she’s not ready for the themes that are in the older ones yet. The best books I read were after my mother talked to my school librarian and they came together to see what I was reading at school, what I was reading at home, and how they could push me to do better. Your school librarian will be happy to know you’re interested in the reading habits of your child, and your local public YA librarian will be just as happy to give you a stack of books to read. Also, remember that sometimes less is more. I am much more likely to challenge myself to read a hard book if it’s the only one I have than I am if I have 4 or 5 easier books vying for my attention.

    • Laureen:

      Mark,
      Like you I read everything I could get my hands on as a child/teen, that included when away on holidays in the caravan for 6 weeks reading not only the supply of books brought along for me, but also my mother’s detective/mystery books and my father’s history/Hornblower books. Why? Cause there was nothing else. Your daughter has so much more to choose from. Children’s & YA books are the boom area of writing/publishing. At the memnet your daughter feels comfortable with the familiar, she will move on once she finds another author/series to latch on to. As a secondary TL, when confronted by a student who is uncertain about whether they will enjoy a particular book, I tell them to read the same number of pages as their age. “If the book hasn’t grabbed you by then then bring it back and try another book. Life’s too short to waste you time reading something that you don’t enjoy.”
      Maybe you should try that with your daughter.

      • Hi Mark,
        I can relate to this story. I read every baby-sitter book I could find when I was your daughter’s age and I wonder if adults had the same conversations about me. I enjoyed it at the time but now as an adult I am amazed at how many wonderful children’s books there are out there and wish I had time to read hem all, that I had not wasted my youth reading such rubbish. I agree that the premier’s reading challenge is a good place to start, but there are also awards that are voted for by kids, such as KOALAS in NSW (can’t remember the names in other states). The Inkys from the VIC state library are voted for by kids and adult experts (www.insideadog is the website name). The CBCA aslo has a kids voted list called Junior Judges.
        Jessica

  2. Hi Darcy and Mark,

    I am a TL and an avid reader – albeit time restraints prevent me from reading more.

    Parents (and teachers) have to be role models – whether they read books, magazines or newspapers – they must be readers of some form for their children to model what their parents do.

    Children also need time to read – not be over scheduled with music, sport, tutoring and even homework – homework should be reading – and only reading, if more kids read voluntarily and had free choice, there would be very few children left behind.

    Children also need to be guided and given suggestions about what is available in the library and bookstores and electronically. They know what they like to read, they know what their friends like to read so bring these together, book clubs, given them time to talk about the books they are reading or read, allow them to do book talks, or just give them time to discuss / share with their table the books they enjoyed. Kids like their peer reviews above all others. For older kids – goodreads, shelfari, librarything are social places to talk about and learn about new books. They love to talk about books, stories and characters – they just need opportunities to do so.

    I find that many teachers do not know what the current childrens literature is – it often falls back to the TL to help the student find the books to read, when the classroom teacher needs to take an active role in reading what the kids are reading. There have been more authors since Enid Blyton and Roald Dahl – many books that are ordered for group reading are old and quite stagnant stories that the teachers used to read as young people – particularly in Primary school.

    TL’s need to be reading their collection – at least one of each series, and one of each author so they know what the books are about and the genre of the author. They need to be aware of what is current and keep up to offer what is new – students are astute and want books before they are published. They know what is happening in the publishing world, if they can’t get it from school, they will buy it, lend it, steal it if they can.

    Mark – the series reading is an important phase of a young readers development, they learn about storyline, characters, vocabulary, prediction, and once they learn about prediction they realise the series is all the same story and move on. Some kids need a gentle push to move onto the next level, others need a shove, others do not need any encouragement. Some move earlier than others. I bet she is loving or has loved the Fairy Meadow series sometime. Suggestions could be that she reads other books of the same subject and have the same reading level. We use the 5 finger test – every time they come across a word they don’t know in the first 2 pages they put up a finger – 5 fingers it is too hard for them, 1 is probably too easy, work on 2-3 as a guide to improving reading levels.

    For most young boys (yrs 4-6) reading is very personal, they are very selective about the subject – non fiction is a favourite as they know it is about what they want to read about. Reading also needs to be fun – Horrible Histories etc, cover that, they also like short bursts of reading – Guinness book of records, magazines etc As they move into fiction (some never do) they like humour – Andy Griffiths, Morris Gleitzman, Paul Jennings are popular and they like action adventure – Robert Muchamore, Chris Ryan, Andy McNabb, Anthony Horowitz, or Horror – Darren Shan being the king for this age group. if boys do not like the book they will stop reading it, but they don’t seem to like to return it to the library until a suitable time has passed … it is interesting behaviour. As they get older fantasy, adventure becomes more interesting to them – Jonathon Stroud, Terry Brooks, Trudi Canavan.

    My recommendations about reading – allow kids time to read, allow them to choose their own reading, teachers and TL’s need to know what is current, and along with parents need to be role models, and be ready to assist in selection choices without being pushy.

    The amount of reading definitely drops off in the secondary school and I do believe that parents & teachers think that recreational reading is no longer of importance once we know how to read – those teenage years are just as important as the developing years – so my recommendations above apply to all school ages.

  3. An interesting post in light of the discussion I had with Mr. K last weekend about whether our potential future children will be “allowed” to read Twilight.

    Now, Mr. K is a Twilight hater. Despite this I made him watch both Twilight and New Moon, but when I turned on Eclipse last weekend after only 3 minutes AT MOST he drew the line. “Get it off my TV!”

    So, we downloaded Vampires Suck instead (GREAT movie; highly recommend!) and had a good old laugh. Only later when I explained further the implicit messages in the series about moral virtue, abstinence and fate did he really crack it…

    No way we’re going to let our kids read that stuff? Ha! Good luck enforcing that – those very books are already on the shelf. On MY shelf. In our house.
    Ha! Mwah hahahaha!
    Unlucky, Mr Censor – you lose! :D

    The moral of this story? Well the argument was over before it began because I know that Mr. K believes in complete music freedom for kids. Take a record of a kid because it has swearing in it? No way would he dare! THAT my friend is just not right.

    But moreover, my own reading history has shown me that a lack of censorship does not have a causal relationship with illiteracy, criminality or general moral decay. This is at a purely anecdotal level of course, but my favourite thing to read until my teen years was The Baby-sitters Club series. Up until about year 8, when I stopped reading quite so much, my appetite was for things like Stephen King and Virginia Andrews novels. Scary and sexy – either or both made a great book. Agatha Christie, that’s what I read when I was reading an ‘old book’.

    And that’s how I know why teen girls love Twilight. It’s because of the sex scenes.
    Well, the as-close-as-you’re-gonna-get-in-a-book-that-we’re-trying-to-pass-off-as-children’s-literature version of sex scenes.

    He STAYS IN HER ROOM?
    OVERNIGHT???
    He lies down next to her IN HER BED?!!?
    his skin is like shiny diamonds…sigh…

    So my advice?
    Recommend and give guidance.
    Role model good reading habits.
    Don’t bother trying to censor, that includes the books you own (they’ll find them anyway).
    Turn a blind eye to childrens ‘private’ reading of taboo or contraband material because…
    …reading only leads to more reading!

  4. David Chapman:

    Reading is a huge part of our family life. In my role as a Head Teacher of English, reading and research about reading has been a strong personal and professional interest. A key moment for me was a point made in a well supported article (don’t remember the title or author sorry) which detailed how young readers will be encouraged more by the environment more than role modelling.

    Obviously having parents that read will have a huge impact – but in my experience creating a home that encourages reading has had more impact than how much I read or my partner reads (though in fairness we read a lot too).

    Our three children started reading at different ages, and their ‘serious’ reading has varied greatly. In an effort to keep sanity and balance they have no access to ‘screen time’ until 7pm. This allows for afternoons to be spent outside, playing board games, talking, cooking or reading. Of course they rush to their laptops and gaming devices at 7, but Miss 10 heads to her room at 7:30, Mr 12 at 8pm and Mr 15 at 8:30. The rooms have no screens of any kind, and each child has their own bookshelf, with a huge range. They are free to read as late as they like (I occasionally turn Miss 10′s light out by 9 if it is still on). Thus they read for at least an hour each night, with daily reading easily exceeding 2 hours each.

    I am not so worried about the type of reading – and it has been interesting to see the movement through non fiction, graphic novels and manga, novels, to requests now from my oldest for ‘classics’. He is currently reading Lord of the Flies and 1984 because some of his YA books refer to them and his curiosity was piqued.

    I have no doubt our house is a little extreme with reading – 2 Head Teachers of English, a library of 2000+ books, weekly visits to the library and/or bookstores, and the children getting birthday and christmas presents from others in the form of books or vouchers – but I do believe we have created three life long readers.

    A shorter version of what I am trying to say is – in a world of massive choice, creating a safe and encouraging place to read is just as critical as having parents who read. Children who do not enjoy this world will find it harder to find time or the right book.

    PS – a knowledgable TL or local bookstore owner is a HUGE asset – use them if you know them!

    • David, you don’t worry that this little time in front of the screen puts kids at a disadvantage in relation to pop culture? Or do your kids manage to absorb that stuff too?

      In my family we were never allowed to watch TV before school. This meant things were nice and peaceful, but we were also usually late for school (no incentive to get up and moving?) and were always struggling to keep up with the TV references all the ‘cool kids’ were making.

      Having said that, I don’t know that I’d change it if I could. To this day I prefer a TV-free morning ;)

      • David Chapman:

        That is actually a great question Kelli. I have worried about it in the past (and strangely tried to compensate by watching movies with them during holidays etc), but I honestly don’t think it is as bad as I expected.

        Most of the pop culture playground discussion seems to be about the latest youtube hit, or latest version of Angry Birds etc. The kids have macbooks (1:1 school) and so once at school they get much more screen time, and time with their peers with screens. I am not worried if they have not watched the latest episode of Two and Half Men (I may be a little more conservative than I realise), but they are the ones who choose not to watch TV – they prefer the internet.

        And I agree – a TV free morning is valued in our house too.

        • Ooooh…penny drop moment:
          I wonder if I’m showing my own age in valuing TV as having more cred/relevance/weight/interest than I thought.

          YouTube and Facebook FTW – it’s official, eh?

          (oh, that is fully sick – the upside being that now I can start officially calling film and TV ‘the canon’ :)

  5. Don:

    Hi all..my first comment on Darcy’s blog. Is this discussion about literacy a discussion in regards to how we can continue to use literacy as a means to maintain a dominant elite. The posts in general seem to concentrate on how we can improve the literacy levels in those students who already have environments conducive to the devlopment of literacy levels that will enable them to succeed in todays society.Sorry Darcy but knowing that your daughter has read Harry Potter five times and knowing that David’s children have a strctured evironmnet which encourages all types of learning, to me , only highlights the biggest issue with literacy…efective literacy is something denied to so many. Our biggesr challenge is to provide the stability to so many of our students which the above posts refer to …because it is within these stable environments that the strategies mentioned will bring about significant literacy improvement to those wo need it most.. Can schools do this own their own…obviously not.

    • Yes Don, too true.
      Reflecting some more on what helped to create that stable literacy environment you describe above, I would have to say that parental attitude and library access are key.

      Neither of my parents read very much fiction or news, but my mother had a very positive attitude toward reading and read to me often as a child. We didn’t have much money but I did get the odd book club book (love book club!). Most of what I came to own were second hand, adopted from friends and family. Importantly though, I had a great relationship with the school librarian, was very comfortable visiting the library (with my book bag of course!) and would often loan the maximum number of books.

      I think we could do so much more in most schools to stregthen the role of the library and the relationship of the students with the librarian. In secondary schools especially.

    • Hi Don,
      Most of my life I would have said I wholeheartedly agree with you. I do agree with this staement in that “those who need it most” do need additional support but we cannot ignore the good readers just because they have mastered the basics. Promoting reading as a passion can benefit all when we get beyond the mechanics.
      http://www.libbygleeson.com.au/Documents/ASLA%20XX.pdf

  6. Stephen Brewer:

    Hi Darcy. I agree with your modelling idea. When our new Year 7 students and their parents come to our school each year, one thing I try to say ot them is that the kids are probably too old to read to but they are never too old to have a positive literacy role model in the house.
    So I say if you don’t read books, make sure you are seen reading the newspaper or magazines and then try to discuss issues that appear in the paper with your children.
    Our life is about responding to models – hopefully positive ones set by our parents.

  7. Sue Xenos:

    Both my husband & I are avid readers we have very different tastes which means our 2 girls were exposed to different genres from any early age. It is not uncommon to see the 4 of us curled up in favourite chairs reading. I never thought much about this until a friend of my daughters asked ‘ does everyone in this house read’ shexwas suprised & answered of course. He then made the comment he had never seen his Mum read. My girls asked him ‘ but surely she read you stories when you were little?’ when he said No he had NEVER been read to as a child my girls were absolutely horrified. They just took for granted that reading was part of everyones life.
    I believe the important message for kids us to just read whatever takes their fancy, not whether the book is considered quality literature but whether it servers to capture the imagination and foster a love of losing yourself in another world. In today’s fast paced world, reading is a great destressor, a way to slow down & relax. But you can’t make someone read or love to read- it has to start with positive role modelling in the early years.

    • Rosemary Hawke:

      Hi Sue I like what you said and would like your permission to quote what you said, thanks Rose Hawke

  8. Here is a link to my page: What happens in the library? to demonstrate the importance I place on reading. https://sites.google.com/site/sandybeachpublicschool/home/sbpslibrary I try to implement as many strategies as possible to encourage parents to see the importance of reading to their children. I started a Parent blog so I could add all sorts of formats including videos to help get the message across. I also have a regular spot – Library News in our school newsletter. I evaluated the PRC program and discovered that not many teachers are providing time in their classrooms for students to have some free voluntary reading time. I have encouraged teachers to provide some regular time for their students to read. I also provide more time in the library to ensure that students have a chance to relax and read at least once a week at school to “get the feeling”. It also allows me to focus on helping the students who are struggling to identify any interest areas.

  9. A question: doesn’t anyone have conversations with their well-read children about the fact that there are people out there not so inclined/advantaged?

    • David Chapman:

      One answer: I do. It is usually in the context of what they are going to read next, and how they should appreciate their options. Kind of like explaining why they should appreciate a home cooked meal instead of instant junk. To be honest, I doubt much of it is absorbed – they are more interesting in the book than anything I have to say.

    • Darcy Moore:

      My daughter came home one day and said her friend didn’t want to talk about ‘history’. Fair enough. However, we are noticing – after chatting with Lucy’s teacher – that she is gravitating towards kids who read as friends and some of her other buddies are less in the picture at the moment.

  10. Reading is as you have pointed out VERY important. As a father of twin four year old boys I make sure that they always have ample books around; their lives are full of books. Yes they do other things like, watch TV and movies, play with card board boxes and make up their own narratives, which we call imagination stories. I myself read as much as possible and use ICTs extensively. However; a family that has ample texts ready to hand, parents that model and discuss the importance of reading will I believe create an interest in their children for reading. But as with everything there are good texts and crap, so give your kids books a read yourself and think about the messages they are trying to convey, ask your kids about which books they like and why.

  11. “Children who know adults who read for pleasure take it for granted that reading is a valuable and worthwhile activity.”
    A quote from Csikskentmihalyi that was shared by Paul McDonald of the Children’s Bookshop

  12. Paul Baxter:

    When kids are immersed in an environment that promotes reading, the activity of reading becomes one of enjoyment not a chore (avoiding the battle I know some parents have with home readers). Having 3 kids (two girls and the youngest the boy), the girls love reading and have always loved having books read to them from a very young age. It is an interesting observation watching Hamish who is growing up in the same environment and at the same age is not as interested in books as the girls. Is it nature / nuture?

    • Dianne McKenzie:

      For most boys getting the right author is the key to switching them on , for one of my sons it was Darren Shan, the other was JK Rowling then he went onto other fantasy authors. The Darren Shan fan will still only read Darren Shan, preferring to read the booksmultiple times than move to a different author. An author who has written multiple books also helps as they get switched onto a positive reading experience over a longer time.

      I find boys are much more fussy with their reading, it is a personal investment of their time and energy, and so books that do not look like bring enjoyed are avoided – they are very keen on peer reviews, and will read what their friends are reading, so if you manage to hook one of the group – the rest will follow.

      • Maybe a way to get the Darren Shan fan to read more widely is to look up Darren Shan on the internet and read what books have influenced him as a reader and writer. Also by chatting to other Darren Shan fans your son might be introduced to other authors, though I guess they would still all be in the horror genre.

  13. Darcy, I wholeheartedly agree! The first year Victoria held the Premier’s Reading Challenge was brilliant as there was an expectation from someone other than the teacher librarian that students can (and many do) read a large number of books. In my experience, some English teachers do not like reading and are not aware of the books that children and YA audiences might like. I tried to solve this by asking a variety of teachers to become ‘reading role models’. The PE teachers who did this were enthusiastic and the students could see that it wasn’t just the female library staff who read and thought it was important. It’s up to all of us to be reading role models.

  14. Librareanne:

    I agree with the sentiments expressed in your post Darcy as well as all those who have commented. Role modelling is critical and so is exposing children to a wide variety of literature and reading opportunities.

    I have created a netvibe that I use with our parents and teachers:

    http://www.netvibes.com/readingmatters

    Research clearly indicates the importance of reading in the very early years. We as educators have a responsibility to work with parents and encourage them as they are the ones who have the critical role in language development and the establishment of reading habits.

    In terms of what we are currently doing in schools, educational leaders need to carefully consider curricular approaches to reading & literacy and ensure that we are not committing “readicide”:

    http://books.google.com.au/books?id=-Pemw9rwdo8C&lpg=PP1&ots=KxegW7oFfi&dq=readicide%20kelly%20gallagher&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false

    AND, the importance of libraries and skilled librarians in helping children and parents with reading and access to reading materials can not be emphasized enough!!!

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