Frequent readers, defined as children who read books for fun 5–7 days a week, differ substantially in a number of ways from infrequent readers—those who read books for fun less than one day a week. For instance, 97% of frequent readers ages 6–17 say they are currently reading a book for fun or have just finished one, while 75% of infrequent readers say they haven’t read a book for fun in a while. (Scholastic’s Kids & Family Reading Report)
Scholastic recently released the results from a comprehensive survey of attitudes towards reading held by children and their parents. The report provides a snapshot of how much Americans read and how important the respondents felt reading to be. Over 2500 parents and children were surveyed and asked a variety of questions about their frequency of reading and why they were doing it. The report is chock full of information and is worthy of every teacher’s review (especially English teachers). The full report can be accessed here. I can summarize the report with two words: choice and frequency.
Valerie Strauss at the Washington Post has published a pretty comprehensive analysis of the report’s content. Included in Valerie’s analysis is a post from Lois Bridges, a former teacher and current Director of Educational Initiatives for Scholastic. She puts the report into perspective by offering practical tips for how educators and parents can help their children become lifelong readers. “The report adds to the abundant data we’ve had for years, demonstrating that in-school independent reading built around time to read books for fun creates kids who love to read,” writes Lois. She lists a host of ways teachers can help bring choice to their schools and increase how much their students read:
- Provide access to books by building robust classroom and school libraries.
- Invite choice by working with students (mostly younger) using the “Yours, Mine and Ours” strategy.
- Build time to read and share during the school day and at home.
- Guide students as they read by conferencing often, checking for understanding, and tracking progress.
Personally, I’ve seen the power a robust classroom library can have on students. A few years ago, my former co-teacher Sarah began bringing her books into our classroom and started stacking them everywhere. I mean everywhere. She stacked them on desks and in corners. They were literally all over the place. She’s the only person I know who would bring an empty suitcase to the annual NCTE convention just to fill it with books for her students. So, over time our classroom became a giant repository of books. The crazy thing is, kids started taking the books home. They grabbed the John Greens, the Harry Potters, and the Twilight and Divergent series. And then the students started talking about the books they were reading. It became contagious. They read during breaks and when they walked down the halls. I started reading their books so I could stay in the conversation. An Abundance of Katherines? Yup, I read that. Looking for Alaska? Yup, read that too. I’m a big John Green fan now. By surrounding kids (and adults) with high-interest texts we can encourage them to read. I’ve seen it work.
Here are some other ways to encourage reading:
- Building small libraries. Classroom libraries can be powerful. However, I also want to build small “mini libraries” throughout a school wherever there is an open corner or unused space in a hallway. An armchair or two and a small bookcase packed with young adult literature can help encourage students to just grab a book and read.
- Student and parent reading assignments. When I taught I would send students home with a newspaper and they had to choose any article they wanted to read but they had to read it with a parent/guardian and write a reflection on the process. I always loved the thought of a parent/guardian and student sitting down to read the paper together and discussing an article. In hindsight, I wish I did this more.
- Informal book clubs. Don’t limit these to just students. Invite teachers to join the conversations as well. Doing so will help build a culture of reading in a school.
As teachers, we all know the benefits of getting kids to read. For me, it is one of the most important predictors of student success. Frequent readers are oftentimes more successful students. The Scholastic report makes a case for schools to talk about how we can get students to read more. “While both children and parents agree that reading skills are the most important skills kids can have,” the report notes, “children are reading somewhat less often than they did four years ago.” In an age where there is so much competition for a student’s attention, it’s vital we encourage our students and children to read as often as possible.