Teaching reading IS rocket science

11 Sep

A report published yesterday by the National Literacy Trust makes rather depressing reading. The research was carried out with 21,000 children  and young people across the UK. One of its key findings is that children and young people are reading less as their lives get more crowded – which, when you think of the simplicity of life with a telly, an Atari, a stack of Whizzer and Chips, Enid Blyton’s life works and a knackered old bike, might lead us to believe that life in the 70s really were ‘good times’ (ok I know I’ve lost anyone under 30). The research found that:

• More than a fifth of children and young people (22%) rarely or never read in their own time
• More than half (54%) prefer watching TV to reading
• Nearly a fifth (17%) would be embarrassed if their friends saw them reading
• 77% of children and young people read magazines in 2005 now just 57% do, comic reading has dropped from 64% to 50%, reading on websites from 64% to 50%

The whole survey is available here:  Childrens’ and Young People’s Reading Today.

Based on this research, I think it would be interesting to conduct an informal attitudinal survey to reading with our classes and tutor groups. Even sharing this information with our students might open up discussions about reading issues that they might not have articulated, or even had discussed with them. Even better if we could find out from them what might make reading one of their leisure choices alongside COD (seriously, I had no idea what ‘playing COD all day’ meant and was quite frankly rather worried about what it might mean) or X-Factor/Bake-Off/Panorama. For Key Stage 4 tutors in particular, the findings of the research on the reading habits of teenage boys are probably all too recognisable, for example: ‘Only 26.2% of boys in KS4 say that they enjoy reading either very much or quite a lot. This is nearly half of the number of KS3 boys who say that they enjoy reading (41.6%) and nearly a third of the number of KS2 boys who say that they enjoy reading (65.5%). This is also nearly half the number of girls in KS4 (42.5%) who enjoy reading either very much or quite a lot. Teenage boys also think less positively about reading compared with younger boys. Only 14.2% of boys in KS4 agree with the statement that “reading is cool” compared with 58.1% of boys in KS2. At the same time, however, KS4 boys are more likely to agree with the statement that “I cannot find anything to read that interests me” compared with KS2 boys (35% vs. 26%).

What I have tried to do with the Fiction Reading Day at KS4 is introduce 14-16 year olds to books that they may simply not know are out there, and build on the Reading Challenge Day at KS3. Many boys in the Lit group that I share with CSl have said that their favourite book ever was Of Mice and Men’ – the set text for GCSE. For some this has been the only book they have read in the last four years. Perhaps it is simply a question of knowing what is out there that might interest them.

I’ll be posting book reviews, book trailers and recommendations regularly – if you can find time to share these with your tutor groups, I think that we could really start to enrich – or at least offer the possibility of an additional pastime – to many of our 14-16s. And thanks to one of my Year 11s for this gem:

Q: What’s the difference between a boring teacher and a boring book?
A: You can shut the book up.

(he’s got a detention)

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