Thursday, May 15, 2014

Believing in Reading

Earlier this week a troubling report from Common Sense Media showed that fewer and fewer children and teens are reading for pleasure. I'm not altogether surprised by this as there are now so many more objects, things, and obligations vying for our children's time and attention. Couple this with an educational system driven by test evaluated outcomes and it's not surprising that reading is no longer seen as a refuge for teens. 

The report highlights four primary areas of concern:

1. Reading rates have dropped significantly among youth:

  • 53% of 9-year-olds are daily readers verses only 17% of 17 year olds
  • Since 1984 the portion of youth who "never" or "hardly ever" read has tripled!!! 
  • 1/3rd of 13-year-olds and 45% of 17-years day they read for pleasure only 1-2 times a year, if that.
2. Reading proficiency has suffered:
  • While there has been some improvement in reading scores of 9- to 13-year-olds, 17-year-olds have not shown any improvement in 30 years.
3. Gaps in proficiency continue along racial lines:
  • While 46% of white 4th-graders are rated as "proficient", only 18% of black and 20% of Latino students at the same grade level are rated at this level. This gap has not changed in over 20 years.
4. Gender gaps are also persistent:
  • Girls are 12% more likely to be rated proficient in reading than boys.
  • Girls read more than boys, one average 10 minutes more than boys. 

The thing about these statistics that worries me the most is that as our children read less and less, I believe that the development of essential character qualities is being threatened. As Frank Bruni states in a recent editorial, "I believe in reading — not just in its power to transport but in its power to transform." Studies have proven that reading fiction increases empathy. We all know that reading ignites the imagination. It can also provide a healthy escape for youngsters overwhelmed by the pressures and stresses of life. 

As we approach summer, let's be sure that we still maintain an atmosphere of reading in our homes. Check with your local library to see what sort of Summer Reading programs they are offering. I loved taking part in those when I was a kid! And often there are great prizes to incentivize kids to read more. Also, here are a couple of neat opportunities for young students to write about how their favorite books have influenced them. Check out these very cool contests:

Students are asked to read a book, poem or speech and write to that author (living or dead) about how the book affected them personally. Letters are judged on state and national levels. Tens of thousands of students from across the country enter Letters About Literature each year. If you are in grades 4-12, you are eligible to enter the Letters About Literature reading and writing contest. Here are the Rules and Guidelines.

The “A Book That Shaped Me” Summer Writing Contest encourages rising 5th & 6th graders to reflect on a book that has made a personal impact on their lives. The contest is administered through local public library systems in the Mid-Atlantic region, and top winners are honored at the Library of Congress.

There are a lot of other writing contests and this list is a useful reference. If you know of any others, please share below. And if you've entered or won a contest, we'd love to share your good news here so let us know!

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1 comment:

  1. We're administering a private reading contest that is open to kids all over the country, and have put together a free online reading list we think you and your customers will really like. Intended for PreK-adult, the PDF list is chock full of links to helpful literature resources, reviews, and author bios. You can learn more about the reading program on our website, and you can download the reading list here: