Are We Failing Students by Not Turning Them into Readers?

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The Benefits of Reading

It’s commonly known among teachers that students who read more or who are read to at home are more successful at school and write more successfully than their non-reading peers.  This probably should not surprise us as, of course, not being able to read at grade level would make studying any subject more difficult.  Furthermore, reading extensively can help students gain a larger vocabulary and become more comfortable with more complex syntaxes.  It can also provide students with models for their own writing and provide them with evidence to support their own arguments when they write.  And, of course, we are now exploring the possibility that reading literary fiction can make a person more empathetic, and help socialize children.

The Depressing Statistics

However, despite the widely-known benefits of reading, all of us know plenty of individuals who do not read and do not like to read.  In 2014, Common Sense Media reviewed research on children and teen reading and the results indicate that inviduals seem to read less as they age.  For instance the results show that in 2012 53% of nine-year-olds reported reading every day, but only 19% of 17-year-olds reported reading every day.

It seems many adults do not read for pleasure, either.  The Pew Research Center reports that a survey conducted from March to April 2015 shows that 72% of adults read at least one book–or part of one book–in the past year.  That means 28% of adults did not read a single book in that timeframe.  In 2016, the Pew Research survey indicated that 26% of adults had not read a book in the past year.

Considering all the benefits reading can have, are we doing students a disservice by losing them as readers?  What happens when a student arrives in college and, upon asked what their favorite book is, admits they have not read a book in at least two years?  The last time because they were forced to for class.  Is that student reaching their full potential?  How might that student’s success change if they read more?  What should we be doing to encourage more reading?

Some Ways to Encourage a Love of Reading

  • Read to children at home.  Guiding children through a story by asking them what they think will happen next or why something happened is a great way to get them engaged and thinking about what they read.
  • When possible, provide children with access to books at home.  Or donate books to charities who provide them to children in need.
  • Take children to the library.  It’s all right if at first they spend a lot of time playing and need to be guided into doing some reading. They’re still going to build positive associations with the library.
  • Model good reading habits.  Share your enthusiasm with others by talking to them about the books you are reading.
  • Encourage reading when you see it.  Even if you think someone is too old for certain material, that a boy should not be reading a “girl book,” or that someone should be reading “real” material and not reading graphic novels or audiobooks, do not discourage their efforts.  You want to build positive associations with reading, not make them feel self-conscious and bad about it.
  • Encourage friends and students to join a book club or a reading program.  Being around others who find reading fun or even just earning prizes for pages read might help reluctant readers see reading as fun, too.
  • Work with someone’s love of movies.  If you know an individual who really loves The Hobbit film, for example, you might provide them with a copy of the book for comparison.
  • Never shame an individual for not reading.  You don’t want people to associate reading with negativity, like they have to do it so you stop nagging them.
  • Provide choices.  People are generally more enthusiastic about doing something if they have more control over it, kind of like writing an essay about something they’re interested in rather than writing on an assigned topic.
  • Inform students why reading is relevant to them.  Students tend to be more invested when they think something will be useful to them.  Let your students know that, yes, reading and writing are connected and are important for any field.  Even STEM professionals have to read and write!
  • Bring in some professionals to talk about what they do.  Students may not believe you when you talk about the work a chemical engineer does.  But if you can show them a real-life chemical engineer who can talk about their work, now they have a model.
  • Find mentors. Students are often not quite sure what is expected from them in class or for the future.  Having a mentor who can guild them through school, the college selection process etc. can be immensely valuable as they’ll know what they need to achieve to get where they want to be.

Do you have suggestions about how to encourage students to read for fun?

Krysta 64

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37 thoughts on “Are We Failing Students by Not Turning Them into Readers?

  1. Briana says:

    I am also concerned by some of the reading (or non-reading) statistics. When I ask my college students if they read for fun, most say they do not. But the studies are pretty clear that reading is one of the best ways to improve your vocabulary, your writing, and your critical thinking. Also your emotional intelligence if you read literary fiction. There was also that recent study that suggested that reading “good writing” in particular is important. It’s true that, to some extent, people today may be “reading” more than any other people in history because of text messaging, social media, the Internet. etc. But if you’re not reading actual books, you’re not getting the literacy benefits. The study suggested that people who spend their time primarily reading sites like Buzzfeed and Reddit actually had lower writing skills.

    I get a lot of questions about “How can I write better?” and “How can I improve my vocabulary?” but it turns out that “Read books. Read as many books as possible,” is not always a popular answer because it seems time-consuming and indirect.

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    • Krysta says:

      Yes, reading is the best way to become a good writer–maybe even the only way–but for some reason people don’t connect the two activities! But how can you write well if you don’t immerse yourself in effective models?

      Like

  2. Megan @ bookslayerReads says:

    Wow, I love this post! I’ve always known that statistics show that people who read more are naturally smarter, but I wasn’t aware of the statistics of adult reading. That is concerning and I’m glad you created this list of ways to encourage reading. I’ve done several of the things on this list to try to get my son more interested in reading, and it’s actually worked! He loves reading now and is currently reading Harry Potter! Yay! Thanks for this post, Krysta. Sharing on Twitter!!

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      Yes, seeing how others approach reading can really influence how children perceive the activity. Unfortunately, not all parents have the time or resources to read to their children as much as they might like.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. xtine says:

    This is so important! Kids growing up now have easy access to information so I think sometimes they don’t value tasks that involve a time commitment, like reading. But it’s our job as adults to do what we can with the kids we know to get them involved in reading. I wasn’t surprised at the stats about adults reading, honestly. I know a lot of adults who “just don’t have time to read” or are just disinterested in it. I’ve even known fellow writers who don’t see the point in reading, which has always boggled my mind. Reading is what made me want to be a writer in the first place, and it’s the one thing that’s continued to help me become a better writer over the years. Thanks for sharing suggestions about how to help kids get into reading. I will share with my brother for his 6-year-old daughter (but fortunately she already loves books!).

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    • Krysta says:

      Yes, somehow it does feel like you must make time to read, and therefore can’t, but then it’s possible you end up spending half an hour on the Internet anyway!

      I can’t imagine a writer who doesn’t read! How do they know the conventions of the genre, or what’s an original idea, or what’s popular? I just assumed that most successful writers started out as avid readers.

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      • xtine says:

        Right?! You said it yourself, that reading teaches vocabulary and syntax, the basic building blocks of writing! Plus reading allows kids especially to learn about experiences that are different from theirs. Reading can change a young person’s perspective and promote tolerance and understanding of others’ lives. It’s powerful stuff.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Books, Vertigo and Tea says:

    I think this is one of my favorite posts! I absolutely understand the value of reading and feel it is often underappreciated by those around me. My house is a divided one. My son and I read the most, where as the nonhusband never reads and my daughter is only ever caught with required reading.

    I have always taken my kids to the library and participated in book fairs. I found that when they were younger, the thrill of new books helped up their enthusiasm. I also read to them on a regular basis. My son and I still pick out larger series to tackle together.

    My daughter recently read Fahrenheit 451 for school and loved it. I was all over it! It is a favorite of mine, and I instantly used it as an opening to introduce her to a few similar titles 😉 It seems to be working. I praise every effort my children make to read and always provide fule for the fire. My son wants to be a marine biologist so I now have a home full of deep sea books. I discovered my daughter enjoys “horror” titles so I spend countless hours securing more appropriate ones for her.

    I never make them feel guilty or bad when they do not want to read. That will only drive them further away. I just look for the moments and seize them. Even if it is picking up a Nat Geo at the store that they are “eyeballing” 😉

    Terrific topic today!

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      Wow! It sounds like you’ve really found some successful ways to encourage reading in your home! And I agree that the excitement of being able to pick out a new book can be really powerful. Sometimes a relative would randomly bring me to the bookstore and tell me to select a book and it was always like, “Wow, really? I can get any book I want? Just for me??” It’s super special when you’re young!

      And it’s so nice that you can share books and discuss them! I bet your kids really appreciate how supportive you are. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Cara Sue Achterberg says:

    My kids are teens now and all big readers. When they were little besides doing many of the things you suggested, we also offered ‘double the money’ when they spent their chore money on books. This meant that if they had $5 in chore money earned, it was worth $10 if they spent it on books (or put it in their savings account). They loved having the funds to buy the books they wanted and I’m certain they spent much more money on books than they would have otherwise.

    Also, whenever we were getting ready to go on a vacation, I took them to the book store to pick out 2 or 3 books to take along. Their Easter baskets and Christmas stockings were always filled with books.

    We had so many books, that I sorted many of them into 12 boxes- one for each month – and kept them in the basement, pulling out each month’s box became a treat – the books felt new. At the end of the month, I boxed them back up and got the next month’s box.

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    • Krysta says:

      Wow, those all sound like fantastic ideas! I had never thought about rotating books out before, but that would definitely make sure they were extra-exciting each time!

      Like

  6. Laura says:

    It really does seem like such a shame when you see the statistics! I love your ideas though for trying to encourage a love of reading, and I know I’ve been trying to do some of these things with my little nieces and nephew, because there are just so many benefits to reading!
    Great post! 🙂

    Like

  7. joouab says:

    This is such a fantastic post! The only child in my life is my best friend’s daughter, and as they live in a different country, I can’t really act on any of your suggestions. But 9 times out of 10, when sending her birthday or Christmas presents, I’m sending books. She loves being read to, and I love trying to encourage that in the only way I can, by providing her with more books to read. I’ve always thought about how I’ll encourage reading when I become a parent, and going to the library has never occurred to me. It sounds so obvious, and of course it is, but as my library has a pretty limited number of books I’d like to read, or books that have been out for donkey’s years, with no new books, I just never thought about it for a child. But of course it would be the perfect place to encourage reading in children. I actually really like the idea of after school visits now. A long way off, though. Great discussion!

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    • Krysta says:

      Yes, I admit that I’ve been to some libraries that are not very exciting or frankly not very welcoming. There are libraries who are involved in making play corners for children, though, with the idea being that children will have positive associations with the library if they grew up having fun there. I see that this could be a problem with limited space, though.

      I’m sure she loves receiving books from you! Just not knowing what book will be in the box probably makes it exciting for her!

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  8. curlygeek04 says:

    Great post! I think letting kids choose what they read is so important — but also guiding them to books that are challenging and well-written. I keep hearing that we concentrate too much on fiction, and some kids will only gravitate towards nonfiction. In grad school I did some research on incentivizing reading. I found this fascinating: it turns out that when teachers or parents give rewards for reading (like candy or prizes) it has the opposite effect, because then kids see reading as a chore or an assignment rather than something fun. On the other hand, if reading IS the reward, like you get to pick out a new book or a special bookmark, that tells the kid that reading is something to be valued.

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    • Krysta says:

      That’s fascinating since summer library programs tend to give out prizes, but not always books (since those are far more expensive). You can work your way up to a book perhaps, but along the way you’ll probably receive candy, crayons, etc. But I’ve still seen children refuse to join and it confused me. If you’re going to go home and read those ten books you just checked out, why not get some crayons when you come back?

      Like

  9. Kester (from LILbooKlovers) says:

    I love this post! I see so many similarities with these stats and my life. I am currently a sophomore in high school, and I am sadly seeing this happening among my peers right now. Less than 10-20% of students at my school read frequently out of English. I’m one of the only guys who read, and out of those, one of the only ones who mostly prioritize academics over reading (not books over school). It’s hard finding someone who reads frequently. A book a week is not a big goal. Even with our English books, people would complain and not read them, and only read the Sparknotes of it. I get it when you’re so busy, but I know that people can squeeze in reading. If you can spend hours on social media, you have time for reading. I wish that there is more emphasis on reading in high school. I actually wasn’t a big reader in middle school, but I found a love of reading last year because I realized it is fun and there’s something for everyone! I’m one of the busiest students at my high school, yet I fit in 64 books last year! If schools emphasize and reward reading, and actually make sure students are reading the books, we could see more improvement in reading and writing. I tell fellow students that to improve your ACT Reading score, you must read! It’s the only way- yet so many don’t like to do it. If I could find myself in a class where during breaks most people read instead of sneak on their phones, I’d be happy!

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      It’s a pity there aren’t more students who like to read at your school. Perhaps they just haven’t found a book that speaks to them yet. But, of course, students often find it difficult to appreciate books when they are assigned–then it seems less like fun and more like work. I’m sure you could assign Harry Potter in schools and some people would hate it because they are supposed to read it.

      Yes, I find it odd that people don’t correlate reading often with better read and writing skills. I haven often people ask me how they can improve their writing and when I say they have to read, they look offended and walk off. They want something easier and faster.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Kester (from LILbooKlovers) says:

        I definitely agree! If they’re “forced” to read something, many won’t like it! I think it’s how many kids don’t want to do any work, so the easy way is the way they want! I do hope many will find the genre or book or series that they would love! 😊

        Like

        • Krysta says:

          The thing is, I’m convinced more people would like school/classes/books if they invested in them. Of course when you put nothing into your work, you won’t get much back. But give a book a chance, try to engage with, and you might find it interesting! The saddest thing is when I see students just tune out because they’re expecting the instructor to make them like the material. But an instructor is just like a tour guide. If you ignore them and refuse to look at the scenery, yes, the bus ride is going to be dull! But I’m sure your teachers are very pleased that you read and are putting forth effort in their classes!

          Liked by 1 person

          • Kester (from LILbooKlovers) says:

            Thank you! I really appreciate it! We did have a Reading class that all freshman had to take, and that’s when I, along with many others, found a love of reading! If standards today were more flexible, then adding more contemporary works would definitely help more students read! As much as I respect classics and how they help reading skills, high schoolers are more likely to read more with contemporary novels than classical ones. There are people who would prefer classics to contemporary, but if classes can incorporate a variety of age groups and genres, maybe there will be more reading and effort in school!

            Like

            • Krysta says:

              I think many teachers do try to add more contemporary reads, but sometimes school/district/state/federal standards make it difficult to add things to the curriculum. I think it may depend on how the school envisions its purpose and how much leeway an instructor is given. Sometimes private school instructors have more control over what happens in the classroom because they are allowed to modify some standards and they take fewer standardized tests.

              Liked by 1 person

  10. Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction says:

    I’ve noticed that my kids read less now than they used to. My son read all the time even just a few years ago, but now I have to convince him to read most of the time. It makes me sad! The best thing I can do is to buy him books I think he’ll love—long series work well for us because he likes those better (and then there’s more reading to do!).

    Like

  11. Kathryn Fletcher says:

    Preach!
    I’m blessed to have an English Coordinator that is up to date on all the research on the importance of reading and how that affects writing. We read at least 20 minutes per day!
    Thanks for helping get this information out to those not immersed in this research.

    Like

  12. bobbiemshrum says:

    Great post! A love of reading has always been instilled in my house, but I sometimes feel that the importance isn’t emphasized enough in school – especially as you get to older grades.

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      In many cases, it seems that unfortunately teachers are pressured to teach to the test or they can get fired or their schools will lose funding. It can be difficult to cultivate a love of reading when everyone is stressed out about test performance. 😦

      Like

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