Will Reading Be ‘A Thing’ In The Distant Future?
As a poet and English teacher of 16-19-year olds, I at times, despair for the future of reading for pleasure. I often ask myself, “where are the readers of tomorrow? Will it be ‘a thing’ in the distant future? And what does it mean for writers of fiction? More importantly, what are we collectively doing to keep reading alive?
In reality, as a Country, the UK is not doing too badly when it comes to publishing books. Third in volume to only China and the U.S, the UK publishes more books per capita than any other country. In fact, on the newly dubbed ‘super Thursday’(Sept 4th 2020), U.K publishers released 600 books in one single day!. But who is reading them?
Do Kids Prefer Screen Time To Reading Books?
Whilst these seem like encouraging statistics, burrow down further and research suggests there is a decline in children and young people reading for pleasure. The National Literary trust, on behalf of World Book Day found that only just over half (52.5%) of young people aged 8-18 enjoy reading, with only a quarter doing so on a daily basis. A staggering 76% of boys and 58% of girls preferred screen time to reading-Worrying indeed! No wonder by the time these bright young sparks come to me, the candle has grown very dim!
Even more worrying is the additional fallout as out young people have fallen out of love with reading. While we are aware of the benefits of reading to our infants, continued reading for pleasure throughout childhood and onwards is the single biggest indicator of a child’s future success, more so than their family circumstances, their parents’ educational background or income; a link that is clearly evident to teachers.
So how can we reverse the rot? Whose responsibility is it? And will you step up?
So often, as parents, we feel that once our child is old enough to read, they should be left to do this alone. The only time we listen to our children read is when we need to because the teachers has written it in their homework book! Just the word ‘homework’, seems to indicate that this is some kind of a chore that needs to be completed before going onto more pleasurable activities. “You can’t watch T.V until you have done your homework….” springs to mind (yes, I’ve done it myself!). This message we are subconsciously communicating to our children is that reading is not fun. So how can we make it fun?
Continue to read to your child long past the time they can read themselves. When you read, live the story! You may feel like an idiot, but your child will love it. Try reading a paragraph each or take characters. Not only will your child enjoy their time with you, but they will be motivated to spend time reading independently and will enjoy the cognitive benefits. These cognitive benefits are well documented in academic circles and are referred to as the “production effect”. A study from the University of Waterloo, Canada reports that the “dual action” of speaking and hearing yourself speak, helps the brain store information”.
Teachers Who Read Out Loud Motivate Kids To Read!
But what about you, you may ask. Isn’t that your job? Will you step up? Yes, of course it is my job! And I know only too well that a passionate and inspiring teacher (Flashback to my English teacher actually leaping on the desk to deliver a passage from Henry IV Part 1), can motivate the learner well past the end of their school journey. Interestingly, in ancient times words associated with reading literally meant ‘to cry aloud’. This idea correlates with recent research which suggests that by only reading in silent we are missing out, and that the ancient art of reading aloud has a number of benefits for adults, from helping improve our memories and understand complex texts, to strengthening emotional bonds between people. It also helps students learn how to use language to make sense of the world, and improves their information processing skills, vocabulary, and comprehension. Reading aloud targets the skills of audio learners. Research has shown that teachers who read aloud motivate students to read.
Yes, I’ve tried it. And yes, they love it. Furthermore, the mix of auditory and visual stimuli definitely improves understanding and feedback. But I can’t do it alone. Who is with me?