National Literacy Trust survey on children/young adult reading in the UK

The UK’s National Literacy Trust recently published its annual survey, which includes a significant amount of data regarding the reading habits of children and teens in the UK.

Close to 35,000 children and teens aged 8-16 were surveyed. There are the typical sometimes-depressing-but-expected results (23.4% rarely or never read outside of class, text messages and websites are the most commonly-read texts outside of class, and kids who like reading are much more likely to read above age level), but one highlighted result really stands out:

21.5% of the children and teens surveyed said that they would be embarrassed if their friends saw them reading.

I suppose I should be glad this number isn’t higher, but…God.

Link to the survey’s page at the NLT (with link to downloadable .pdf of the full children & teens report)

A Guardian article about the study

Read-aloud is joyful with the Sisterhood

I work at a residential summer camp where cabin counselors read campers to sleep each night, no matter what age they are or whether they are at camp or on an overnight at a nearby campsite.

The other night, I substitute-covered a cabin of teenage girls and got to read them to sleep. They were reading The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, one of my favorite YA really-girly-in-a-healthy-and-awesome-way books. Read-aloud always brings me back to fourth grade, when we all sat or lay on the rug while Mrs. Petersen read Allergic to my Family and I hung on every word and GROANED when she refused to continue past the end-of-chapter cliffhanger.

As I read to the cabin, the girls asked clarifying questions, gasped, laughed and then…snoring. What a perfect way to get them to sleep without the too-late giggles and “SHHHH”s, and get some literacy/comprehension/context clues in there, guerilla-style.

I kept reading to myself after they fell asleep, and thank God no one was awake (*spoilers* here in a bit so stop here if you haven’t read it!) because I was definitely crying. By myself. For these characters. Carmen tearfully asking her dad why she and Mom weren’t good enough? Tibby working up the courage to visit her dying friend? Brashares does it all so well, so long as you agree that sniveling-in-the-armchair-with-my-headlamp-and-no-Kleenex-while-campers-snore to be a good thing.

If you haven’t read Sisterhood…go. Seriously. It’s so worth it.

Self-selection: “How do you know if they’re reading?”

When I meet people and it comes up that I teach high school English, one of the first things people ask is what my students have to read as part of my class. When I explain that many of the books they read are self-selected, the next question is “Wow, how do keep track of all those different books?”

I have learned that validating whether they’re reading is 1) not as difficult as it might seem, and 2) works better the less complicated the requirements are.

When a student finishes a book in my class and wants credit for having read it, I do one of three things:

  • Find a quick online quiz on the book
  • Trust them, and do nothing but check it off (I do this randomly for most students at some point throughout the year)
  • Do a quick book talk.

For a book talk, they must have a copy of the book. They hand it over and I open to a random page. I read a paragraph or two out loud until they seem to recognize the part of the book, then ask them to explain what’s going on. While they are talking, I leaf back and forth to try and validate what they’re saying. If I’m satisfied, they’re good to go. If not, I choose another spot and see if they remember that part.

If we go through 3-4 spots and they don’t seem to be able to tell me much, I hand the book back. I ask them to look over it again and we’ll try again tomorrow.

Why not an essay, a summary or a book project? I want my students to love to read and to read (and receive credit for) book after book if that’s what they want to do. I am wary of projects, posters, or summaries–anything that has the potential to get busywork-y–that will discourage them from reading as much as possible.

We absolutely write papers and do projects based on the books we’re reading, but that’s not a requirement every time a book is completed. I want the validation piece to be super simple so they aren’t discouraged from finishing books. Many students will read more slowly in order to get out of “more work” like doing a project or summary, and we’re hitting those skills in different parts of class anyway.

Is the system foolproof? Probably not. Does it encourage as much reading as possible? I hope so. Do we do this with all books? Absolutely not–with Julius Caesar and To Kill a Mockingbird, we’re delving deeper and we have different objectives. But the objectives in self-selected reading are different: I want students to realize how many great titles are out there and be encouraged to read as many of them as they want, just for the sake of reading, reading, reading and loving it.