Researchers have found a sharp decline in reading enjoyment after the age of eight. Sixty-two percent of children between six and eight say they either love or like reading books for fun, but this percentage drops to just 46% for children between the ages of nine to 11, with the figure at 49% for 12-14-year olds, and 46% again for 15-17-year-olds. “Reading enjoyment declines sharply after age eight,” reported the publisher. From, “Sharp decline in children reading for pleasure, survey finds” (The Guardian)
We’ve sucked it out of them. We’ve drained reading of enthusiasm, by Common Coring, PARCCing and work-sheeting, among other factors (screen addiction). Insisting on research supported robotic teacher scripts to teach reading material that is not real literature, how can any of it compete with Instagram, Snapchat and Youtube? I do have to admit, however, that film adaptations can be a great gateway into reading. Take the Lord of the Rings for example. The films were an astronomical success and are still wildly popular today and they led to millions of copies of the books being sold around the world, decades after their release. There’s even a dedicated Gimli Wiki page, showing how beloved the characters have become. None of that may have happened without the films – they brought the books back into popularity.
Reading is still a lost art though.
This week I had an unusual moment with a great 12 year old boy. As part of a reading test that I administer there is a line taken from the wonderful teen novel, The Outsiders, by S.E. Hinton. Many years ago as a middle school teacher I used to teach that book, The Outsiders. The kids loved it; it had all the right elements. I loved it too. You simply have to look on https://www.shoppok.com to see if you can find a cheap second hand version of it to get your teeth into. I doubt you’d be able to find it in normal book shops now.
Upon reading the line, the boy commented, “Hey, I read that book,” he exclaimed. “Isn’t that from The Outsiders?”
I was taken aback. Of the thousands of times I’ve given that test over the years, no one has ever commented on the fact that the line was a quote from a novel.
“What did you think of the book,” I asked him.
“Oh, man, it was great,” he told me. “It was so exciting.”
While I loved my interaction with this young man, it also made me sad to reflect on how few children have actually read The Outsiders and how far we have come from kids being excited about a novel.
I think it is all misguided.
I believe it still comes down to one overriding variable when it comes to igniting and motivating kids.
Passionate, creative teachers who love reading and literature are the only answer to overcoming the pervasive reading malaise out there and motivating the legion of children (primarily the boys) who are disconnected from this activity and see little to no value in it.
Who knows, maybe some teachers will read The Outsiders this summer and it will stir something in them.
Whether they will be allowed to teach it is another story.