On Student Reading, and Endurance

Hello again, world. It has been a while since I have kept up with this blog in a consistent manner, but after attending the METC Conference a few weeks ago, I have been inspired to begin writing here again as a reflection of my own work, and to hopefully let my teachers know what is going on in the library and how I can help them.

First off, I am at Shawnee Mission Northwest now, so any posts that you see here before this one reflect my work at my previous school.

So let’s talk about reading. Student reading, to be specific. 

There are a wealth of depressing statistics about the decline of teen reading over the past few decades. Time Magazine and CommonSense Media report that “45% of 17-year-olds saying they read by choice only once or twice a year” and that “the proportion who “never” or “hardly ever” read [has] tripled since 1984.”

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Sebastien Wiertz via Flickr Creative Commons

The pressing problem that our teachers anecdotally report is that students struggle to stay with any lengthier piece of text: novels, articles any longer than one page or so.

We are living in a bite-sized media environment. 140 characters, no-wait, that’s too long, Instagram instead. Snapchat.

Nicholas Carr, author of The Shallows, eloquently describes this phenomenon:

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Students DO read A LOT via their connected lives. But it is a different kind of reading. Short. Linked. Jump from this to that.

Just as we are asking students to think more deeply, their lives are telling them that there is no time for that:

Wake up, don’t be tardy to school, shush-up-we-have-a-lot-to-cover-before-the-state-or-AP-assessments, GO-be on time to work/practice/watch your siblings, quick-gobble some dinner before a few hours of homework, go to bed-you aren’t getting enough sleep already, wake up and do it all again. Oh, wait- figure out where you can cram in community service, scholarship applications, clubs and activities, time with your family/friends, OHHHHH, what’s that? Neeettflixx. Time to daydream or be creative? Pffft. Gonna need to create a time-manipulation machine for that.

So how do we help students re-gain their reading endurance? We have to decide if it is a priority, and we have to give them TIME.

Our cross-country team is historically very successful. Roughly 33 state titles in 46 years. GO COUGARS! The coaching staff doesn’t take new runners and throw them out in the street to run 6 miles on their first day of practice. That would result in injuries, burnout, and copious profanity.

We need to scaffold our way back to reading endurance. We need to surround students with quality, high-interest reading material, and we need to give them TIME to select and read. 

For instance: 8 minutes the first two weeks, then 15 minutes for a couple of weeks, then 20, then 30, then 45. Or faster/slower depending on the makeup of the class and progress. This does not mean reading out loud as a group; this means independent reading.

50% reading for pleasure: student choice (developing endurance and fluency), 50% content-based academic reading.

But finding the time is a tough balance. Every curricular area is packed to the gills with standards. So it comes down to time-budgeting priorities. It is clear that reading ability has a huge impact on success in life. Perhaps more than any other factor. It is worth remembering this as we decide where we budget class time.

This is too complex a topic to cover in one blog post. Here and here are a couple of great books that provide a more comprehensive look at things.

Next post will be on how I’ve reorganized the library to try to help students more easily find reading material that they want to read.

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