Not being able to read is a problem but so is not liking to read.
Reading for pleasure has been linked to growth across many domains, including greater reading confidence, gains in general knowledge and insights that help disrupt negative stereotypes. Engagement with books not only improves social relationships but also builds empathy.
However, with the current focus on tests and scores even at pre-K, kindergarten and first-grade levels, the tendency is to care more about ability than enjoyment.
The truth is, for most part, they are coupled together.
As former classroom teachers, we recognise how reading for pleasure builds not only reading skills but also leads to personal development. Our research has only confirmed this belief.
Children are not reading for pleasure
We know a large number of kids are unable to reach the basic proficiency level in reading.
According to the 2013 data of the National Center for Education Statistics, often called the nation’s report card, 32% of fourth graders and 22% of eighth graders were reading below the basic level of proficiency.
Pressures of testing have not helped. Instead, they have taken the joy out of reading.
Over the last 13 years, there has been an increase in the number of states that have enacted legislation on retention (or holding back a year) policies for students who do not meet literacy standards, with 32 states and Washington DC now requiring reading tests in elementary school.
In many Texas elementary schools, kids’ literacy scores are publicly posted. Parents are given goals and advice on how to increase score. As a result, the scope of what gets taught narrows down.
Such pressures haven’t quite helped improve learning. In fact, parents report high anxiety and nervousness levels in their children as a result of testing. These pressures have an impact on teaching as well.
Teachers have been found to teach to the tests, foregoing development of reading comprehension and more holistic reading habits.
Reading for pleasure could actually make a difference. Evidence suggests that kids who are highly engaged with books perform better on school measures, because they learn to enjoy reading.
Make reading a fun, social activity
So, how could we get our kids to enjoy reading?
Here are some ideas based on our survey of reading research on how to get started with young children, new readers and even experienced but disengaged readers.
To draw young children into reading, try building routines for reading together like before bed or after bath time.
Making reading a social activity can also help engage young readers. So read with other family members, such as older siblings.
Young readers also enjoy reading the same stories over and over, and referring to characters during the day helps to build connections and literate lives.
For new or disengaged readers, a good place to start is by reading to them at least as much as they read to you.
When they are reading to you, remember that reading aloud at home should be about pleasure rather than accuracy; don’t correct more than a couple of words as they read.
You may also want to make space for them to tell you stories from the pictures; that is an important reading skill too.
Like with young readers, read favourite books over and over again. Repeated readings help readers recognize words quickly and automatically.
Find urgent reasons for reading, like signs, recipes, or directions for putting a toy together.
Remember, all books are good books, even if they don’t seem sophisticated. Kids will get bored and move on eventually.
Work towards reading for pleasure
When children are not reading as might be expected for their grade, it can be really hard on their confidence and identities as readers. It might also lead to concern amongst parents about their child.
In a society that is increasingly being built on an idea-driven economy, at least paying attention and working towards enjoyment and pleasure of reading – not just the ability to read – may help in other areas of social and school life.
So, make reading about enjoyment, not about the technicalities of testing.