Literature is the essence of knowledge—the documented record of the things we know, the things we believe, and the things we imagine. A love of reading is one of the greatest things we can pass on to the next generation. That’s what inspired me to explore the current state of affairs in literacy education. I was also curious about what the most recent studies recommend for parents, educators, and shopkeepers (storytime anyone?) to help raise the readers of tomorrow.
Where We Are
In January of this year the National Endowment for the Arts released a report called “Reading on the Rise: A New Chapter in American Literacy.” For the first time in 25 years, they found an increase in the number of adults who had read a novel, short story, poem or play in the previous 12 months. The chairman of the endowment, Dana Gioia, gave credit to grassroots programs like Big Read, Oprah’s book club, and blockbuster titles like Harry Potter and Twilight. (For the full analysis see the New York Times article.)
Another possible factor for the rise in adult reading could be book clubs. I’ve definitely noticed an increase in the number of people I know who regularly attend or even start up their own groups. Among its many other distinctions, the month of October is National Reading Group Month, which celebrates “the joy of shared reading.” (Incidentally, October is also Spinach Lovers Month, Right Brainers Rule! Month, and Organize Your Medical Information Month. For a complete list visit http://www.brownielocks.com/october.html.)
So, why do book clubs work? Communal reading is encouraging; it motivates and stimulates. NEWS FLASH: The exact same thing works at home. Kids learn by example. They mimic parental habits and behavior, so the idea is that if a child sees their parent reading on a regular basis it’ll pique their curiosity.
Everything I’ve found in my research also touts the importance of reading aloud. There are many resources out there with helpful hints, including my personal favorite The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease, now in its sixth edition. Check out Jim’s website at http://www.trelease-on-reading.com. He’s got a read-aloud book of the week up there as well as some excerpts from the book, including the Do’s and Don’ts of reading aloud.
At some point in a child’s reading development (somewhere around the fourth grade for most kids) independent reading should start to overtake group reading. It shouldn’t be entirely replaced, (my mother, for example, continued to read aloud to me through the sixth grade, which was the year we did Great Expectations), but the balance shifts.
I found a post in the blog Educating Alice, which is written by an elementary school teacher and talks about this very thing. Among other things, she discusses how kids have to learn what their tastes are and what kind of environment they need for reading.
The Educating Alice post also talks about how teachers are working to encourage reading outside the classroom with 30-minute independent reading homework. To help alleviate the number of mom-am-I-done-yets, there’s a great Digital Bookmark available from Learning Express, which has a clock and timer for this very reason. If you’ve got the opportunity, doing your own independent reading while your child works on the assignment is a great idea.
Somewhere In-Between (for Tweens)
Somewhere between reading aloud and independent reading is the parent-child book club, which has been growing in popularity in recent years. This is especially great for building strong relationships because it mixes peers with parents in a group activity. A great resource is PBS Kids, which has a whole section dedicated to parent-child book clubs—how to establish and sustain a group, how to have great discussions, etc. (http://www.pbs.org/parents/readinglanguage/articles/bookclubs/main.html) Groups can focus on reading aloud, independently, or a combination of the two.
Ready, set, READ
I sincerely hope that the trend found by the National Endowment for the Arts continues to rise and that literacy levels see an all-around increase. In the meantime, I wish you happy reading for yourself and your family.
…oh the places you’ll go!