Voluntary reading in decline: expert

Nothing helps students reach their potential more than reading, unfortunately fewer of them are turning pages, says an international literacy expert.

Nothing helps students reach their potential more than reading, unfortunately fewer of them are turning pages, says an international literacy expert.

Richard Allington, education professor at the University of Tennessee, said kids between the age of 12 and 18 are reading less at a time when there are more books, newspapers, magazines and electronic communication tools and sources than ever before.

Teachers have the power to turn the tide, he said.

“Voluntary reading is the best predictor of academic success but it’s directly related to the motivational environment of the classroom. Whether your kids read at home tonight, or over the weekend, or over the summer, has less to do with the parents they have than the teachers they have,” said Allington during a presentation to Grade 3 to 5 teachers with Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools on Thursday at Notre Dame High School.

He said students are reading less for several reasons — few classroom libraries; little use of school libraries; no time in school set aside for self-selected, independent, voluntary reading; few teachers reading aloud to students after Grade 2; and few teachers simply promoting books by holding them up in front of the class and telling students about them or reading a few pages aloud.

Allington said there’s no activity better for students than reading.

“Most of our best readers learn to read because they read a lot. And as they read, they had to solve problems. They had to figure out unknown word meanings. They had to figure out sentence structure. They had to figure out a way to puzzle through it,” he told the Advocate.

“As kids become engaged readers, they consistently seek out harder material, or more complex material, on a topic they’re interested in.”

Take dinosaurs, for example. Some children can’t learn enough about them, Allington said.

“There are these little six-year-old boys who know more about dinosaurs than I will ever know, and who can pronounce more dinosaur names than I can. They don’t want the book that tells them what they already know. They want the book that has a different take on a different kind of dinosaur, or a different kind of recovery technique.”

szielinski@bprda.wpengine.com

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