Sunday, 5 March 2017

What are Kids Reading? Is it for Pleasure? by Savita Kalhan

World Book Day celebrates its twentieth year this year, so what are kids reading for pleasure, how is it monitored, and how much choice do they have?

 A new study has shown that when children are in primary education, they read more challenging books than when they are in secondary school. In secondary school their reading regresses as they choose far less complex and challenging books.

The study was conducted by Professor Keith Topping on behalf of Renaissance, the company which
provided all the data for the study from the schools who are signed up to their AR (Accelerated Reader) program across the UK. The report analysed the reading habits of 848,219 young people across almost 4,000 schools in the programme.

Renaissance UK managing director Dirk Foch said: "Most primary schools place a large emphasis on developing literacy skills. However, this is rarely transferred onto secondary school and, as a result, literacy standards at secondary level are a persistent challenge."

Clearly, all schools will place a huge emphasis on developing literacy skills - even secondary schools. This data is derived only from the schools participating in Renaissances' AR programme. There are over eight and a half million kids in primary and secondary school schools in the UK, and over twenty thousand state schools.

I know Cecilia Busby blogged about the pros and cons of the AR programme a couple of years ago, (which you can read HERE). It's a huge subject on its own, and not the focus of my blog today.

According to feedback from schools in the AR programme, the data shows that novels written by the blogger Zoella have become more popular than JRR Tolkien. When Charlie Higson was asked what he thought of this on The World at One, he said that we should be glad that children are engaging with books rather than looking at a screen. You can read the full Renaissance report HERE.

But I have noticed something very worrying, and I hope it is not a trend that is being repeated in other schools.

The use of eReaders, in some schools, has taken the place of paperback books almost completely. I know of one very large secondary school where every Year 7 and 8 pupil is given a kindle preloaded with books. Older years are given a nook. They are used for lessons as well as for reading for pleasure, apparently.

This is an example of a selection of books loaded on in September for Year 8s:

The Noughts and Crosses series, The Weight of Water, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, One, More Than this, The Fault in Our Stars, Into the Forest, Hold Your Breath, The Wall, Shadow, War Girls, Singing for Mrs Pettigrew, Maze Runner, The Company of Ghosts, The Child's Elephant

Classics are pre-loaded too -: Pride and Prejudice, Animal Farm, Around the World in 80 Days, Great Expectations, Wuthering Heights, Aesop's Fables...

The kids are NOT allowed to read anything else other than one of the books on the school kindles. If they are caught reading a paperback book, they are given a detention! It doesn't appear to matter whether they are reading a paperback book because they have already read most of the pre-loaded books a couple of times, or because they've read all the books they were interested in reading on their school kindle. Whatever the justification, threatening a child with detention for reading something they want to read is a harsh and unwarranted punishment.

There appears to be little choice, and no free will on the part of the children in having the ability to browse and choose a book to read (part of the pleasure of reading, surely). They are NOT allowed to read a paperback book - even during their reading session in the library! If they're lucky, they will derive some pleasure from some of the books on the kindle, and there are some good ones. One of the kids I spoke to had read all the books he had wanted to read on the school kindle - some of them twice, so he was now going to risk getting detention by bringing in a library book.

I've asked many school kids whether they prefer reading a paperback book to a kindle, and the majority prefer paperback books. Scholastic did a survey in the States and found that over 65% of school children preferred reading a paperback book than on an eReader.

Clearly the school wants to monitor the kids' reading habits, and justify the expense of buying the kindles for those two year groups, and nooks for the older year groups. Unlike in the States where Amazon has a block deal for schools, I believe that in the UK there is no such deal. So it cannot be cheap to load up so many eReaders with textbooks and reading books. I wonder how many other secondary schools have opted for what seems to be quite an expensive choice over a well-stocked school library.

There are, of course, pros and cons regarding the use of eReaders in schools. They can and do have a place in schools, but I don't think they should replace books. Chris Leslie blogs about eReaders in 5 Burning Questions about eReaders in schools for the Scottish Book Trust.

Reading should be for pleasure. But is a lot of the pleasure being knocked out of it in favour of over-monitoring in the interest of collating stats and ticking boxes? I think this is an important issue and one that needs looking at far more closely.

Twitter @savitakalhan


catdownunder said...

I am absolutely appalled that any child should be given a detention for reading! Don't they want children to read?

Sue Purkiss said...

It sounds to me like a good idea that children should be given a selection of ebooks, but a very BAD one that they should not be allowed to read other books - is this widely the case, I wonder? It reminds me of a child I know who had only recently, and after some difficulty and delay, started to read independently - and it was the Tintin books that did the trick. But when he took one into school, they told him he shouldn't be reading comics...! I think and hope that this would not be a typical reaction.

Stroppy Author said...

I think this is beyond appalling. How on Earth can a school justify this behaviour? I think perhaps a word with Ofsted might be in order. Ofsted has to have some use... Detention for reading a book? Is Fahreneheit 451 pre-loaded? If not, I will personally pay for it to be added. I think there should be a major fuss about this.

Ann Turnbull said...

Banning something usually creates a desire for it - so if children are forbidden to read paperbacks, or to browse in the library and choose their own books, surely that is exactly what they will do? Let's hope so.

C.J.Busby said...

There's a lot of terrible things going on in schools at the moment around forced reading of some kind or another. AR has a lot to answer for on this. The ability to monitor kids reading through AR has lead to teachers insisting they read only AR books of a certain level, imposing set amounts of words per week, and giving detentions when they don't do their reading 'homework'. Detentions for being caught with a paperback seems a bit beyond reason, but it's of a parcel with the general policing of reading that's becoming more and more the norm.

Penny Dolan said...

This makes me wordless with rage. Sounds to me like (US-led?) technology companies structuring the school practice and ideology, rather than the needs, interests and preferences of the young readers being valued. Horrid, horrid.

Penny Dolan said...

ps. Yes, I did use words but these weren't the ones rampaging in my head.

Hilary Hawkes said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Hilary Hawkes said...

(Sorry, I'll try my comment again!)
I don't know a lot about AR etc, but I'm appalled and flabbergasted that a child should be given a detention for reading 'the wrong book' - even if it happened because only certain selected books were meant to be read during a particular reading session or lesson.

Enid Richemont said...

I remember a late and illustrious bookseller snatching a book from a child's hands and saying:"This isn't suitable for your age group". And books as detention punishment??? They must be mad. However, this also has to be interesting news for any out-of-print children's author who's re-published on KDP, and far too many of us are in this position.

As for the 'educators' - I have a little book, which shall be nameless, coming out soon with an equally nameless publisher who's gone down the incomprehensible 'Educational' route, and in which my original text has been completely strangled. The pictures will be nice, though.

David Thorpe said...

Thanks for posting this. If it is true and widespread there should be a campaign against it, and it should be led by the Society of AUthors. Are they aware of this trend?

Savita Kalhan said...

It would be a very good idea for someone to look into this. It is absolutely terrible. When one of the kids told me about it, I really couldn't believe it. But it's true. A very big fuss is necessary to highlight what's going on.

Beth Kemp said...

Speaking as a teacher, I think this must be incredibly rare. Most schools could not afford the equipment and would not want to waste the existing library stock. My kids read on kindles and have not been able to do so at their schools. Also, none of the schools I have been in over the past few years have allowed reading on e-readers due to fear over kids possibly sneaking in games or reading blogs or something rather than books.

Savita Kalhan said...

I hope you're right, Beth. In the school I'm talking about, the kids have no access to the internet on their kindles, only to the pre-loaded books. The school is a very big secondary Academy school with four years of kids, up to 400 kids, using the school's kindles and nooks.

David Thorpe said...

Contact the SoA. At least let them know. Are you a member? I recommend joining if not. Free legal advice!!

Katherine Langrish said...

I'm utterly horrified by this. If widespread, a dreadfully worrying