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, allschools 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 Crossesseries, 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, GreatExpectations, 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
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