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Reading 2.0

Mary Beth Hertz

HS Art/Tech Teacher in Philadelphia, PA
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Many educators are worried about how technology is affecting the amount of reading that students are doing. They notice that:

  • Students are struggling to read and comprehend longer texts.
  • Students are struggling to read deeply.
  • Many students report that they don’t read outside of school at all.

There are a few contributing factors to this, technology being one and high-stakes testing being another. We could also argue that kids aren't reading less, they're reading differently.

Non-Readers, Occasional Readers and Digital Readers

Just recently, over 100 children's authors, including the likes of Judy Blume, signed a letter to President Obama arguing that "Our public school students spend far too much time preparing for reading tests and too little time curling up with books that fire their imaginations." I can attest to the fact that many of my former students rarely read novels and equated "passages" with reading. For weeks on end, teachers were only allowed to present their students with texts that resembled those on the PSSA test. This can't help but have a lasting effect on students' desire to read for pleasure or read something longer than a test passage.

A 2013 Nielsen Book survey of 2,000 British families found that "among 11- to 17-year-olds, non-readers grew from 13 percent to 27 percent between 2012 and 2013." While the study did not define "non-readers," it defined "occasional readers" as those "who read 1-3 times a month." While these numbers are alarming, Nielsen found that 33 percent of children said they were reading digitally and 28 percent said that they would like to. In response to these numbers, Jo Henry from Nielsen Book stated, "There is something around we're not making it attractive enough to do it: there's not much aspirational stuff there. We all hoped the attraction of digital reading would bring lighter readers into the market. But they're still less likely than the heavier-reading teenagers to be reading e-books and apps." Still, according to the survey, 60 percent of children report that they are reading for pleasure on a weekly basis.

So what does it all mean?

For one, many children report that they would like to read digitally, but the current digital market is not attracting new readers or making children read more. That said, a large percentage of children are still saying that they read for pleasure. Perhaps we need to take a closer look at the technologies we currently employ for young readers. There are children who love to read and want to read digitally.

Lastly, research has shown that people read differently when they are reading on the web. A reader's eyes move differently around a webpage than the page of a book. Does this change how we read, and does it affect how young people read books or e-books? Do young people now have to code-switch each time they switch from reading a screen to reading a book? This could be an added hurdle.

Recognizing the Options

So how do we engage kids as readers?

A few ideas come to mind. Many young people have taken on writing fan fiction based on their favorite books. The website Harry Potter Fan Fiction has over 80,000 stories written by Harry Potter fans. These young people are not just reading stories, but writing them, too.

Along that same thread, self-publishing through e-books or a blog can engage readers. A well-maintained and cared-for blog can easily become a book. Also, if a blogger wants more people to read his or her blog, he or she must actively read other blogs. Personal blogs tend to get their inspiration from personal interests. This can be a great way to introduce books into a young blogger's repertoire.

Many young people use social media to connect with their friends and stay on top of what's going on in the world. Teaching them how to follow articles and news events on social media can lead to deeper conversations about global and local issues. If a student has a personal interest in a particular topic or issue, there is most likely a book they could read about the topic.

Of course, the simplest way to get kids reading more is by giving them exposure to a variety of topics and genres, and by giving them time to explore their passions. Inquiry leads to research, and research leads to reading. If we're forcing students to read boring test passages over and over, and teaching them that the only purpose behind reading is to perform on a test, then we have only ourselves to blame if students aren't reading for pleasure. We also need to begin to accept new forms of reading as what they are . . . reading. Young people have more reading options today than ever before, and these forms of reading require them to read differently. The biggest, most important question is, "Are kids reading for pleasure?" If the answer is yes, then we are on the right path.

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carol galic's picture

Sad that common core is de-emphasizing fiction and narrative writing - the two paths that connect most kids with world. While there is a subgroup of kids (usually I find it's boys) who prefer biographies and other non-fiction, I find most kids will delve into all kinds of fictional writing and reading. It's one way they figure out how people operate in this complicated life that they have to negotiate. Sorry to see common core de-emphasize it.

princesss_d27's picture

Based on my observation, I agree with the author to some extend. Digital natives especially,too indulge in fast paced technology device and lack focus on the importance of reading. Reading is just to serve the purpose of academic function,for most of them. Due to high interactivity offered by the devices, printing books are categorized as boring. Maybe some of the students read digitally, but I believe only a small portion of them doing so. It is mainly due to the types of reading material offered online, which are mostly current news oriented which attract mature students. I suggest that more leisure reading offered digitally to ensure reading is a part of younger students.

lmholliday's picture

1. Self-reported data is barely data at all, especially when subjects are tempted to portray a flattering self image.
2. We read webpages differently regardless of our age because they are laid out differently.
3. What would happen to young people if you increased the quality and availability of entertainment media at no cost? And left them unsupervised to consume it? This is perhaps the biggest factor.

Dr. Dereck Rhoads's picture
Dr. Dereck Rhoads
Learner and Leader

While I am not sure we can find a "perfect" split between fiction and non-fiction (70/30 etc.), I hope educators can agree that we need students to both read for pleasure (like many of us do when we take a book to the beach) and read for meaning (like many of us do when we take a journal to the beach) - question is how much of our "beach reading" is fiction vs. non-fiction and what does the average person enjoy more yet still need for productive contribution... - guess context and audience etc. is important.

Joan Dalrymple's picture

As a community college librarian I see many students struggling to read scholarly articles that they want to use for their research papers. Students often have difficulty selecting the best articles from a list of search results, and it seems that many students do not know how to read effectively. I read an interesting study (cited below) that discusses metacognitive strategies for helping learners to improve their reading skills using a framework called Questioning as Thinking. First, Think Alouds involve the teacher modeling how to question what is being read. This gives the students a chance to see how the teacher moves through a difficult passage by asking questions. Next, Question Answer Relationships (QAR) gives the students a strategy for asking questions like ''Does this make sense?" Employing such strategies helps students to be active learners who are in control of their own learning. If students begin this way of learning early on and develop the habits of metacognitive thinking, they can build on these skills to help them succeed in college and in the workplace.

Wilson, N., & Smetana, L. (2011). Questioning as thinking: A metacognitive framework to improve comprehension of expository text. Literacy, 45(2), 84-90. doi: 10.1111/j.1741-4369.2011.00584.x.

Ghibli Kang's picture
Ghibli Kang
im interested in Education setion.Because the education is the future

Reading for pleasure is good for Reading habit. Most of people command reading for some purpose by compulsion. It can make a side effect. So if u don't have reading habit, then first u try to accustomed to reading for pleasure.

Gaetan Pappalardo's picture
Gaetan Pappalardo
Teacher, Author, Guitar––Word.

A "non-reader" is a reader who hasn't found the right text. ME. I hated reading throughout my elementary and high school days because it was heavily loaded with fiction. I wanted to read Science Fiction and non-fiction. And by the time I was finished all of that drivel (my opinion) I had to read, I was too burnt to read the stuff I wanted to read. I didn't devour books like some kids. I liked reading in small chunks (and still do) ---for two reasons because I don't want the story to end and I just don't have the stamina to do it. That's why I like reading non-fiction/informational: Each turn of the page is a new book/story. The Common Core has added a bunch of non-fiction (one good thing about the core), which will attract more readers in the classroom.


When I published my first book (and only one at the time) a few of my colleagues stuck up their noses at the fact that my book was going to be an E-book. "Oh, I could have done that, but I'm waiting for a better contract." At first I was mad, then I was concerned. I've been submitting for publication for over fifteen years-- should I have waited too? That thought lasted a few hours. It wasn't long until I decided that writing is writing. The e-book, blog, website, hardback, paperback, billboard, song...whatever is only the plate on which it's served. The story is in control. So, to the haters of digital keep waiting while the world reads my words.


When the paperback novel emerged it was pretty sinful. Writing was meant to be read aloud --poetry and plays.... The novel? Pretty sexy. Why would you want to read a book silently curled up in a private place? You must be up to no good. Whether it's Middle Earth or New York City, novels take you places all by your lonesome and that's how reading used to be. When I would read a novel or short story, I rarely stopped to look up a word in the dictionary. Most likely the word I didn't know rarely messed with my comprehension of the story. Reading traditional books is more of a flow for me.

Now, with e-books, you've got the world behind the pages. You are not alone, my friend. It's tempting. It's hard. With the options at hand, It's easier to chunk up your writing and interrupt the story with word searches , etc... it's not a bad thing, just a different thing. Adults and kids need to be mindful of not interrupting the story for unnecessary distractions.

Also, you have to realize that if you drop your Kindle in the bathtub or toilet, you're done, man. You can dry out a paperback. No problem.

Rayna's picture
English HOD

All this would be great if our students could actually read when they arrive at high school.A sizable portion of our recent intake of Year 7 and 8 students have problems with decoding. We are having to reassess our programs to address this issue, as well as retrain our staff. Most of our students seem keen to learn, so I am finding the comments made here very helpful.
Any hints about how to address this issue would be appreciated. Reading your comments, I am thinking a choice of reading material,high interest might be the way to go. Perhaps a variety of genres of short stories to start with in the narrative section may address the length issue?

John S. Thomas's picture
John S. Thomas
First & Second Grade Teacher/Adjunct Faculty Antioch University New England, former Elementary Principal

Rayna, I totally agree that choice and high interest is the way to go. Unfortunately what you describe about children having difficulty decoding is all too common. While I teach young first and second grade student to learn to read, the methods my elementary colleagues are turning to are all about choice and high interest texts and I believe that applies no matter the age. Choice and high interest is important to adults as well. There have been countless times I've heard my wife grumble about her book club's choice of book. There are many months she chooses not to read the book (instead just going to enjoy the company and cheer.) Children are no different.

Like Gaetan described above, I too was not a reader through school. The stuff we were required to read didn't hold my attention. But today I am teaching the skills I need to teach and students simply use their own level of text to practice the skills. My lowest level grade 1 readers can practice the same skill as a higher level grade 2 student. Yes, they are exploring the skill to varying depths, but they are both working on improving their use of that skill. We are working hard to get books in the student's hands which get them excited about reading and fully engaged with the stories and learning. Non-fiction has definitely captured many of my "non-readers" attention. The best thing out of the common core has been the addition of many more lower level non-fiction readers. I think this change will have a positive change on reluctant readers. I know I would have been a happy kid if I had books like I have in my classroom.

So I wish I had the simple answer, but I I like your idea of the short stories. Like Gaetan said, they just need to find the right text!

Personally, I like taking non-fiction to read at the beach. ;)

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