Public anxiety about the capacity of digital-age children and young adults to read anything longer than a screen grab has come to feel like moral panic. But there is plenty of evidence to suggest we must take such unease seriously.
In 2016, the US National Endowment for the Arts reported the proportion of American adults who read at least one novel in 2015 had dropped to 43.1% from 56.9% in 1982.
In 2018, a US academic reported that in 1980, 60% of 18-year-old school students read a book, newspaper or magazine every day that wasn’t assigned for school. By 2016, the number had plummeted to 16%.
Those same 12th graders reported spending “six hours a day texting, on social media and online”.
Why it matters that teens are reading less
American literacy expert and neuroscientist Maryanne Wolf describes the threat screen reading poses to our capacity for “the slower cognitive processes such as critical thinking, personal reflection, imagination, and empathy that are all part of deep reading”.
Will the mix of continuously stimulating distractions of children’s attention and immediate access to multiple sources of information give young readers less incentive either to build their own storehouses of knowledge or to think critically for themselves?
But rather than taking up defensive positions on either side of the digital-analogue reading divide, Wolf encourages us to embrace both. As parents and teachers we can help our children develop a bi-literate reading brain. There are several ways we can do this.
Reading is a learned skill that requires the development of particular neural networks. And different reading platforms encourage the development of different aspects of those networks.
Screen-reading children, immersed from toddlerhood in the pleasures and instant gratification of skimming, clicking and linking, develop cognitive skills that make them adept power browsers, good at the useful ability to scan for information and analyse data.
But Wolf suggests this kind of reading “can short-circuit the development of the slower, more cognitively demanding comprehension processes that go into the formation of deep reading and deep thinking.”
Unless the cognitive skills required for deep reading are similarly developed and nurtured, new generations of readers – distracted by the ready availability of digital information – may not learn to venture beyond the shallows of the reading experience.
Along with others concerned with early childhood education Wolf advises encouraging paper literacy from infancy. She doesn’t recommend forbidding devices. Instead we should regularly turn them off and make the time and space to read books on paper with children.
We can model our own reading practices by setting aside our own smart phones to lose ourselves in a book.
But how can secondary and tertiary teachers help inexperienced readers? The problem is likely to be aliteracy, meaning students can read but they choose not to because they don’t see it to be important for learning. And because they haven’t read much, it’s hard work. The problem can seem intractable. But it can be done.
Turn off the phone and read
My first venture into helping tertiary students read better was a 2011-2013 cross-university government-funded project that set out to foster what we termed “reading resilience”. We found if students were persuaded to prioritise reading as they did a test or an essay, they would invest the time to get into the zone that is the other world of the text.
We complemented complex texts with a guide that encouraged students to think critically as they read and to keep going when the language seemed impenetrable, the narrative incomprehensible (or dull) and the length endless. Or when the siren call of the smart phone became irresistible.
They experimented with switching off their devices for blocks of two hours while they simply read. And they did read.
Students prioritised this difficult work because we rewarded pre-class reading with marks. Some classes uploaded one-page, carefully argued responses; others answered complex feedback-rich quizzes.
I surveyed a large first-year introduction to literary studies at the University of Queensland in 2013 before testing a version of the same “reading resilience” course in 2014. The rise in reading rates was exponential.
The number of students who completed all ten primary texts (including the poem Beowulf and Toni Morrison’s Beloved) more than tripled, and the number who completed the ten accompanying secondary texts (selected chapters from an introduction to literary theory and criticism) went up by more than six times.
Reported student satisfaction for this course from 2008 to 2012 had ranged between 64% and 75%. Once reading resilience was introduced, many complained about the reading load yet the level of overall satisfaction jumped to 86%.
We can all do it
It’s not just readers raised in a digital-age who have difficulty with long-form text. Have you have lost the skill of deep reading? Are you finding it increasingly difficult to stay with, say, a literary novel? You are not alone.
Wolf, who despite having two degrees in literature, confesses to the shocking discovery that recently she found herself struggling to stick with a beloved Herman Hesse novel.
We too can switch off our devices and set aside a space and time to revitalise the neural pathways that once made us immersive readers.
As Wolf argues, the skills of “deep reading” that involve “slower, more time-consuming cognitive processes […] are vital for contemplative life”. Deep readers are likely to be more thoughtful members of the community at a time when good citizenship may never have been more important.
Why does reading in the back seat make you feel sick? – Jane, aged 10, from Coburg North, Australia.
Hi Jane, your question about why reading in the back seat makes you feel sick is a very good one. The answer has to do with our eyes, our ears and our brain.
Reading in the back seat can make you feel sick because your eyes and ears are having an argument that your brain is trying to settle!
Curious Kids: Why do our ears pop?
When you’re reading in the back seat, your eyes see that your book is still. Your eyes then tell your brain you are still.
But your ears feel the car is moving. Your ears then tell your brain you’re moving.
How can your ears tell you’re moving?
Your ears don’t just hear, they help with your balance too.
Your ear has three main parts:
- the outer ear is the bit you can see on the side of someone’s head
- the middle ear is your eardrum and some tiny bones and muscles
- the inner ear is the part of your ear that can help with your balance.
Your inner ear contains cells that have hairs sticking out the top. Scientists call these “hair cells”.
Some of these hair cells help us to hear. When sound hits those hair cells, the hairs move and the cells send signals to the brain. Our brains use those signals to hear.
Other hair cells help us to keep our balance. When the car we’re sitting in moves, that movement makes the hairs on those hair cells move too, and they send different signals to the brain. Our brain uses those different signals to tell we’re moving.
Why doesn’t the brain like this?
Some people’s brains don’t like it when their eyes say they’re still but their ears say they’re moving.
When eyes and ears argue like this, the brain can think that something dangerous might be about to happen.
If this happens, the brain can get the body ready to fight or run away (scientists call this the “fight or flight” response).
One of the things the brain can do is take blood away from the stomach to give to the muscles.
Giving blood to the muscles can help us to fight or run away. But taking blood away from the stomach can make us feel sick.
What can you do about it?
If reading in the back seat makes you feel sick, you might need to settle the argument between your eyes and your ears.
One way to do this is to stop reading and to look out the car window. This could help your eyes to tell your brain that you’re moving as you see the world whizz by, and your ears to tell your brain that you are moving as you feel the car moving.
But this suggestion won’t work for everyone. Some people will still feel sick when they ride in a car, even if they aren’t reading.
This is because while our eyes and our ears help us to balance, so do our skin and our muscles. This creates many opportunities for arguments that our brain has to settle!
Hello, curious kids! Have you got a question you’d like an expert to answer? Ask an adult to send your question to email@example.com
Are we all trapped in a live-action version of Flaubert’s “Madame Bovary”?
The Jan. 3 assassination of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani was followed by a torrent of contradictory narratives.
Was Soleimani planning to attack Americans? What about Vice President Mike Pence’s erroneous assertion that Soleimani was involved in 9/11? Or was the plan all along to withdraw troops, as a letter accidentally sent to the Iraqi government suggested?
Was Trump simply trying to distract from his impeachment trial? Was the attack the knee-jerk decision of a malignant narcissist? Or was it a reasonable response following months of Iranian provocations?
Each burst of accusations and justifications has elicited a flood of public responses, expert opinions and efforts to correct a record full of hostilities and absurdities.
Many might feel bewildered and demoralized. But fans of the 19th-century French novel have seen this before.
In a 1852 letter, French author Gustave Flaubert mused, “When will we write the facts from the point of view of a cosmic joke, that is as God sees them from on high?”
He answered his own question in his 1857 novel, “Madame Bovary,” which he published during the regime of Napoleon III – the French president whose autocratic ambitions were aided by a swirl of misinformation and warring political factions.
When language loses all meaning
The main character, Emma Bovary, has devoured romantic novels and is disillusioned by a provincial existence that has proven dull. Her search for excitement and escape leads to adulterous disasters and financial ruin.
That’s a common enough premise, but what makes “Madame Bovary” unique is its insistence on the unreliability of narratives, phrases, descriptions and words. All the characters, from the callow manipulators to the well-meaning dullards, are awash in cliché. Emma and her future lover, Léon, declare that they love sunsets by the seaside, though neither has been to the ocean. The pharmacist Homais counsels prudence to others, though no one listens, and he himself is ruthlessly ambitious; the novel ends with him receiving the cross of the Legion of Honor. Léon tells Emma that he wanted to be buried in a rug she gave him, though the narrator reveals that this is false.
It isn’t even that everyone in the novel lies; some earnest characters really mean what they say. The problem is that language itself has had the meaning drained out of it by a combination of insincerity, repetition and bombast. In a famous scene at an agricultural fair, the audience of attentive townspeople hangs on every word of a mind-numbing, meandering speech about crops: “Here we have the vine, there we have the cider apple, further on we have cheese, and flax!”
When the fireworks planned for the event’s grand finale sputter out, the newspaper nonetheless reports that they went off without a hitch, describing them as a “veritable kaleidoscope, a true stage-setting for an opera.” No one cares that the description is made up.
The ultimate punchline of Flaubert’s cosmic joke is that the narrator himself is a master of subtle confusion. He starts the story in the first person, positioning himself as a schoolmate of Emma’s husband, before changing abruptly to the third person. Some of his accounts are straightforward and dispassionate. Others are entirely confounding. Descriptions of a boy’s cap, a wedding cake and a medical device are so detailed – and yet so baffling – that readers find themselves unable to even imagine what they might look like.
“I want to produce such an impression of utter weariness and ennui,” Flaubert later wrote in the plans for a subsequent literary project, “that my readers will imagine the book could only have been written by a cretin.”
France in political turmoil
Flaubert didn’t write “Madame Bovary” in a vacuum. As he was starting the novel in 1851, elected President Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte was staging the coup d’état that would transform him from president to emperor.
Roughly 10,000 political opponents were deported to penal colonies. Victor Hugo, a staunch opponent of the coup, fled to Brussels, while Alexis de Tocqueville retired from political life to avoid joining the regime.
French citizens found themselves bewildered and disoriented. Journalist and politician Eugène Ténot, writing an account of the coup in 1868, warned readers that “no truthful narrative of that event has been published in France.” He also remarked that “narratives written in troubled times are always imbued with partiality, exaggeration, injustice, even bad faith.”
In an open letter published in December 1851, Bonaparte announced the dissolution of the National Assembly, which he called a “hotbed of conspiracies.” In January 1852 he put in place a new constitution, all the while accusing “démagogues” of spreading “fausses nouvelles” (“fake news”). In December 1852, Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte became Napoléon III. France’s Second Empire commenced.
Described as “the first modern dictator” and “one of the first modern leaders to rule by propaganda,” Bonaparte went from being France’s first elected president to its last emperor. The Second Empire lasted until 1870, when the emperor, conscious of his declining popularity, declared war on Prussia – and lost.
France’s political upheaval, misinformation wars, sporadic uprisings and public confusion likely left a deep impression on Flaubert.
Americans today might sympathize with his characters, who exist in an endless vortex of repetition, insincerity and stupidity.
Recent technological advances are partially to blame.
Over the past decade, abundant research has emerged on media oversaturation, narrative overload and the deluge of digital images – and what this does to the brain. Incessant stimuli and distractions lead to memory impairment, confusion and troubles with retention.
These conditions are ripe for political warfare.
In his 2014 book “The Contradictions of Media Power,” media studies professor Das Freedman wrote that, in times of political instability, “existing narratives are under stress and audiences themselves are actively seeking out new perspectives.” Information wars and fake news seem to be endemic during times of political upheaval.
In many ways, we’re living out an extreme version of the cosmic joke Flaubert envisioned.
A continual stream of tedious lies, meaningless clichés and empty grandstanding has disillusioned Americans just as much as it confounded Emma Bovary. Lieuvain’s boring, bizarre address at the agricultural fair has its modern equivalents – think of Trump’s meandering rally speeches, or his complaints about toilet flushing and cancer-causing windmills. Republican Congressman Devin Nunes is currently suing a fictitious cow for defamation, while the president’s supporters applauded the statement that there was a war on “Thanksgiving.”
With the assassination of Soleimani, disregard for truth and reality – and examples of Madame Bovary-esque word salad – remains as blatant as ever. Mike Pence’s reference to Soleimani’s involvement in 9/11 is as detached from reality as Emma’s vision of Roman ruins bordering a forest of tigers, camels, swans, sultans and English ladies.
The flood of narrative confusion continues unabated. Only time will tell if Iran becomes the Prussia of 21st-century America.
Fifty years after her death, Australian writer Charmian Clift is experiencing a renaissance. Born in 1923, Clift co-authored three novels with her husband George Johnston, wrote two under her own name, produced two travel memoirs, and had weekly column widely syndicated to major Australia papers during the the 1960s.
Clift has long been overshadowed by the legacy of Johnston, whose novel My Brother Jack is considered an Australian classic. Her novels and memoirs are sadly out of print, yet she is increasingly recognised for her important place in Australian culture.
In 2018 she, along with Johnston, was inducted into the Australian Media Hall of Fame in recognition of her work as a columnist. She is also being reimagined in fiction, as the subject of A Theatre of Dreamers (2020), a forthcoming novel by English author, Polly Samson, and in Tamar Hodes’ The Water and the Wine (2018).
The revival of interest in Clift is more than a collective nostalgia or feminist correction of the historical record, although both are relevant. Many of her readers from the 60s still remember her newspaper column, and the impact that it had on their view of Australia’s place in the world, with great affection.
Younger generations, particularly women, have also been exposed to Clift’s clear and passionate voice after the columns were published in several volumes in the years following her death. That Clift and her writing continue to resonate with contemporary Australia tells us something about both her and the nation.
The Hydra years
Much of the renewed interest in Clift is focused not only on her writing, but also on the near decade that she and Johnston lived on the Greek Island of Hydra. In late 2015, artist Mark Schaller’s Melbourne exhibition, Homage to Hydra, featured paintings depicting Clift and Johnston’s island lives, with several featuring other residents from Hydra’s international population of writers and artists, including Canadian poet and songwriter, Leonard Cohen.
The same year, Melbourne musicians Chris Fatouros and Spiros Falieros debuted Hydra: Songs and Tales of Bohemia, marrying Cohen’s songs to a narrative about Clift and Johnston’s time on Hydra.
In 2018, our book, Half the Perfect World: Writers, Dreams and Drifters on Hydra, 1955-1964, told in detail of the fabled decade of Clift’s life as a bohemian expatriate.
To date in 2019, Sue Smith’s play, Hydra, has been staged in Brisbane and Adelaide, casting Clift in ways that resonate sympathetically with the concerns of contemporary audiences. As Smith writes in her script’s introduction:
Charmian was a woman ahead of her time. We see this in the choices she made both in her personal life, whether it be scandalising the Greek locals by wearing trousers and drinking in bars, to insisting upon her personal and sexual freedom and, of course, through her work.
‘Charm is her greatest creation’
Modern readers might respond to Clift the writer, but the focus on her years on Hydra suggests there is also great interest in her charismatic personality and tempestuous life with Johnson, as their dream of a cheap and sun-soaked creative island life slowly soured.
While researching the couple’s lives on Hydra, we came across a suggestive, eye-witness diary entry by a fellow writer, New Zealander Redmond Wallis, written in 1960.
Charm is her greatest creation, Charmian Clift, the great Australian woman novelist. Charmian is very curious. She is, potentially at least, a better writer than George but she has and is deliberately creating a picture of herself … which one feels she hopes will appear in her biography some day.
The head of a literary coterie, beautiful, brilliant, compassionate but still the mother of 3 children, running a house. Sweating blood against almost impossible difficulties – a husband inclined to unfounded jealousy, the heat, creative problems, the children, the problems foisted on her by other people … and yet producing great art.
Wallis’s observations are accurate, and prophetic, in noting Clift’s capacity for self-mythologising and her belief that both she and her Hydra idyll would be remembered. Nearly four decades after Clift returned from Greece to Australia amid the acclaim for My Brother Jack, she did become the subject of an excellent biography, Nadia Wheatley’s The Life and Myth of Charmian Clift (2001).
But there were also failures amongst the success. The vision she and Johnston shared for a writing life on Hydra floundered amid poverty, alcoholism and illness. Their return to Australia in 1964 was an unlikely triumph for Johnston following the success of My Brother Jack, but Clift did not return with the same profile.
Wheatley also traced another of Clift’s great disappointments – her failure to complete her long-dreamt of autobiographical novel The End of the Morning, a struggle that was the subject of Susan Johnson’s 2004 novel, The Broken Book.
Clift did, however, leave an autobiography of sorts, in her newspaper articles. These often focused on domestic circumstances and everyday thoughts – ranging from conscription, to the rise of the Greek military junta after she left Hydra, to the changing social circumstances in Australia, and her daughter’s engagement.
These articles might not have always reflected the experiences of her readers – not everyone invited Sidney Nolan over for drinks – but Clift’s first-person narratives of a life lived with great passion and a sceptical eye to the consequences, garnered a large readership.
These readers responded to an incisive intellect with a vision of a culturally enriched Australia. She understood well the need for the country to outgrow its entrenched conservatism in order to realise its potential; and she emerged as a generous spirit who realised that the dreams and passions that drove her life were found everywhere in Australian suburbs.
Wallis’s detection of Clift’s hubris and narcissism paints her as a potentially tragic figure. It was a fate she perhaps fulfilled, when Johnston eventually wrote of Clift’s infidelities on Hydra. Clift took her own life on July 8 1969, an event that curtailed her voice while leaving behind a legacy of loyal and grieving readers.
A natural cosmopolitan
Clift’s is one of the voices – and one of the most important female voices – that rose above the crowd during the post-war period, as the western world unknowingly girded itself for the social revolution that was to come.
Through her columns she advocated for a bolder, more outward looking future, and as someone who was naturally cosmopolitan she was avidly interested in seeing Australia become more open to the world and better integrated into the Asia-Pacific.
She didn’t always get it right (an essay decrying the rise of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones stands out!), but she helped navigate the path to a more broad-minded and inclusive vision of Australia.
Over the years Clift has emerged as someone who was not only modern, but also engaged in that most post-modern of activities, self-creation. For while Wallis scorned Clift’s self-mythologising at the time, it might now be recognised as the finest gift of the creative artist – to re-make oneself in the image of a world yet to be made. It was her gift to her readers and Australia.
Tanya Dalziell, Associate Professor, English and Literary Studies, University of Western Australia and Paul Genoni, Associate Professor, School of Media, Creative Arts and Social Inquiry, Curtin University
I don’t understand beach reads. And I’m not the only one. There’s no universal consensus about the category, though the marketing tends to revolve around those books popularly considered disposable, unserious, or at the very least, books “you don’t mind getting wet.”
Last year, I toted Anna Karenina along with me — it got soaked, and I abandoned it in an AirBnB in Dubrovnik, Croatia, after I’d finished reading it. It lasted nearly the whole trip and left a gaping, souvenir-sized hole in my suitcase; it was perfect. So as much as I’d like to dissolve the beach read label entirely, I must also admit I have a type: I want a meaty, absorbing book that takes me further into a vacation by connecting with the cultures that produced it. I want a book that can’t be disposed of, one that will take me somewhere entirely new.
What I really want is to decouple the notion of summer reading as a lifestyle marker of class or gender. If the “pursuit of intellectual betterment” feels inaccessible or off-putting, I would like to propose at least the pursuit of expanding our emotional connections.
In a cultural climate where the limits of empathy are increasingly under a microscope, forging cross-cultural connections feels like a pressing task. Much has been made of the relationship between fiction reading and empathy, but what happens when the limits of our worldview are bounded by the English language? While linguistic diversity is growing in Canada, the majority of Canadians still speak only English at home, and comparatively few books are translated into English. If, as José Ortega y Gasset proposes, reading in translation should transport the reader into the language — and therefore the perspective — of the author, then reading translated works may be one of the best ways to expand empathy beyond the boundaries of language.
I’m not going abroad this summer, at least not physically. I’ll be staying in Canada, with only my books to pull me to other times and places. While in recent years, I’ve focused on keeping up with new releases, this year I’m fixated on atmosphere and transportation, in a mix of old favourites and new-to-me classics from around the world.
I won’t tell you to read Elena Ferrante, because you’ve probably heard that before. Instead, I will be delving into the work of Elsa Morante, a possible inspiration for Ferrante’s pseudonym. Arturo’s Island, originally published in English in 1959, has been published in a new translation by Ann Goldstein (translator of Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels). The novel promises a mix of the remote island setting steeped in Morante’s preoccupation with social issues and the spectre of war.
One of my favourite themes in European literature is that of movement and fluidity, the running sense of unity of purpose amidst myriad diverse pockets of culture. The ubiquity of trains and boats support transcontinental journeys by characters who switch language mid-conversation. Last year’s Man Booker International winner, Flights by Olga Tokarczuk takes traveling and travelers as the subject of its interconnected musings, making it an ideal choice for the vacation headspace. This year’s winner, Celestial Bodies from Oman’s Jokha Alharthi, has an English edition but has not yet been published in Canada.
In my opinion, no contemplation of Pan-European lore can be complete without Dubravka Ugrešic’s Baba Yaga Laid an Egg. Once labeled a witch herself and driven into exile from Croatia, Ugrešic’s take on Baba Yaga explores the shifting nature of popular folklore.
Half of a Yellow Sun by Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is not a translation, but it will take you to a place that only briefly existed: Biafra, a West African state founded in 1967. While the brutality of recent war may not make a particularly appetizing subject for vacation, Adichie contrasts the brutality with sumptuous descriptions of pre-war food and luxury, giving her vision of Biafra the aura of a lost dream. Adichie has referred to the war as a shadow over her childhood.
There are no beaches in Kristen Lavransdatter and many more Christmases than summers, but if you start Nobel Prize-winner Sigrid Undset’s oeuvre now, it may take you until winter to finish it. Set in Medieval Norway, the book follows the titular Kristen from childhood until death, focusing on her tumultuous love affair and marriage to Erlend Nikulaussøn. Tiina Nunnally’s translation, focusing on plain, stripped-down language, presents a change in philosophy from the first English translation that cut large portions of the text and enforced stiff, archaic language absent from the original Norwegian.
Samanta Schweblin’s Fever Dream is slight in length but packs a heavy punch in both atmosphere and psychological investment. The story of a vacation gone terribly wrong, the novel’s Spanish title closely translates to “rescue distance,” a recurring concept instantly familiar to parents of young children and terrifying as it becomes repeatedly destabilized. Fever Dream is so unsettling that I sometimes hesitate to recommend it, but I’ve found myself repeatedly drawn back to its tantalizing surrealism.
I’ve spent much of my life moving around, and as a recent settler on unceded Secwepemc territory, I want to learn more about the land I live on. In a summer steeped in fiction, Secwépemc People, Land, and Laws by Marianne and Ronald Ignace is the only history on my list, but in many ways it feels similar to the others, reaching out to add a new dimension to a place in which I’m still mostly an outsider. For better or for worse, Kamloops feels the most like itself in summer, the climate wants to have its stories told. It can feel intimidating to contemplate a 10,000 year history I know nothing about, but also comforting and necessary to reach back and hear the tales of the land I now call home.
Reading aloud can help young children learn about new words and how to sound them. There’s great value too in providing opportunities for children to enjoy regular silent reading, which is sustained reading of materials they select for pleasure.
But not all schools consistently offer this opportunity for all of their students. We regularly hear from teachers and teacher librarians who are concerned about the state of silent reading in schools.
They’re worried students don’t have enough opportunity to enjoy sustained reading in school. This is important, as many children do not read at home.
For some young people, silent reading at school is the only reading for pleasure they experience.
Silent reading silenced
Where silent reading opportunities still exist, we’re often told that the way it is being implemented is not reflective of best practice. This can make the experience less useful for students and even unpleasant.
So, what should silent reading look like?
Here are ten important things we need to do to make the most of silent reading in our schools.
1. Enjoyment is the focus
Enjoyment of reading is associated with both reading achievement and regular reading.
If we want young people to choose to read more to experience the benefits of reading, then silent reading needs to be about pleasure and not just testing.
2. Students choose the books
Young people should not be prevented from choosing popular or high-interest books that are deemed too challenging. Books that are a bit too hard could motivate students to higher levels of achievement.
Students have reported enjoying and even being inspired by reading books that were challenging for them, such as J.R.R. Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings.
Silent reading of text books or required course materials should not be confused with silent reading for pleasure.
3. The space is right
Like adults, children may struggle to read in a noisy or uncomfortable space.
Schools need to provide space that is comfortable for students to enjoy their silent reading.
4. Opportunities to chat (before or after)
Discussion about books can give students recommendations about other books and even enhance reading comprehension.
But silent reading should be silent so all students can focus on reading.
5. Inspired by keen readers
If students see their teachers and teacher librarians as keen readers this can play a powerful role in encouraging avid and sustained reading.
School principals can also be powerful reading models, with their support of silent reading shaping school culture.
6. Students have access to a library
Even when schools have libraries the research shows students may be given less access to them during class time as they move through the years of schooling.
Not all students are given class time to select reading materials from the library.
7. It happens often
This is particularly important for struggling readers who may find it hard to remember what they are reading if opportunities for silent reading are infrequent.
These students may also find it difficult to get absorbed in a book if time to read is too brief.
8. Paper books are available
Reading comprehension is typically stronger when reading on paper rather than a screen.
9. There is a school library and a teacher librarian
Teacher librarians can be particularly important in engaging struggling readers beyond the early years of schooling. They may find it hard to find a book that interests them but which is also not too hard to read.
Librarians are also good at matching students with books based on movies they like, or computer games they enjoy.
10. We need to make the school culture a reading culture
Reading engagement is typically neglected in plans to foster reading achievement in Australian schools.
Practices such as silent reading should feature in the literacy planning documents of all schools.
Allowing students to read for pleasure at school is a big step toward turning our school cultures into reading cultures. Students need opportunities to read, as regular reading can both build and sustain literacy skills.
Unfortunately, literacy skills can begin to slide if reading is not maintained.
We need people to continue to read beyond the point of learning to read independently, though research suggests this message may not be received by all young people.
Where children do understand reading is important, they may be nearly twice as likely to read every day. So silent reading is important enough to be a regular part of our school day.
This article was co-authored by Claire Gibson, a librarian who’s studying a master in education by research at Edith Cowan University.