Impact on Achievement in Other Areas
There is general concern about lack of reading habits and the impact it is having on achievement in middle school, “particularly among students from culturally diverse backgrounds in economically disadvantaged urban areas” (Lewis, Hancock, James, & Hill-Jackson, 2008, cited in Little, McCoach, & Reis, 2014). In a study conducted by the University of London’s Instutite of Education in 2013, the “reading behaviour of approximately 6,000 young people” in the UK was analysed. It compared how often they read as children with test results in vocabulary, spelling and math at age 16. Focusing on the “effect of reading for pleasure on cognitive development”, the conclusion was that “children who read for pleasure are likely to do significantly better at school than their peers” who “rarely read” (Battye & Rainsberry, 2013). The results found that those who read often “gained higher results in all three tests” – including math – than those who read less regularly (Battye & Rainsberry, 2013). The study concluded that reading for pleasure is “more important for children’s cognitive development between ages 10 and 16 than their parents’ level of education” (Battye & Rainsberry, 2013), suggesting that socioeconomic factors should not necessarily affect overall attainment if a healthy reading habit can be instilled.
Impact on Twenty First Century Skills
Whilst Sustained Silent Reading may increase enjoyment of reading, increase reading scores, and impact positively in other areas of academic achievement, in today’s world, it is no longer enough to be able “pass an objective test to demonstrate mastery, nor is it enough [to] parrot definitions from a teacher-made list” (Thomas, 2000). Current universities and employees demand twenty first century skills such as “creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration” (P21.org, 2002). Can reading for fun help learners improve academically and develop essential critical thinking skills?
Reading has been “shown to improve students’ writing and grammar” (Elley, 1991, in Krashen, 2004), and the 2013 University of London study concluded that reading not only affects attainment in all subjects, improving results in spelling, vocabulary and math, but also that a “strong reading ability will enable children to absorb and understand new information” (Battye & Rainsberry, 2013). This is backed up by further analysis of data from the NCES, which suggests that reading for just twenty minutes a day can also significantly help improve a child’s ability to search for information, interrelate ideas, make generalizations, and explain relatively complicated information. Looking again at the data from Figure 1, learners who score 200 on the reading scale possess the necessary skills to “understand, combine ideas, and make inferences” (NCES, 2006). This score appears to be the norm for 13 year olds, as even those who ‘never’ read for fun scored over 200. However, those who ‘never’ read for fun will be at a particular disadvantage, as they all score below 250. Scoring at or above 250 means learners possess the ability to “search for specific information, interrelate ideas, and make generalizations about literature, science, and social studies materials” (NCES, 2006), therefore moving beyond simple understanding into higher order thinking skills that span the curriculum. The chart in Figure 1 shows however, that those who read for fun monthly and weekly, rather than every day, are only just scoring within this skill-set. What is most significant is that the scores for those who read daily for fun across all time periods, (264, 272 and 271 respectively), are creeping towards the 300 mark. Learners scoring 300 are able to utilize a wide-variety of higher-order skills such as the ability to “find, understand, summarize, and explain relatively complicated literary and informational material” (NCES, 2006). In short, not only can daily reading for enjoyment help a child across all areas of the curriculum, it also has a huge impact on their ability to understand the world and operate successfully in the future.
The Impact of Choice
This research backs up the hypothesis that a healthy reading habit can positively affect overall achievement in middle school learners. However, problems arise when middle school readers are unable to reconcile their out of school reading choices with what is expected of them in school (Ivey & Broaddus, 2001). Educators need to establish reading as a life-long habit and have learners “embrace reading as a worthwhile pursuit outside of school” (Miller, 2009). “Readers are made, not born” (Miller, 2009) and it is essential to cultivate the value of reading to “promote students’ reading habits beyond the classroom” (Chua, 2008). This is where autonomy, motivation and the use of technology may help. Young adolescents “can and want to participate in literature activities” but are lacking the appropriate support or motivation to do so in school; there is also incongruence between what middle school readers prefer and the choices offered at school (Ivey & Broaddus, 2001).
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