World Book Day 2021
March 4th is World Book Day. And this year it all feels a bit... funky.
As a secondary school teacher, World Book Day has often passed me by. Unfortunately, the series of reports, marking assessments, planning lessons, dealing with issues that students have, and then the actual teaching of students themselves often means there’s not a lot of time to pause, reflect, and celebrate reading.
That is such a shame. I’ve often looked at the social media feeds of those in early years and primary education and wished there was an opportunity for that in secondary. Each year, there are scores of teachers flooding my pages in fancy dress. Children parade the streets as the Gruffalo or Harry Potter. Themed cakes are distributed and people genuinely seem to be enjoying talking about reading.
Then children hit secondary school and attitudes change. Teenagers are less engaged with reading. Teachers seem to have less time to model it in classrooms. World Book Day means the distribution of a book to year seven students, and nothing at all to those in KS4.
This year, during another national lockdown, World Book Day seems even more strange. For many, reading has been a great source of escape during lockdown. So, this year more than ever, we need to take the opportunity to talk about reading in all its glory.
Teenagers Engagement in Reading
I could list the extraordinary number of reasons why reading matters. I could extol the merits and benefits of reading on academic attainment alone. But I wont.
The fact of the matter is that there is a dramatic drop in reading when children hit their teenage years. Every parents’ evening that I attend, adults lament at how their child ‘used to read so much’. There are a huge number of reasons for this: from increased freedom and opportunity to express and develop their social relationships, to testing out other media and forms of entertainment. These new found interests are just as important and influential as reading. Teenagers are navigating a new, more independent environment. They’re learning how to be adults. This includes developing the relationships that they have with their peers and supervising adults. It means they’re learning about responsibility and meeting (home)work deadlines. There’s a lot for them to do and reading is a small aspect of this.
Non-Academic Benefits of Reading
All of this being said, reading still matters. Engagement in reading for pleasure drops dramatically when children reach their teenage years. Understanding the reasons behind it goes a long way to creating realistic ideas and expectations that we have of teens.
It is also worthwhile to realise the non-academic benefits of reading in the first place. Student engagement in reading improves when they see it as something that they can actually enjoy.
This lockdown I’ve tried (and quite often failed) to read every day. I enjoy reading so much. It’s an excellent form of escapism and offers new insights and perspectives to the world. That’s been particularly important for people over the last 12 months, but it’s also something to consider later in life too.
Novels, plays, and poetry give us access to worlds and experiences that we wouldn’t otherwise be able to access. They give us opportunities to imagine entirely new species and can shape the way that we engage with others. Yes, reading exposes us to vocabulary useful in exams, but books do so much more than just that.
Reading doesn’t have to be highly academic to be worthwhile. Students don’t need to download obtuse reading lists and read them from start to finish. Instead, what’s often a lot better, is having the freedom to explore and find something interesting. Something enjoyable. Reading for pleasure should always be the goal of any student, parent or teacher.
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How can teachers and parents support reading?
Without wanting to sound like William Wallace: “Freedom!”
Many parents and teachers give students lists of books to read. The intentions behind these lists are always good. It’s saying to those teenagers that there’s always something new to read. The problem is, particularly when the reading lists have come from school, it makes it sound like work.
Reading lists can, therefore, actually disengage students from reading anything. Teenagers are more likely to see reading as additional homework, as opposed to something that they choose to do for fun.
Encouraging Reading for Pleasure
Think about what the teenagers are actively engaging in at the moment. In a normal world, they’d be going to the cinema or spending time watching films and series with friends. The film industry is geared up and markets the films so that there is a great rush to watch them. Similar things happen on streaming services like Netflix, where there is the top 10 placed right at the top of the screen for you to pick from. Ideally, the same would happen for books.
Goodreads is great at doing something similar, though it’s not quite perfect (particularly for younger people). You simply create an account and add books as and when you read them. There is the option of writing a long review, or you can simply give it a star rating out of five. It’s a great website because the more you read, the more recommendations you get for other books. These recommendations are based on what you have already read (and enjoyed) and is linked to other books that other people have rated highly.
A site like Goodreads is great to get teenagers to read other books. The recommendations haven’t come from English teachers or parents, so it’s not seen as extra work. Instead, they’re relevant and up to date books that other people have also enjoyed. Other sites, like Amazon/Kindle often do something similar based on purchase history and so are worth checking out too.
Be Seen Reading
One of the greatest thing that any adult can do is to be seen reading and enjoying books themselves. Building a reading culture in a school or home is only possible when adults (and leaders) set the example and the standard.
For teachers, this might include little things like carrying a book around (if appropriate) when on lunch or break duty. It’s an amazing feeling when students come up to you and start asking you what you’re reading and whether you like the book or not. Alternatively, having a copy of the book visible on your desk is another way to generate these kinds of conversations with students.
Parents can model good reading behaviours too. Dedicating time in the day helps reduce your stress, and supports the reading culture in the home.
Try a Reading Group
This could be for you as much as young people! Reading groups are a great way of getting students to see how reading can be a sociable activity and a great way to generate conversation with people. We run regular reading groups for KS3 students and they’re a great opportunity for teenagers to meet people they might not otherwise.
The benefit of reading groups is similar to the benefit of Goodreads: people get to share ideas and recommendations. You can always google these, and we try to update our reading recommendations as often as we can. Realistically though, students like to have ideas from people their own age!
Sputnik’s Guide reading review by a student.