Literate Illiterates

‘If we teach a child to read but fail to develop a desire to read, we will have created a skilled nonreader, a literal illiterate. And no high test score will ever undo that damage.’

-Karen Beers

This is an interesting quote to think about.

Recently, I was researching around the subject of reading for pleasure and the statistics show a marked drop over the past few years of children reading for pleasure. It was something I had in my head as I sat in KS3 English lessons where I saw some pupils get the same reading book out for 3 or more months.

I’ve seen it (yes, in just one school) with my own eyes.

I don’t think technology is to blame for this. I, alongside many others no doubt, read that the Kindle was going to be the death of paper books -but it wasn’t. I heard that devices and the hours that young people spend on devices would cause pupils to not to want to pick up the paper based book (or Kindle) but I don’t think that’s it. Many pupils tell me they listen to books by audiobook and listen on a dog walk and in the car so giving, in fact, *more* opportunities to hear, be gripped by and love stories.

I don’t think stories are the problem. Pupils seem to be be just as in love with stories as they ever were; they watch them at the cinema, follow longer stories through series on Netflix (and other providers) and happily audible away in the car.

I think it’s reading that’s the problem.

So if reading is now the problem -how have we got to this point?

I fell in to reading very early because it made sense to me and I read everything I could. I was asked to stop reading so much by a teacher (who visited my parents at home to actually tell them this) because I was getting ‘Too far ahead,’ so please don’t think reading issues are a new phenomena. I would have thought being good at something would have been a plus though. Apparently not.

Once into reading I was off. I craved books and stories and characters and feelings and emotions and to live, even for a little while, through the lives of the characters I read about. I actually can’t imagine my life without books in them. I audible and read paper books having never quite got to grips with a Kindle (much to Hubbie’s confusion).

How have we got to a place where the physicality of reading isn’t something that most children (according to the research) do very much anymore?

Is it the way reading is taught?

It’s easy to blame this I know but there has been a marked change and there has to be a cause.

I’ve talked about how we teach reading like learning to ride a bike in that we teach the parts of the bike and ask children to name them (in isolation of the bike) and judge them on how well they can remember these parts of the bike like that has anything to do with actually riding a bike.

It’s Pavlov’s dogs at its finest surely? The unconditional response turns into the conditioned response and voila! We have children who view reading as something technical, and to be tested on and to memorise and to be constrained by (writing is only good writing remember, if it has certain SPAG elements isn’t it?).

When we ask them to get their reading books out for 10 minutes surely that bell is ringing so loudly in their heads it’s no wonder they really don’t want to do it.

But we do what we do because the powers that be say we must.

I just wish they could see what they are doing in the class I am in where pupils don’t have a treasured book/story they are desperate to get back to. I am being disingenuous though because there *are* some pupils who clearly love reading; it’s not all doom and gloom. It’s just getting that way and that’s sad.

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