For years I required my advanced 10th graders to read 2,000 pages a semester, averaging 100 pages a week, based on books that they chose. That way if a book we studied in class didn’t catch their fancy, they had the freedom to find books that appealed to them as long as the selections were appropriate for their grade level and school use.
However, after struggling how to ensure that the reading logs students turned in each month documenting this task were completely honest, I decided to decrease the amount to 1,500 pages this year, 70 pages a week, hoping that would diminish falsifying the logs.
So what happened? The strategy did not work.
When asked if they honestly did the 70 pages of reading each week on their own, an average of 10 pages a day, 66% said that they had done all of the reading while 34% said they had not.
Here are some of their responses.
“I honestly have no excuse other than the fact that I have no time to read every day.”
“In this day of competition and cheating in school, it’s difficult to be completely honest because it can be damaging to yourself, sometimes even more than being dishonest.”
The biggest reason given for not reading was a lack of time. Yet teens find the time to watch nine hours of entertainment media a day according to Common Sense Media’s study released last month.
They can’t seem to find 10 minutes a day to read 10 pages in a book that they personally chose for themselves.
While many students did write that “reading is absolutely essential” to their academic and career success, some did not see it that way.
“I don’t think it is essential to get through high school and college.”
“We are used to visuals; one would rather have it read to us than read ourselves.”
“Reading books is pointless, they are just really dumb.”
“If I felt like it, I could be at least mildly successful without reading another written word in my life.” Remember, this student volunteered to enroll in an honors English class.
By the way, one of the requirements of the reading log is for the student and his parent to sign off on the paper as a way of securing the veracity of the work. Evidently, students do not take signing one’s name to a piece of paper as meaningful.
I tell my students the best way to improve their writing and speaking skills is to read material at or slightly above their reading level. Just by seeing words in print will expand their vocabulary database.
Renaissance Learning, an education analytic company, discovered that students who read 30 minutes a day were exposed to 13.7 million words by the time they graduated high school, while those who read fewer than 15 minutes viewed only 1.5 million words. Unfortunately, the former group represented 18% of kids while the latter 54%.
And the problem gets exponentially worse in college where there are textbooks not as watered down as the ones kids read in high school, another factor why so many college students struggle finishing a degree.
We are living at a time when reading books is not a viable option for kids in their spare time. Perhaps if they observed more of their parents reading a book it would interest them.
Think about this: how many teenagers will be receiving books as presents this Christmas compared to video games? Books have become the new “underwear” present that evidently few people want under the tree.