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Adults have to like reading for kids to like reading

favicon For young people, reading isn’t cool.

So says a recent report by the National Literacy Trust, an organization geared to promote reading in the United Kingdom.

Among their findings:

  • More than 17 percent of the 21,000 British students surveyed said they would feel “embarrassed” if their friends found them reading.
  • Only one-third of students reported that reading is “cool.”

These conclusions aren’t new, of course. In 2007, the National Endowment of the Arts published To Read or Not to Read, which reported that American teenagers spend an average of seven minutes a day reading outside of school.

That seems about right.

The reports sound scary, but then I read an excellent blog post today from Donalyn Miller, fourth grade English teacher and author of The Book Whisperer. (She gets her students to read 40 books every year.)

Ms. Miller always inspires me.

Her message is simple: If we want young people to care about reading, we have to care about reading, too, and we have to demonstrate our interest to them.

Here’s an excerpt:

If cultural acceptance includes reading, then children will read. If reading isn’t valued, they won’t. Why would anyone read if they receive overt and implied messages that reading is weird? Reading shouldn’t be an extraordinary act performed by a bookish few who stand outside of mainstream culture. Reading should be as ordinary as bread.

I love her point that reading “shouldn’t be an extraordinary act.” It should be as mundane as a TV show or a soccer game or a new app on the iPad. It should be as natural a part of a conversation as “How did school go?” and “What do you want to eat for dinner?”

Unfortunately, our society has devalued reading, so it takes more courage to take on a sullen-looking adolescent whose scowl suggests, Stay away.

And that’s why I applaud the teachers I’m working with this year who are working hard, despite limited funds, to build classroom libraries and independent reading programs.

I love the teachers’ “What I’m Reading” signs in the hallways and the “What’s on My Kindle” signs in their classrooms.

These messages are reminding students of the joy and power of reading.

And no matter how apathetic we think disillusioned teenagers can be sometimes, they always like a good story, and if we put good books in their hands, they’ll gobble them up and ask for more. favicon

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