This post summarizes a session at ALA Annual 2013 that was presented by Barbara Binns and James Klise.
Most people agree that reading is an essential 21st century survival skill. Unfortunately, evolution has not kept pace. Unlike the genetically hardwired skills of walking and talking, reading requires that the brain be trained to manipulate squiggly lines on paper to make something that isn’t real feel real.
The good news: People who read fluently find it almost effortless. They soak in good stories that educate, promote empathy and self-knowledge, and allow them to practice confronting moral dilemmas and exercising ethical muscles. For eager readers, a good book is its own reward. The epiphany of a well-written novel can be like the surge of endorphins called the “runner’s high” and produce the catharsis — the moment the reader exhales and says, “That was good. I want another just like that.”
Eager readers look forward to the next thrill on the page — or on the screen, in the case of ebooks. Reluctant readers do not. They usually need a compelling reason to pick up a book, because something has taught them that reading is not “fun.”
The reading gap is real
Over 85% of children under age six are read to by parents, other relatives, preschool teachers, and librarians. Almost all kids love the experience and want more.
“Reluctant reader” and “teen boy” are not synonyms, but demographically, the majority of reluctant readers are boys. During the early school years, the “learning to read” stage, boys begin falling behind in the amount of time spent reading for fun. The less kids read, the more slowly their reading skills improve. Boys who get less practice face an ever-increasing gap in fluency and reading speed. It can all add up to give a boy a feeling that reading is a girl thing, something he will do only if he has to. Many middle school-aged boys admit finding reading much harder than it was in elementary school and less enjoyable; at the same time they are being pushed to read read harder texts. His slower pace of improvement aggrevates his feelings that he “doesn’t read.” Some rebel against the very idea that reading might be “fun” right into adulthood.