Saturday, May 7, 2011

Overcoming the reluctance to read

I have been pondering the importance of instilling in those library users in my high school library the love of reading. Obama describes the threshold of the library as a magical one, and that we change these children's lives forever once they cross it. The man is nothing if an optimist!

The reality I find is that the majority of students who enter into this "magical" world are there to socialise, playing chess, escape the rough and tumble of the playground, access the internet or computer games. In a school of over 900 students for Term 1 there were 412 loans - that is less than 50% and most of those who did borrow - borrowed multiple times. So real number is miniscule. So the majority of the students whom I see on a daily basis do not borrow. Yes, the school does have those voracious readers who will always exist. But I feel that my collection is not igniting the reluctant readers. And struggles to keep up with the voracious ones.

So it was with interest that I read the thoughts of Nicholas Morton in the Times Higher Education 6 May 2011. "Pick a book, any book" Morton was shocked by his university students general reluctance to read. The middle-class valuing of the "reading habit" was the underlyin assumption in this article. In a post-literate world, should I be pushing this agenda onto my students when they would much prefer other forms of recreation???

Morton asserts that "students come to university expecting to read". He means in this context reading for pleasure, yet I think he missed the point . The on-line readers comment did raise the point that often reading for pleasure doesn't happen due to the required course reading that must taken priority. I know that when I was writing my honours thesis, reading for pleasure was luxury I couldn't afford. Once it was handed in I overdosed on Patricia Cornwell crime ficition because it was so far removed from what I had been reading for my thesis. Horrible nightmares ensued, but I did enjoy the indulgence.

Is it the same in High Schools??? Is the curriculum so crowded with assessment tasks and "required" reading that students have little if anytime for the reading habit? Of the little recreational time students may have, are they really going to spend it reading a book when they might prefer to connect with friends on facebook, share clips from youtube or playing interactive on-line games. Even thirty years ago when I was a fledgling the only thing competing for my attention was the radio and the television (which only had two stations). Hence books didn't have to compete with a cavalcade of interactive and interesting possibilities.

Morton proudly announces in his article that he lauched a "Reading Challenge" - it the vein of the BBC's University Challenge. "A voluntary even encourages them to read 20 books for pleasure during their degree. It is not a attempt to force on them a "canon" of worthy literature; it presents them with a wide range of books from which they select titles that interest them." Well he didn't invent the idea and in New South Wales primary and secondary schools have signed up for the "Premier's Reading Challenge" with varying success for many years thanks to Bob Carr and subsequent premiers. I maintain that it is harder in High School with the multitude of things vying for students' time - part time work, looking after younger siblings, facebook and other social media, sport and television to name a few.

Morton says that we must try something - and I thoroughly agree but perhaps there might be a dialogue between the generation viewing the reading habit as an essential part of anyone's armoury to take into the world and the intended target - who may not view the acquisition of this source of "interesting dinner-table conversation" as worthy or even desirable!!

Certainly something to think about - and address. It would be lovely to see others derive as much pleasure from recreational reading as I do. I suppose that I would like to think thatbeing an advocate for books (in whatever form - but then ebooks and digital books is a whole other conversation) it is still a relevant and important part of my role as a teacher/librarian - but seen within the 21st century context. I don't wish to unthinkingly foist my vaules and views onto others which I believe runs counter to what being teacher/librarian is all about.

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