Monday, October 8, 2012

Reading for All Students- what do we know about our students' reading abilities, preferences, and habits?

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The National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) has released their Policy Research Brief "Reading Instruction for All Students" that discusses many aspects of students' reading and how we as teachers and librarians need to be aware of the different instructional strategies to make them better readers. The part that I am interested in is the reader preferences and abilities, plus the types of texts they select to read. The NCTE found that...

"What we know about our students as readers:
- Students come to reading tasks with varied prior reading experiences,
or prior knowledge, which can support their reading of complex texts.
- Students who are engaged and motivated readers read more often
and read more diverse texts than students who are unmotivated by
the reading task.
- Students who develop expertise with a particular kind of reading—
science fiction or online games, for example—outside of school may
not think this kind of reading will be valued by their teachers."

This underscores the wide range of student reading abilities and preferences that we encounter as librarians on a daily basis. It also draws attention to the fact that we need to provide a diverse, engaging, and up-to-date collection that draws in readers with these varied abilities and appeals to their tastes in books and other reading material. As school librarian, we should value all reading as a means to an end and not judge the materials that students pick as either "good" or "bad" for them. This last point is extremely important because of diverging reading patterns between boys and girls, where boys are perceived to be reading less than girls, but may actually still be reading materials that are not judged as "appropriate". Encouraging all reading will likely remove any stigma attached to reading texts in different formats or genres and hopefully increase overall reading among boys and girls.

"What we know about the texts students read:
- In and out of school, the texts students read vary significantly, from
linear text-only books to multimodal textbooks to online hypertexts,
each of which places different demands on readers and requires different
strategies and approaches to reading.
- Students read texts from a variety of disciplines, so
content area literacy is important.
- The level of difficulty or complexity in a text is not the
only factor students consider in choosing texts; interest
and motivation also matter.
- Readability or lexile levels can vary significantly
within a single text, so it is important to consider
other dimensions of textual complexity."

To continue the previous thought in relation to the texts themselves, to get students to read more and read better, one should have reading material that is varied in format and should provide the interest and motivation a student needs to read it. Each student is different and our collections need to at least attempt to address these differences. Since we are not the classroom teacher, we as librarians, have more leeway in offering students more reading material that appeals to them, can be challenging or easy, and that can fill a need not addressed by the classroom collection/textbooks. Some questions that come to mind however:

1. How do you know what a student wants to read?
2. Do you push a student to read material that is more challenging? How do you do it?
3. How much effort should you exert in getting students to read challenging texts?
4. How do you develop a collection around your users if you have a collection that isn't what your students really need in terms of reading difficulty?

These are some of the issues, but there are certainly many more to address when discussing student reading abilities, tastes, texts. What do you think?

Read NCTE's policy brief on "Reading Instruction for All Students" (pdf).
Read Peter Gutierrez's comments from Connect the Pop blog on NCTE policy brief here.

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