How to Instill a Love for Reading in the Twitter Age

Posted by Alex Sundt

It’s not easy to compete with “Breaking Bad,” Grand Theft Auto V, and Twitter. So, just how can we encourage the Net generation to develop a love for reading? (Or can we?)

Turns out, there may still be hope for old-fashioned books, after all.

Making a Case for Twilight

Free reading has long been recognized by librarians as the best way to encourage a passion for books. We see it every time a young reader finds that first book that really unlocks his or her interest, whether it’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone or the first installment of Twilight.

Just as reading is fundamental to learning, we know that pleasure reading is the key to establishing positive reading habits.

Literacy experts like Stephen Krashen have long emphasized the value of reading for its own sake (“The Power of Reading: Insights from the Research” 1993). Krashen maintains that voluntary, free-reading programs, where students choose their own reading material—and aren’t forced to complete related quizzes and worksheets—are far more effective, not only in encouraging true appreciation of literature, but also in achieving learning objectives and supporting skill mastery.

Nevertheless, educators continue to debate the role of free reading. Instead of teaching reading as a rote exercise where comprehension—not appreciation—is the goal, is it possible to teach reading in a way that highlights the natural delight that reading can bring?

New Insights

Now, a new study from Institute of Education at the University of London finds that the educational benefits of voluntary pleasure reading extend far beyond the language arts.

Conducted by Drs. Alice Sullivan and Matt Brown, the study examined 6,000 children and young adults that were part of the 1970 British Cohort Study. The researchers discovered that children who read frequently performed better on tests of vocabulary, spelling, and even math. While gains in vocabulary and spelling seem obvious, Sullivan suggests that improvement in math scores can be attributed to improved reading skills, noting that strong reading ability “will enable children to absorb and understand new information and affect their attainment in all subjects.”

The research in support of pleasure reading is strong, and this study from the IOE might be the most powerful evidence yet in support of interest-driven reading and the educational impact of summer reading initiatives.

So, Now What?

Now is the time for educators, librarians, and parents to capitalize. We can start by engaging students and asking them a few simple questions: What are you most passionate about? What do you want to know more about? What do you like to do for fun?

When we can connect reluctant readers with titles that reflect their interests, real learning—and a love of reading—can truly begin.

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