The Worth of Words

June 24, 2009 at 5:59 pm | Posted in uncategorized | 1 Comment

(authored by Pamela Kirby)

When you think of a book, what do you think of?  An old, heavy, dusty hardcover that hasn’t been opened in ages?  The latest best-seller with a flashy colorful cover?  However you imagine books, you probably think of something bound and containing pages.  We have been told that students (and adults) need to read 25 books each year.  But what about the other things that we read: newspapers, magazines, online articles and blogs?  Do these not count because they aren’t published in book form?  What if we printed them out and had them bound into book form, would they then somehow magically become books?

Many experts are saying that everyone should read 25 books a year, without any comment about the presumed length of the book.  Harry Potter is very popular with many children, but those books are obviously much longer than other popular books.  Do the longer books count as two?  The person reading them is obviously reading more than someone reading a shorter book.  The 25 Books Campaign is the only place where I saw any distinction between different grade levels.  It suggests several books a day up until 2nd grade where they recommend 1 book a day, 30 books a year in 3rd grade, and down to 25 books a year after  that.  This makes sense to me as the older students have to read longer, and presumably more difficult, books.  While many people feel that this is too much to expect students to read, Mobile Alba Middle School principal James Gill says he believes that many students are achieving that goal already.  The Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) has shown that reading 25 books within one school year would take less than 30 minutes each day.  According to the Jim Trelease, quoted by the SREB, reading is so important that it actually affects the length of your life.  Reading more will actually help you to live longer.  On the other hand, the less you read, the more likely you are to end up in jail.  According to HighBeam Research, 25% of adults did not read a single book in 2006.  As teachers, we need to encourage students to read independently and hopefully enjoy the process.  Thus, when they are no longer in school with assigned readings, they will be self-motivated to continue to read on their own so they can live a longer and successful life.

But what about all of the non-book reading that we and our students do every day?  Should it count toward the 25 book goal?  The SREB stated that students should read the equivalent of 25 books a year, while every other group seems to simply suggest 25 books.  Are books really that much better (or important) than magazine articles, newspapers, research papers, and websites?  Is there a reason that these should not be included?  According to Literacy Debate: Online, R U Really Reading, some people argue that there is no evidence that reading things on the Web improves achievement in reading, but is in fact causing a decline in the ability of people to focus for longer periods of time on reading.  Some scientists are even speculating that reading online is somehow rewiring the brain, making it even more difficult for already struggling students to focus on longer readings.

One study shows that “reading novels is the only kind of reading that related to higher academic performance” and “predicted better grades in English class and higher overall grade point averages” (Literacy Debate).  Does this have to do with the value of the reading, or the way classes are taught and students are graded?  Some scientists argue that “reading a book, and taking the time to ruminate and make inferences and engage in the imaginational processing, is more cognitively enriching, without doubt, than the short little bits that you might get if you’re into the 30-second digital mode” (Literacy Debate).  However, it seems that this statement deals more with the engagement of the reader than it does the paper versus digital presentation of the information.  Yes, there are some very bad websites out there that would not necessarily be beneficial to a reader, but there are also some very poorly-written books.  Would it not be better to read a well-written website than a poorly-written or outdated book?  Internet reading often provides a way to dialogue with other readers and, so it would seem, could spark even more in-depth analysis of the reading.  Some argue that, since one easily can read many types of websites and many points of view on a topic on the internet, it might actually be more beneficial to the reader than reading a single, yet longer, book on the subject.  Another study was done using low-income families and demonstrated that providing access to the internet for these students helped to increase their ability to perform well on standardized tests.  Perhaps good reading, no matter what the medium, is really the key to success.

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  1. According to a recent study conducted by the Jenkins group, 80% of US families did not buy a book in 2006. For me, this statistic illustrates the point you seemed to make: 25 books a year will certainly seem overwhelming for many Americans.

    However, I think that there is also some good that can come from a high books-per-year recommendation. Although it might seem like a daunting task for many to read 25 books in a year, it will get people thinking about their reading habits. In a society where TV, music, and movies are the main medium for communication books sometimes seem like relics of the past. If someone realizes that they are not reading books (or any physical text for that matter) perhaps they might be motivated to do something about it.

    Another thing worth mentioning from the Jenkins group study was that it found that one third of high school graduates never read another book after graduating. Admittedly, the Jenkins group didn’t include newsprint or any other kind of text to count as books, but this is still alarming. What is even more alarming is that the Jenkins group found that 42% of college graduates never opened another book after graduation. These findings, however startling, lead me to believe that not counting other forms of written text as “books” just doesn’t cut it.

    If 42% of college graduates NEVER open a book after graduating, perhaps this says something about a shift in American reading habits. Although it is just an assumption, I have to believe that most college graduates value reading and try to become informed members of society. I think we need to modernize the old saying, and stop judging books based on if they have covers.


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