Today the New York Times published an article on the "Time Divide", i.e., how media use is correlated negatively with, and perhaps perpetuates, socioeconomic class:
It got me thinking about what teens are not doing (when they are spending so much time using media), but could be doing to increase their school success, college readiness, and eventual earnings:
The secret to teens’ school success?
Some say reading. Indeed. Research indicates that the reading skills of teens in summer literacy programs increases over time, compared to those who are not enrolled in such programs.
In addition to community reading groups, library programs, and youth groups, many high schools offer summer reading programs, which provide teens with structure and support for an activity that may not be at the top of their list of summer plans.
Regardless of such programs, adolescents’ reading skills in general are correlated positively with their academic performance, not to mention their college readiness and eventual earnings.
As a university professor, I can attest to this, i.e., semester after semester I find that my Lifespan Development students’ SAT reading scores are correlated significantly and positively with their exam scores. This makes sense. The ability to earn high scores on exams requires students not only take good lecture notes, but read and re-read a dense and large textbook in order to reach a comprehensive understanding of Lifespan Development.
So reading prior to college matters. And reading outside of class, particularly during the summer, can provide high school students with a means of continuing to learn all year-long. This is especially true for students from low socio-economic homes, in which parents may have relatively fewer years of education to serve as role models who read regularly for pleasure.
How to get teens interested in reading?
Provide teens with books that are relevant to their age, sex, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, culture, immigration status, and/or religion.
Allow teens to choose what they want to read, from a range of age-appropriate non-fiction books, novels, and/or graphic novels.
How to get teens continue reading?
In addition to providing teens with relevance and choice, keep in mind that the more that teens read books they enjoy, the more they tend to want to read. The inverse is true, i.e., the more teens struggle to read and/or are required to read things that don’t interest them, the less motivation they have to read for pleasure.
Participating in a teen reading group also increases adolescents’ motivation to continue reading. This is because in doing so, they are exposed to other teens and potential peer role models who are enthusiastic about reading, enjoy discussing how stories are relevant to their lives, and are excited about planning what the group should read next.
Teens also show increased motivation for reading when they are actively engaged in not only choosing books to read, but in voting on their favorite titles. The Young Adult Library Services Association is now accepting applications for adolescents’ who want to vote in their ‘Teens’ Top Ten’ program. To learn more, including what the top ten books that teens chose for 2012, please visit their website: http://www.ala.org/yalsa/teenstopten
Parents and teachers should also start conversations regarding what teens are reading, and not just about whether or not a teen liked the book, but also if the characters in the story reminded teens of anyone they know, if the story gave them any ideas for how to deal differently with family, friends, and enemies, as well as if there was anyone in the story with whom they identified.
This last issue of identification is vital if reading is to not only support teens’, and adults’, college readiness and increase their community service (which the National Endowment for the Arts’ research indicates is greater in those who read for pleasure), but also support their process of identity development.
How so? Well, stories in which characters are similar to us but behave in ways we had yet to consider provide us with greater options to guide our own future behavior. Characters we are similar to, but would rather not be, remind us about the ways in which we want to change. Last but not least, characters to whom we are not similar, but would like to be, provide us with role models to explore our current identity.
Need help finding a good book?
AdLit.org provides resources for parents and educators to support the reading and writing skills of adolescents. Their website has lists of recommended books by themes, discussion guides, and toolkits for exploring the life of a favorite author: http://www.adlit.org/books_authors/
Danzak, R. L. (2011). Defining identities though multiliteracies: EL teens narrate their immigration experiences as graphic stories. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 55(3), 187-196.
Hayn, J. A. & Kaplan, J. S. (2012). Teaching young adult literature today: Insights, considerations, and perspectives for the classroom teachers. Blue Ridge Summit, PA: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
Herard, J., Miller, K., Henrici, J., & Gault, B. (2012). Low literacy means lower earnings, especially for women. Institute for Policy Research, IWPR Fact Sheet #C392.
Mallette, M. H., Schreiber, J. B., Caffey, C., Carpenter, T., Hunter, M. (2009). Exploring the value of a summer literacy program on the learning of at-risk adolescents. Literacy Research and Instruction, 48, 172-184.
McGaha, G. M. & Igo, L. B. (2012). Assessing high school students’ reading motivation in a voluntary summer reading program. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 55(5), 417-427.
National Endowment for the Arts (2007). The arts and civic engagement: Involved in arts, involved in life.