As a teacher librarian, it is no surprise that I love a great story. I’m often asked if I have a favourite genre or author and my answer to students is always the same ‘Must I pick just one?’ Stories take us on a journey where we escape into a different world and where intriguing characters and an unpredictable plot are always high on my enjoyment list. I’m keen to meet new characters, explore new places and I don’t mind a detour or a twist in the plot. When we read, we make connections to new ideas, new possibilities, and learn ways to solve challenges. Making connections is one of the main reasons I promote reading for learning and leisure and why I am so keen to connect a student to a great book.
So, what’s so important about connecting to a favourite book? I recently spoke with a group of 14- and 15-year-old students who would mostly describe themselves as occasional readers or even non-readers. When I showed them some images from ‘The Hungry Caterpillar, Hairy McClary’ or ‘Green Eggs and Ham’ – stories that students easily connected with in early primary school, the exclamations started – ‘I loved that book!’ and ‘I remember Grandma reading that to me’. The excitement from the memory was real, they were eagerly talking, sharing, and remembering and it took me a while to quieten them down again! Such is the power of memory and connection to childhood favourites.
Teachers and parents sometimes wonder what happens to the excitement of the connection with books from those early years in primary. Once, students were captivated by the enjoyment of reading a book or being read to. However, by the time they are in the middle of Secondary school, teens are drawn to so many things… mostly things other than reading! During primary school, we learn to read. It’s a complex skill to master but with pictures, the inclusion of humour and opportunities to be read to – the learning journey is fun! In Secondary school the focus shifts from learning to read to where teens think reading is only for the purpose of fulfilling classroom or assessment tasks. The connection of reading for enjoyment is lost and then it’s often a challenge to re-capture.
Students have work and study commitments and are under the pressure of assignments and exams. They are living with an information overload where reading is linked to work – it feels like work and is therefore no longer considered enjoyable. So, how do we change that perception? Sharing the benefits of reading may make a small impression on teens, but the reality is they have so many competing priorities that reading for fun may seem low on the list. However, I do believe our efforts to inspire teens to read and to rediscover the enjoyment of it, is worth the effort. Giving them permission to read for pleasure, providing choice, resources, and support (libraries, teachers and library staff are a key part of this) to read whatever helps them recreate the connection they felt when they remember a story they loved. We can suggest that they re-read a favourite they really enjoyed as it’s often a good place to start. It reminds them of what it’s like to get ‘lost’ in a great book. After that, it’s about connecting with what interests them – graphic novels, cooking, sport, movies or even Minecraft stories. Their choice may not be impressive or a Classic, however perhaps what matters most is that they are enjoying it and that it will lead them to more eagerly seek out their next book.
And why are books so important?
Students have asked me if they can watch YouTube instead of reading a book, and I’ve told them they can, but they could also read a book. We can do both. Books, however, provide a different experience than viewing a short clip on YouTube. Reading a book takes us deeper into the world of the story and allows us to see life from another person’s point of view. As we read we are able to step outside of our own experiences and travel in the shoes of the character, observing how they respond to challenges in life. When we read it’s as if we become part of the story and we think about how we might respond in a particular situation. We learn how to feel empathy for others and as a result, regular reading can literally change our life, for the better.
What do teens enjoy reading?
Usually, it’s the books they’ve chosen themselves. Scholastics 2016 Australian Kids and Family Reading Report found that 92% of 15 to 17-year-olds and 90% of 12 to 14-year-olds most enjoy books they’ve chosen for themselves. They are also much more likely to finish reading them. The same report also found around 70% of teens would read more if they could find more books they liked.
When 12 to 17-year-olds are asked about the types of books they want to read, research responses indicated books that (in order of priority):
- will make them laugh 54%
- let them use their imagination 47%
- have a mystery or problem to solve 42%
- have characters they wish they could be like 38%
- let them forget about real life for a while 35%
‘Why is it worth the effort?’
Continuing the habit of reading, widely, into teenage years (and indeed adult life) helps teens to:
- deal with their increasingly complex world, and understand some of the adult issues they will have to grapple with
- know they are not alone and that others may be thinking and feeling the way they do
- open communication – particularly if parents, teachers, and librarians provide opportunities to discuss what teens are reading
- share and see how others have found solutions to problems
- develop their vocabulary
- broaden their imaginations
- improve their writing
- deal with the increasing demands of schoolwork
- gain confidence when speaking.
Our College library has a wide range of great titles to choose from and our secondary students can also select titles from our ePlatform on our Gateway Library page. The Premier’s Reading Challenge commenced this week and provides a great opportunity to challenge students to seek out time to read for enjoyment. If your student is not sure what to pick, our Teacher Librarians, library staff, teachers and fellow students are available to make recommendations – the opportunity is just a book conversation away.
Let’s keep encouraging our students to read for pleasure and reap the rewards!
Beryl Morris, Secondary Teacher Librarian
GCC families can see more photos on Pixevety here.