Opinion: Students Not Voluntarily Reading

Studies show that reading for enjoyment by youth is the single greatest factor for both cognitive progress and social mobility. But are students actually reading for enjoyment?

At Glenbard West High School, it is a rarity to see students reading in their spare time. “Most of the time, students are just on their phones,” Mr. Whitman, the Writing Center coordinator at Glenbard West, says.

Sarah Pasinski, senior at Glenbard West, said, “I would if I had time.” While trying to juggle four AP classes and all of her homework, she has no time to read for enjoyment. After a student completes all of their homework, they would “rather be doing something else” besides reading, Emily Liptak, senior at Glenbard West, added. After a long day of school and homework, students want time to “watch Netflix, go shopping, hang out with friends,” said Liptak .

Reading does not only stimulate the brain in an educational way, but also in a creative way. “Escapism [is what] reading allows you to do. Entering a fantastical world of a character,” Mr. Whitman explained. Not only is there a fun aspect to reading, but there is also an important one. Researchers have found that students who read independently become better readers, score higher on achievement tests in all subject areas, and have greater content knowledge than those who do not. It is very important to read for pleasure.

The most important factor is that reading for pleasure is actually done voluntarily. Schools try to get students to read by adding independent reading time into the class curriculum, but that is not truly getting a student to pick up a book voluntarily in their spare time, rather it is forcing them to read and only creating a bad relationship with pleasure reading. Emily and Sarah both agreed with this. Sarah supported this with her personal experience from AP English class that she took junior year saying,“ We read Catcher in the Rye, and I think I would have actually enjoyed it if I wasn’t forced to read it.” Classes are not encouraging pleasure reading, rather they are trying to force it.

In this generation, students are not reading as much as previous generations did. A recent study shows that “45% of 17-year-olds say they read by choice only once or twice a year.” With all the new technology, even parents are getting sucked into the technoverse. Ms. Mayer, former middle school English teacher and current homeschool teacher and tutor, has noticed that “people [are not] reading books anymore to their kids because it’s easier just to turn on the television.” This is supported by a study done by Nielsen Book finding out that only 32% of children read books every day, and 60% every week. And the numbers are only decreasing as digital entertainment rises.

Not only are parents not reading to their kids anymore, but as the kids grow older and get a cellphone, they are also swept up into the social media phenomenon. It’s a very easy distraction to just scroll through Instagram or some other social media platform. When students at West are mentally drained from studying for AP classes, it’s easier to just pick up their phones and scroll through their feed rather than pick up a book and comprehend while reading it.

Ms. Mayer explains that reading helps a person’s brain develop categories. For a person who does not read, learning becomes more difficult for them because their “ brain doesn’t know where to store new information because [they] never allowed [their] brain to develop categories.” Mayer suggests that our brains learn to store information by connecting it to past knowledge, if new information comes along but has no connection to anything the brain has learned before or “categorized,” then it’s harder to retain that new information. Reading also helps a person pick up little bits of information they do not even know they are learning because their brain has somewhere to absorb it.

Glenbard West has tried new ways of getting students to read for enjoyment. Ms. Cerabona, head librarian, says the library creates displays of books, book lists, recommendation lists, and also continually purchases new and popular books that students at West may enjoy. “These tactics have begun to work, but still only a small percentage pay attention to them,” Cerabona states.

Not only is the library contributing to this, but so is the English department. Teachers are now allowing students to pick their own book for assignments rather then a set book for the class, hoping it will encourage students to read on their own.

From an avid reader point of view, senior at Glenbard West, Grace Enright thinks, “School, in general, has kind of taken away the fun of reading and replaced it with being forced to read, only to write an essay about it.” These types of tasks at West are making reading only seem like homework or studying.

Researchers say that it is important that “students seek out books and participate of their own volition.” Otherwise, if forced upon them, the task is only seen as a chore.