Professor Keith Topping has just released his report about the reading habits of young people. Interviewed on BBC Breakfast this morning, he voiced concerns that children are reading below their ability level and should be challenging themselves more with 'difficult' books. My immediate reaction was to voice (rather loudly) my concerns about his report - my husband pointed out that the professor couldn't hear me from where he was, although, if they opened a window at the BBC TV centre, he might just be able to catch my dulcet tones. I apologised to my husband and settled for seething inwardly instead.
What was I concerned about? Well, surely, we should be pleased that young people ARE reading. I distinctly remember reading loads when I was a teenager. Most of it was what you might term 'easy reading' - Agatha Christie, Malcolm Saville and the like. We covered the heavier literary tomes at school - Jane Eyre, several Dickens stories, Thomas Hardy etc. They could be challenging, and I didn't particularly enjoy 'whole class reading'. If I'm honest, Secondary School reading/literature rather dowsed my interest in that area.
Apparently younger children enjoy reading challenging books (yes, I remember wanting to show how I was getting better and better at the art),
but teenagers fall back and read below their measured level. It wasn't mentioned (unless I missed it whilst ranting at the TV), how this effects our reading habits as adults, if at all. I suspect it doesn't. I know of friends who are just discovering some of the great works of literature and tell me how they're glad they haven't read them until now, as they don't think they would have appreciated them before. I happily switch from a chicklit tale to a Dickens novel - and I haven't read them all yet. My experience as a teenager apparently hasn't put me off for life. A healthy mixture is great - and perhaps that is the perceived problem with teenagers : they are seen to only be reading easier works.
I still maintain it's better to read for pleasure than not at all.
Today is World Book Day and Booktrust have a campaign running to encourage children to read for pleasure - creating a habit that will hopefully last a lifetime : Read For My School www.booktrust.org.uk
Their long term findings show that children who do read for pleasure are significantly more likely as adults to, amongst other things, stay in continuous employment, own their own home and trust others in their community. How valuable is all that?!
Great works of literature have their place and, if you do enjoy them and get great pleasure from reading them, then - great! If the ability to read at a high level is demonstrated through testing, does that mean we have to always read books to that level? I love the phrase 'variety is the spice of life'.
There was something Professor Topping said I thought was a good idea. He stated that, when asked to give their favourite books to read, young teenagers named writers such as J K Rowling (Harry Potter), Suzanne Collins (Hunger Games) and Christopher Paolini (Inheritance Cycle). He felt these were well written and challenging works, leading him to wonder whether we should get the children themselves to compile lists of recommended reads.
What do you think?