Recreational reading loses prevalence among busy high school students

Remember those reading logs you got in middle school? Those glorious days when your homework was to spend a substantial amount of time with the book of your choice? No annotations necessary, no passage analyses, just you and your book. To most high school students, that all seems like a distant memory, and although some may have dreaded it back then, it now sounds like the homework of our dreams. With an increased homework load, higher expectations from teachers, and quite often, extracurricular activities, Urban students may understandably choose to spend those rare pockets of free time relaxing or catching up on sleep. As a result, recreational reading seems to be struggling to fit into the balancing act that embodies the life of an Urban student.

According to Urban Librarian, Sarah Levin, “it’s a common complaint amongst Urban students that there’s not enough time for reading for fun.” This claim was echoed in a survey completed by 165 Urban students, 46.9 percent of whom indicated that the primary reason for their irregular recreational reading habits is due to lack of time.

Through assigned academic readings, students do indeed develop essential skills. For instance, Urban english teacher, Alexis Wright, mentioned the importance of reading books that students may not find “relatable,” which exposes students to different styles of writing. Wright also adds that after lots of experience with annotating, students will likely find themselves reading more quickly.

However, various studies have shown the benefits of choosing books to read independently. In an article entitled Reading for pleasure – A Door to Success, published by the National Library of New Zealand (NLNZ), the author states, “aside from the sheer joy of exercising the imagination, evidence indicates reading for pleasure improves literacy, social skills, health and learning outcomes.” According to the NLNZ, not only do these skills manifest in academic success, but they also improve our sympathy, shaping our interactions and connections with others.

“In middle schools and elementary schools, they place such great emphasis on reading for fun, going to the library and choosing books and having silent reading,” Levin explains. “Why they stop it in high school, I’m not sure.” Levin brings up the question: Why is the independent reading structure discontinued once students reach high school?

Tim Pruzinsky, an International Baccalaureate English teacher at the International School Bangkok in Thailand believes in integrating “sustained silent reading” time into the high school classroom. In March 2014, Pruzinsky published a journal entry to the National Council of Teachers of English outlining his independent reading plan for students. “Not giving students time to read in class is a bit like a basketball coach expecting his or her players to be able to hit a bunch of free throws in a row without actually ever working on the skill in practice. In every class, I provide 15 minutes of uninterrupted reading time,” he writes. Even in these short intervals of time, Pruzinsky has instilled a lifelong passion and ability for recreational reading in many students.

Surveys conducted in 2009 by the Programme for International Student Assessment revealed, “students who independently read fiction tended to score more highly, but students who read a wide variety of material performed overall particularly well.” Perhaps, then, the way to gain the most from reading would be to strike a balance between assigned and self-selected works both in and out of the classroom.

There is certainly a wide variety of reading mediums to choose from. “Reading for fun doesn’t have to be about reading a great novel. Sometimes it’s reading an article on your smartphone while you’re waiting for the bus. It’s still a really worthwhile effort to be reading newspaper articles or magazine articles,” Levin shares. Of the 165 responses collected in the Urban survey mentioned above, 83.5 percent of students say they wish they read more. Levin recommends that these students carry a book with them everywhere they go. In those rare pockets of downtime, why not pull out a book rather than defaulting to your phone? Wright agrees that the definition of reading is widely applicable, and shares, “I have grown to respect and like Audible in a way that I never thought I would.”

Reading exists in a variety of mediums and it has been proven to enrich both academic and social skills. Perhaps recreational reading will make a comeback among high schoolers. After all, Levin reminds us, “it’s supposed to be fun!”