Despite what you have seen in your own homes, parents, sixth graders
do read. And the more fiction they voluntarily consume—as long as it’s
not the comic pages—the better they will do in school.

That’s one
of the conclusions that Southern Connecticut State University professor
Louise Spear-Swerling (…) reached in a recent study, published
in this month’s edition of the journal “Reading and Writing.”

Spear-Swerling said she was interested in what sixth-graders read
when they’re not in school, and how these reading habits relate to the
students’ comprehension and other reading abilities.

She studied a total of 41 boys and 46 girls at a suburban school, an urban school, and a magnet school, all unidentified.

She found that 87 percent of the students said they had read at
least one magazine or comic book for fun outside of school in the
previous week, while 54 percent read at least one fiction book, and 33
percent at least one non-fiction book.

72 percent of those studied said they usually read a book or
magazine outside of school, for fun, at least once a week, while 62
percent confessed to usually reading part of a newspaper.

So, to increase reading test scores, is it better to read fiction of
non-fiction?  Or is it the total amount read that’s the key?

Kids with weaker reading skills were as likely as the more skilled
readers to say that they read for pleasure, Spear-Swerling said. One of
the differences between the groups is the volume of material read.

Those who read fiction had higher comprehension scores than the
students who usually read non-fiction books, Spear-Swerling said.

Neither the good nor the not-so-good readers dived into complex books.
However, the better readers read more challenging books than the
others, which may not come as a surprise.

The question is: Do they read more advanced books because they are
good readers? Or are they good readers because they plow through more
complicated texts with long plot lines and many characters?

There is really no way to tell, she said, although heightened
reading skills seem to appear early in a child’s life. By sixth grade,
the students who find reading more difficult, may avoid complicated
books to spare themselves frustration, she said.

Instead, the weaker readers tend to choose non-fiction books that
also have fewer words. This would include books on special subjects
like frogs, cars or rockets, the Guinness 2007 Book of World Records, Chicken Soup for the Soul, and Amazing Facts, she said.

As far as gender is concerned, boys and girls scored about the same
in reading skills, Spear-Swerling said. Boys preferred science fiction,
while girls appeared to be drawn to social themes, she said. Both boys
and girls like Harry Potter books equally.

Spear-Swerling found that boys and girls read entirely different sets of magazines.

“If you let kids have free reign, they won’t challenge themselves.
But if you are too prescriptive, it’s not pleasure reading,” she said.
It’s more like school.

“There’s a huge interest in how we can improve reading. Reading is
the key to academic success. Kids who read more do better academically.
Those who do not, don’t,” she said.

Unfortunately, the children in the study seemed to confirm what some
reading experts and social scientists call the “Matthew effect.” In
plain words, reflecting lines in the biblical book of Matthew, the rich
get richer and the poor get poorer. Or as Jesus is quoted as saying,
with some translation,  “For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and
he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be
taken away even that he hath.”

In practice, this means that good readers will become better
readers, while those with difficulty reading will only sink lower over
time. Or so some think.

Notice that Spear-Swerling, a professor of special education, could
not say that the students actually read anything. Since results were
all self-reported, she had to use several techniques to make sure
children were not making up books, citing fictitious periodicals and
“reading” make-believe authors.

Students were asked to pick authors they recognized out of a list
that included ringers. Spear-Swerling said she tracked down obscure
magazines and books.

“For the most part, kids were not lying,” she said.

So, what are the advanced sixth graders reading these days? To list a few: Inventing Elliot by Graham Gardner; The Search for Belle Prater by Ruth White; Eragon by Christopher Paolini, along with Lemony Snicket, J.K. Rowling, and Roald Dahl.

Weaker readers also enjoyed Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, along with My Teacher is an Alien by Bruce Coville, The Haunted School and other books by R.L. Stine, The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer, and How to Eat Fried Worms by Thomas Rockwell.

Spear-Swerling said the study suggests that children should be
presented with a broad variety of reading materials.
“We wouldn’t want
to see parents encouraging their children to read too complex books,”
she said.


Source: New Haven Independent –