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What US Students Are Reading
posted by: Alana | December 16, 2014, 07:53 PM   


Renaissance Learning’s Accelerated Reader program (commonly called AR) is easily the most prevalent reading program in the nation.  Over 30,000 schools use AR, which means about 10 million students are logging into the program on a regular basis.


For the few readers who may not be familiar with AR, the program was designed to be complementary to the practice of using leveled texts in the elementary classroom.  Using a specially designed algorithm, Accelerated Reader has determined the reading level of hundreds of thousands of books across the K-12 spectrum.  Students discover their level by taking an assessment and then read books on that level.  After reading the books, they log into the AR program to take a quiz and earn points.


With such a volume of information about content and reading levels, Renaissance Learning has unique insight into the trends surrounding literacy in the U.S. They’ve used this data to create their annual report What Kids Are Reading And Why It Matters.


So what does the report tell us?  First, students read the largest quanitity of books in the lower elementary grades (over 50 a year) and the fewest in their junior and senior year of high school (only about 5 a year).  Considering the difference in length of books between those grade levels, along with the increasing responsibilities that students take on during high school, this result is to be expected.  When you look at word count, the picture is reversed.  Students read about 300,000 words in their last year of high school, but only about 25,000 in first grade, with the word count peaking in 6th grade at 436,000 words.


Not all students are the same, though, and there are differences.  Most notably, girls read more than boys and, generally, the older the students are, the greater the difference.  One possible explanation for this might be the emphasis on narrative books over nonfiction.  Studies have shown that many boys who are uninterested in drama will engage in nonfiction texts, even though they lack the skills to understand it.


The report has a whole section on nonfiction reading.  They confirm that boys are more likely to read nonfiction texts than girls, but note that no gender ever goes over 31% of their total reading consumption as nonfiction.  This falls short of recommendations by both NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) and the Common Core State Standards.  Educators have pointed out nonfiction can inspire students through true stories of heroism and raising interest in subject areas often left unexplored.  E.D. Hirsh in particular has long called for more focus on content-rich books through his Core Knowledge curriculum.


While we still have a lot of work to do, our students are reading and engaging with literature on a regular basis.

What tactics do you use in your classroom to encourage nonfiction reading?
Comment Below.


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