Sunday, 23 December 2012

I am going to be unusually

serious for the Sunday before Christmas.
Our national newspaper carried a major front page article about literacy and literacy levels yesterday. Most of it was predictable. It really said nothing new, certainly nothing my father and I are not already aware of.
I went off to do some essential shopping I had planned to do on Monday. (Monday morning will, with luck, be taken up with a visit to the dentist to get a filling replaced!)
The shopping centre was crowded and, being the festive season, there was some "entertainment". This time it was in the form of two "electronic pianos". I assume those playing them were chosen students. One was a small Chinese boy, aged perhaps nine or ten. He played a number of Christmas carols very competently and very seriously. His mother was standing at a distance watching him.  People walked backwards and forwards. Were they really aware of him. I doubt most of them were - or gave any thought to the hours of work that must have gone into the performance.
I wondered what else he did and whether he had time to read - or rather, whether he had time to read for pleasure.
He is probably intelligent. He probably reads well but I would not be surprised to find he does not read fiction.
My own godson is not keen on fiction. He would rather play the latest "Angry Birds" game. His mother has tried to get him to read. I have tried. He is "not interested". He is distracted by screen games. I suspect many other children are distracted by screen games too.
Later a friend called in here and I mentioned it to her. As a former teacher of the deaf she is very aware of literacy issues. We both agreed that some, perhaps many, children are "time poor". They do not make time to read and, sometimes, do not have the time. It is said that as many as a quarter of Australian students cannot read at the desired level for their age but there is more to reading than that. I suspect there are many others who could do well on a "literacy test" but they are not really literate. There is a vast difference between being able to read a short piece, often factual in content, and answer questions about it and being able to read an entire book. Reading a work of fiction is about more than reading the words on the page.
I wonder if some of those "competent" readers are in fact not really good readers at all and whether we should not be worrying just as much about them as those who have not reached the level educators have set.
The little pianist can read music but can he read a book about someone who plays music?


Sue Bursztynski said...

Perhaps you should have asked the young pianist? If he loves his music enough to be out there busking, he probably is the sort of kid who reads. And while I love fiction, I don't see why you aren't a reader if you prefer non fiction, as many children do. I am a teacher librarian who has seen a lot. I have seen teachers bring their classes in for a "reading" period, teachers who spend the period slacking off and think they have done their duty if they tell the child to "put down that non-fiction book NOW and get a novel!" I have managed to persuade them to allow a non-fiction book for entertainment, such as the It's True! series in which I have a book on spies, because they are entertaining and tell TRUE stories. We don't ave reading periods any more, thank goodness, we have a literacy program which involves a lot more and gives the kids about fifteen minutes to read books from a box they have chosen, on their wn reading levels, or bring their own in the higher reading groups.

And they do read, by the way. I lend them books, so I know. There always ave been and always will be those who would rather play sport or computer games. But you are going to have to get over this attitude that if it's not fiction it's not "real" reading. Or, worse, the attitude that,"Oh, we'll, at least they're reading"(but it should be fiction).

Sue Bursztynski said...

Sorry about the typoes, the comment keeps freezing and I finally give up and leave them in.

Rachel Fenton said...

I can't imagine a life without reading.

My daughter does a lot of swimming which leaves very little time after school but it does involve lots of sitting around pool side with a book.

There's always a way to fit some reading in!

Anonymous said...

Sue, you are being very aggressive. There IS a difference between reading fiction and reading non-fiction. It is easy to suggest that reading non-fiction is as good as reading fiction (or vice-versa) but I suggest the reality is that children need to read both.
We see too many children come into the library I work in who never borrow fiction at all. They borrow books for school projects but they, as Cat suggests, "don't have time to read story books".
Yes, we get classes in from the schools and teachers who want to slack but I have never heard a teacher tell a child to stop reading non-fiction in favour of fiction. I have heard them say the opposite "That's not what we came for. You're supposed to be looking for information."
The amount of fiction being borrowed from the children's section of our library system has dropped in recent years. I am not sure of the exact percentage but it is well down and there have been questions about whether we should even continue to get more than a bare minimum of the most popular books. I know other library systems here have similar problems.
Perhaps your own school is different but I doubt it is typical. Ros

catdownunder said...

Sue, if you read what I said carefully you would see that I am not suggesting that reading non-fiction is "not reading". Of course it is reading - albeit a different sort of reading. I said that reading a short piece is different from reading an entire book. Reading both non-fiction and fiction is important but better to read just non-fiction than not at all.

Sue Bursztynski said...

Sounds like you work in a public library, Ros. That's different from a school library, even if you get schools coming in. We have clearly had different experiences. That said, it has changed since our "reading periods" were replaced by the literacy program in which boxes are filled both with fiction and non fiction. Is my school typical? I think it is. Kids love to read true stories. And I have worked in a reasonable number of schools in my time. Boys and reluctant readers in particular favour non fic - not always "information books" but non fiction for entertainment. I write that kind of non fiction and get just a bit irked when someone says,"I guess this book will be helpful for homework"! I don't write for homework purposes. The elephant in this room, by the way, is the Internet. I do suggest to kids that it would be a lot quicker to get a book on ancient Egypt from the shelves than wade through millions of hits, but when they insist I show them how to reduce the hits. Then they can read a book for pleasure, whether it's fiction or non. ;-)

Sue Bursztynski said...

Additional: if kids come to a library to do research, of COURSE the teacher will tell them to put down that novel. Our kids were coming in to read books. That's why your experience is different from mine.