Today the National Endowment for the Arts published a report titled To Read or Not To Read: A Question of National Consequence. (Link is to a .pdf file.) The report discusses the reading habits of teens and adults and considers the frequency with which different age groups read for pleasure, read a book, and read at all.
Reading the study one has to ask, how did those gathering the data define reading? For example, there is a finding that states “Teens and young adults spend less time reading than people of other age groups.” How can that be true? Don’t teens read when surfing YouTube, looking for something on Google, figuring out how to improve their gaming scores, checking out photos on Flickr?
Maybe it’s because the authors of the report don’t consider using the web, playing video games, or even emailing to encompass valid reading opportunities. For example another finding states “Even when reading does occur, it competes with other media.” One of the sub-bullets in that finding is that “20% of their reading time is shared by TV watching, video/computer game-playing, instant messaging, e-mailing, or Web surï¬ng.” Isn’t it pretty obvious that IMing, emailing, and web surfing require reading?
There are some valid concerns about multitasking and reading comprehension outlined in this report. However, if we as a society don’t seriously investigate how we define reading, and recognize that reading formats other than books is reading, we are going to alienate many teens and younger generations.
When you read about the report (or read the actual document) think about what the research really looked at, how the researchers defined reading, and how the data does or doesn’t reflect what you are seeing in your community and setting. Be careful not to make teens feel that just because they are reading something online, and not reading a traditional format such as a paperback book, that that reading doesn’t count. Let teens know that reading in a variety of formats is something you respect and value.