Last week, I had the pleasure of participating in the TD National Reading Summit III – A Reading Canada: Building a Plan. The goal of the National Reading Campaign was to bring together a coalition of readers, parents, writers, publishers, bookstore owners and teachers to create a reading strategy for Canada.
My participation in the event was as panel participant in Young Readers: Strategies for Our Future. The panel, hosted by Simi Sara, also included Maureen Dockendorf from Coquitlam and Lyne Laganiere from Quebec. While not my area of expertise, it does hold great interest for me personally (as the father of four young children), and professionally — believing a reading culture, fostered from a young age, is crucial for our society.
So, when it comes to young people and reading, panel participants agreed the state of reading is not as dire as some statistics show (Here is a link to Ontario data which shows a dramatic decrease in young people reporting they like to read), because what we are all seeing is reading for pleasure is, at least, holding if not growing for young people.
A collection of other observations we made:
- The Harry Potter effect — multi-generations in a household reading the same books at the same time, as books for youth, have often become books for all. Recently this has been seen with The Hunger Games with kids, parents and grandparents reading the same books.
- Books that were banned in schools, even a decade ago, are now being used to engage boys in reading — from comic books to graphic novels, to magazines and blogs. This is all part of a larger theme, that of choice in what kids can read, either in school or at home.
- Many of the strategies that work with adults to encourage reading, also work with kids — book clubs are on the rise in schools, libraries and the community.
- Technology is absolutely changing reading, but exactly ‘how’ is not so clear. One powerful way is how it allows young people to build community around books — just as movies based on books build community.
- Social media can create networks for young people to connect about their reading. Vancouver teacher librarian, Moira Ekdahl, shared a wonderful example of how Hazel, a John Oliver student, used technology to build community around her readings.
- One concern is that with all of our well-intentioned literacy efforts, we are losing some of the joy of reading in our over-analysis and scientific dissecting of works.
- Another challenge is ensuring we continue to promote Canadian content (and in particular, Aboriginal stories) to our students as they continue to read and become interested in mass-marketed books like The Hunger Games, and Twilight series.
- We do need to keep our “eye on the prize” and while there are some boundaries over what we want our kids to read (for example, at the event, the case was made around work that promotes sexual stereotypes) having our students read newspapers, magazines, or even Captain Underpants, opens the door to reading.
- It is really important to not lament what has been (or perceived to have been) lost over past decades — this is a dangerous cycle — it is more important to look for what is needed and what is possible moving forward.
- If we want a culture of reading in Canada which includes our young people, we likely don’t need more of what we used to have, but need to build a culture for our changing, and increasingly digital world.
To close, I want to thank three amazing educators in West Vancouver who have helped me prepare on this topic, are great influencers of my thinking, and are leading the way: Cathie Ratz, Principal at Irwin Park Elementary School, Jody Billingsley, Vice-Principal at Lions Bay Community School, and Sandra-Lynn Shortall, District-Principal for Early Learning.