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Facebook…and Real Books: Kids and Book Clubs

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Wednesday, July 14th, 2010 | CWK Producer

“You can see the book from everybody else’s perspective and get their opinions on certain things in the book.”

– Antonia, 16 years old, discussing what she enjoys about book clubs

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Even on Facebook, kids are talking about real books. Today, young people are using new ways to rediscover an old pastime… discussing plots, characters and authors in a book club. Scholastic Book Clubs has more than 86,000 Facebook followers, including lots of parents and kids who are commenting on their favorite reads. And old fashioned face-to-face books clubs are enjoying a come back.

It’s a Saturday afternoon…and instead of sleeping late or watching TV, this group of kids is talking about books.

Eleven-year-old Kenya read about singer Lena Horne, who was the first African-American pin-up girl. “It was just amazing to see a black woman as the star and not just a mammy or a maid,” she says.

But did all these kids come enthusiastically?

No, not exactly.

“I was like ‘book club, uh, I don’t know,’ but – so, I was just trying it out. My mom didn’t make me, but I just tried it out,” says 16-year-old Antonio.

And if they’ll try it, the experts say, there are ways to get them to come back.

“Make it fun, serve pizza, serve brownies, have door prizes,” says Carla McManus, the president of Sisters and Brothers of Hotlanta Book Club.

She says it also helps to connect books to the real world. “We talk about things that are happening in the community, so you can relate whatever you’ve read in the book to what’s happening now.”

Here they have long talks about the books they have selected, which most kids don’t get to do when they’re in school.

“I mean, they’ll talk about the Civil War, maybe, but you don’t learn specifically on specific black people and what they’ve done,” says Antonio.

“There’s not a lot of history- African-American history being taught in the schools,” says McManus. “If you don’t know your history you are bound to repeat it and I want the children to understand and be familiar with where they’ve come from so that we will not repeat history.”

And these kids say, book clubs work – they’re learning to love books and love reading.

“I feel like I’m actually in the book and doing what the actual main character is doing,” says 13-year-old Justin.

16-year-old Antonia says reading gives her a nice break from the day, “It gives me time to sometimes get my mind straight and get away from the world and just sit down and read a book.”

What We Need To Know

Fewer teens are reading for fun today than in 1971. That statistic from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is significant because reading for fun is considered an important factor in improving teens’ reading comprehension. Although the literacy movement in the United States is strong, the American Library Association (ALA) says it is focused primarily on elementary school-aged children.

Consider these facts about teens and reading from the NAEP:

  • The latest reading test scores from the NAEP show that children scored lower in reading than in 1992.
  • The percentage of students performing at or above Basic decreased from 80 percent in 1992 to 73 percent in 2005, and the percentage of students performing at or above the Proficient level decreased from 40 to 35 percent over the same period of time.
  • Higher average reading scores were generally associated with higher levels of parental education. Students who reported that at least one parent graduated from college scored higher than students who reported lower levels of parental education.
  • In 2005, female twelfth-grade students scored 13 points higher on average in reading than male students.

The Rand Reading Study Group cites this additional reading research:

  • All high school graduates are facing an increased need for a high degree of literacy, including the capacity to comprehend complex texts, but comprehension outcomes are not improving.
  • Unacceptable gaps in reading performance persist between children in different demographic groups. The growing diversity of the U.S. population will likely widen those gaps even further.

How can teens improve their reading skills and learn to enjoy reading more? The ALA says that parents and teachers need to help teens realize the value of reading in their lives by providing them with the following elements:

  • Time: Teens need specific opportunities to schedule reading into their days.
  • Choice: Choosing their own reading materials is important to adolescents who are seeking independence.
  • Support: Time and choice mean little if no support exists. Support includes actions like bringing books to the classroom, arousing children’s interest in reading, reading aloud selections and fostering student-to-student and student-to-adult conversations about what is read.

Ten million American children have difficulties learning to read, according to the National Institute of Child Health and Development (NICHD). Of those, 10-15% eventually drop out of school, and only 2% complete a four-year college program.

Children with reading difficulties stop and start reading frequently (known as choppy reading), mispronouncing some words and skipping others entirely. They soon grow ashamed as they struggle with a skill their fellow students seem to master easily. Reading-impaired children also experience difficulty exploring science, history, literature, mathematics and other information that is available in print.

NICHD research shows that reading disabilities affect boys and girls at about the same rate. However, boys are more likely to be referred for treatment since they are more likely to get the teacher’s attention by misbehaving. Reading disabled girls may escape the teacher’s attention and withdraw into themselves.

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