NPR’s month long look into what the modern reading habits of today’s youth means for the future of literacy, finds that Millennials have basically forgotten how to read like grown-ups:
Walk into any bookstore or library, and you’ll find shelves and shelves of hugely popular novels and book series for kids. But research shows that as young readers get older, they are not moving to more complex books. High-schoolers are reading books written for younger kids, and teachers aren’t assigning difficult classics as much as they once did.
A popular author of young-adult novels that are often set in the inner city, [Walter Dean] Myers wants his readers to see themselves in his books. But sometimes, he’s surprised by his own fan mail.
“I’m glad they wrote,” he says, “but it is not very heartening to see what they are reading as juniors and seniors.” Asked what exactly is discouraging, Myers says that these juniors and seniors are reading books that he wrote with fifth- and sixth-graders in mind.
To try and solve for why it’s the case that as younger readers get older, their tastes in reading — and their reading levels in general — do not mature, Renaissance Learning looked at 8.6 million students and assessed the “grade-level” (Hunger Games factors in at fifth-grade based on vocabulary and sentence complexity) of the 283 total books they read. Hold up – 8.6 million students read 283 books? We’ll leave that be for now.
Eric Stickney, the educational research director at Renaissance Learning, had this to say to NPR on their findings:
“The complexity of texts students are being assigned to read has declined by about three grade levels over the past 100 years. A century ago, students were being assigned books with the complexity of around the ninth- or 10th-grade level. But in 2012, the average was around the sixth-grade level.”
While younger people tend to enjoy a fantasy book to something as intellectually mind-boggling as War and Peace, let’s not be quick to downplay the worth of authors like George RR Martin, whose Song of Ice and Fire series is certainly worth it’s weight in vocabulary and sentence complexity. But let’s also admit that it’s probably not a good thing that we’ve replaced Alexandre Dumas and Charles Dickens with Stephanie Meyer and whoever wrote the Hunger Games.
(Photo by flickr user Klearchos Kapoutsis)