New Research From Scholastic Reveals That More Ebooks and Independent Reading Time Are Needed in U.S. Schools

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

Scholastic recently released its new report on the state of school reading in the United States. Two of the many findings include the need for more time devoted to independent reading and a desire for more ebooks in school libraries.

Independent Reading

Independent reading time is the segment of a school day in which students are allowed to read on their own. Because this activity is not directly related to a specific lesson, many schools have reduced or removed independent reading time. One principal surveyed stated, “We have lost independent reading time as a result of the numerous curriculum mandates.”

Educators, however, overwhelmingly assert that free reading contributes to student achievement, and its loss may indirectly affect learning. “Independent reading fosters a love for reading,” said Michael Haggen, Chief Academic Officer at Scholastic Education. Reading is one of the foundations for educational success.

More Digital and Diverse Books

In addition to the need for more independent reading, survey respondents noted the need for new reading materials in a range of formats, including ebooks. A large majority of teachers (91 percent) prefer to use a combination of print and digital resources for instruction rather than a basal textbook. Nearly all of the principals surveyed (97 percent) share this preference.

However, many schools lack digital books. A majority of teachers and principals (51 percent) said they could use more ebooks, with the greatest need in elementary schools (54 percent). Slightly less than half of middle schools (48 percent) and high schools (40 percent) report an immediate need for ebooks. More than half of the respondents stated a need for books in languages other than English (53 percent) and culturally relevant titles (52 percent).

What types of reading materials do you have in your school library,

and what types do you need, or need more of?

Total Elementary School Middle School High School
Books in other languages 53 percent 54 percent 57 percent 50 percent
Culturally relevant titles 52 percent 56 percent 51 percent 40 percent
Ebooks 51 percent 54 percent 48 percent 42 percent
Books with diverse characters 46 percent 52 percent 42 percent 34 percent
High-interest, low-reading-level books 46 percent 45 percent 46 percent 43 percent
Graphic novels 43 percent 47 percent 44 percent 28 percent
Multiple copies of popular titles 41 percent 43 percent 40 percent 35 percent
Books published in the last 3–5 years 39 percent 42 percent 35 percent 31 percent
Nonfiction or fiction (net) 37 percent 40 percent 38 percent 28 percent
Reference databases 35 percent 40 percent 32 percent 23 percent
Magazines 34 percent 39 percent 27 percent 20 percent
Data from Scholastic Teacher and Principal Report on the State of School Reading in the United States

Home-to-School Connection

Because independent reading time is reduced in many schools, Haggen notes that families can close the gap by encouraging home reading. “The home-to-school connection is vital,” says Haggen, adding that “today, the family is not just parents.” Often, kids have a range of caregivers who can support learning by making reading a part of their routine.  

Haggen’s suggestion that family members read to and with their children more frequently is in line with most educators’ beliefs. Sixty-nine percent of the teachers and principals surveyed say encouraging reading at home is key to helping families engage with their children’s learning. Haggen stresses that families don’t need to read in the language being taught in school; the benefits of reading extend to those who share books in any language. “The important thing is sitting together, turning the pages, and experiencing the book together,” says Haggen. He also suggests that as they read together, family members should ask the child what is happening in the book.

In reality, there is room for improvement in most households: Only fifty-one percent of survey respondents say at-home reading is happening as often as it should. Part of the issue is time—families often have complicated on-the-go schedules. Another part of the issue is access: 46 percent of educators say their students do not have access to books at home, and that percentage rises to 69 percent in high-poverty schools. Many educators assert that public libraries can supplement access for students.

Digital books can help here, too. For children in the upper elementary grades, digital books offer a broad selection of titles and subjects. When kids read digital books on e-readers or tablets, they have easy access to multiple books, sourced from home as well as school or public libraries. Many public libraries not only offer digital books, but also access to tablets and e-readers. Haggen likes to call libraries “media centers” because they offer reading materials in all forms of media, not just paper books.

Summer Reading

Summer reading is important to student achievement according to educators polled in the survey. Students who achieve a certain level of literacy during the school year sometimes find that their skills suffer if they don’t read frequently during the several-month break. With deliberate, targeted home reading, however, students can return to class in the fall ready to pick up where they left off. “Parents look to schools for guidance on reading,” says Haggen. “Schools often encourage families to partner with community services for access.” Those community services include public libraries and other organizations such as camps and social services that run literacy programs.  

Digital Books for Reluctant Readers

For reluctant readers, educators note that they could use more high-interest, low-reading-level books. Again, this is an area where digital books can prove a good resource. Haggen speaks of a personal experience visiting a school with a group of students who claimed to dislike reading. But when the students were given the opportunity to fill an e-reader tablet with books of their own choosing, on topics that interested them, they began reading and didn’t want to stop. “If kids have a shelf full of books that reflect their own interests,” says Haggen, “they begin to develop a love for reading.”

Diversity in Books

One of the messages the Scholastic team heard in the survey was that teachers and principals are seeking more diverse books. They’re looking for diversity in characters as well as cultural situations. The survey found that many schools are in need of culturally relevant titles. Though the We Need Diverse Books campaign helps encourage the publication of new diverse titles, 47 percent of teachers report they can only update their classroom libraries once a year or every couple of years. An additional 13 percent of teachers report that they are never able to update their classroom libraries. “We have a long history of listening to educators,” says Haggen, “and we are hearing that many schools are looking for new ways to reach students with diverse books.”  

Methodology, in Brief

Scholastic worked with YouGov to manage the research, collect the data, and ensure its integrity. The findings were collected via an online survey of 3,694 public school Pre-K–12 teachers and 1,027 principals between July 22, 2016, and August 26, 2016. The full report can be found here.

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