Sunday, 13 December 2015

Are we doing enough to promote the habit of reading in students of senior grades in schools?

When a librarian shared statistical data  with about the number of books issued grade wise, I was understandably dismayed by what I saw! The greatest number of books were issued by students belonging to the grades One to fourth, and the least number of books were issued by students of grades eleventh and twelfth over a period of time! What I could see was a distinct trend with a graph steadily declining as it reached grade eleven and twelve, although there was a distinct spike upwards in grade ten!
A few questions that came to mind regarding this trend included:
1.Does this trend of a decrease in the number of books issued by grade eleven and twelve students indicate a decreased interest in reading?
2.Is the trend of borrowing a large number of books at the primary level the result of teacher intervention? Is it artificially induced or are the students already into books?
3. Can anything be done to maintain the trend throughout the grades till grade twelve?
I could also see that throughout a range of upcoming schools that senior grade students were never given or allotted a Library Period, unlike students studying in lower grades. It is clearly visible that not allotting a library period for students of grades eleven and twelve within their weekly schedule of studies is a major drawback in the promotion of reading as a healthy habit throughout grade levels.
A plea to educationists and policy makers in the country is to consciously promote the active reading of books and journals throughout grade levels even till the final grades in school. One argument in favour of promoting the habit of reading because reading helps expand the students’ perspectives, enrich their minds with ideas, and help increase their vocabulary. One of disturbing trends I have observed in students of grades eleventh and twelfth in all the streams, Humanities, Commerce, and Science was how poorly they performed in Comprehension tasks. Their inability to  perform well in Comprehension tasks was because they did not know how to tackle the task. They generally read the questions first and then try to lift the answers from the passage as the answer. This is a strategy that works well with questions that are factual but not well with questions that are based on reasoning, analysis and even interpolation! If students don’t know how to read at the senior grade levels, then is it not high time we taught them to read effectively? But then how do you teach student different reading skills unless you actually expose them to a wide range of books of different genres? True, students can access a large number of free e-text on the internet, but then you would need to carry your own device to access the internet, and BYOD is yet to be introduced in schools.  Another issue with reading on the internet is that it promotes majorly the limited reading skills, perhaps skimming, or scanning but certainly not in depth reading, or reading for the big idea. Also there are limited possibilities for doing annotations, or taking down detailed notes from an e-text.
But then, before I stray further, I would like to turn back to the first question mentioned initially. I don’t believe that the decrease in the number of books issued by students of grade eleven and twelve indicates a decreased interest in reading in students of senior grades. It is difficult to imagine that the students who had a voracious habit for reading would suddenly shun them in the senior grades because they had suddenly started hating the habit of reading. As far as the second question is concerned, I very strongly believe that the habit of reading books and the interest in books is strongly driven by the teachers in lower grades. What needs to be researched further is whether there might not be a correlation between the reduction in the number of books borrowed at the senior grade levels with lack of teacher interest in reading. Here I would like to affirm that I have seen  teachers of lower grade levels accompanying students to the the library, helping them in choosing the books they should read, and even organising active reading sessions. Turning to the third question, I strongly believe that a lot can be done to maintain the reading habit in senior grades. First and foremost, a library period should be set aside for all students. Secondly students should be encouraged to do active research on different topics in different topics not only from the internet, but also from actual books found in the book. They can practice active note making in the library by consulting Reference Books which are not issued. Promoting the habit of reading for information should be encouraged not just by the language teachers, but also teachers of other subjects! But then the first step would be to add at least one library period in the timetable of students of senior grades. While teachers might accompany the students initially, this can be stopped gradually as students learn to navigate through the shelves. Reading session based on themes could however be conducted by the language teachers. 
Popular English newspapers in India very often carry articles that suggest that traditional books are still popular in spite of the entry of the Electronic version. These newspapers also suggest that the reading habit still exists! According to one blurb appearing in the Brunch Supplement “Indulge” of the Hindustan times today, the 13th December, 2015, “The ebook may be here to stay; but the physical book is alive, and well, and doing better than ever,”  the writer goes on to the writer, “According to a recent article in The New York times, ebook sales fell by 10 per cent in the first five months of 2015 in America. And a Nielson survey showed that the portion of people who read primarily on an e-reader fell to 32 per cent in the first quarter of 2015 from a high of 50 per cent in 2012.”- Goswami Seema, The Writing Is On The Wall, Indulge; Hindustan Times Brunch-December 13, 2015. If reading “physical” books is still in trend then is it not high time we thought about reviving our now defunct libraries for senior grades? Agreed that reading ebooks is a new trend, but then how do you doodle, and make annotations on an ebook with an ink pen?
Perhaps the best thing we can do is to conduct our reading and writing workshops in libraries instead of class rooms. Active reading and active writing go hand in hand so why not teach the 6+1 traits of writing by taking students to the library and showing them exemplary works by authors who exemplify the use of the 6+1 traits of writing? I know this would mean additional work for the teacher to go to the library and pick out works that he thinks exemplify the 6+1 traits of writing. In a world where we are moving towards experiential learning and expeditionary learning isn’t it ironical that we tolerate the ersatz rather than the real stuff? Perhaps by taking students of grades eleventh and twelfth, might we not be able to not only read better, but also write better?

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