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Hopes of the “Harry Potter Effect”...Vaporized?

By Paolo Martin

For decades, the amount of "quality reading" in which children engage has been of vast concern for parents and educators alike.  The idea is that the more children read novels and quality literature, the better readers they become; the better prepared they are for college; and the better chance they have of succeeding in the world when they grow up.  Recently, educators have been concerned about the diminishing number of books children and teenagers are reading today -- enough so that the National Endowment for the Arts was hopeful that all the popular attention centered around the Harry Potter books would create a "Harry Potter Effect" whereby kids' excitement about the books would translate into excitement about reading in general, leading more children to read.  Unfortunately, studies show a continuing decline from year to year in the number of books teenagers are reading.  This dwindling figure may be attributable to several factors: 1) more academic expectations placed on children, 2) other distractions, such as video games, T.V., or the mall, and 3) time spent on the Internet.

The salient question, then, is if kids are reading fewer books, are they reading more in other areas, like the Internet?  Also, while it may be true that kids are reading fewer books, does that necessarily mean that as a result they are becoming less literate and less prepared for college and the "real world?"  Many argue yes, that if kids read fewer and fewer novels and books, they will become less literate and less prepared for what awaits them later in life.  However, there are people who refuse to make that assumption so quickly.  At the least, according to Dr. Kamil from Stanford University and the Chair of the National Assessment of Educational Progress Framework Committee, "Problems related to technology and literacy need to become more a part of mainstream literacy research, instead of being considered secondary to more traditional strands of research. We need to examine literacy through the lens of technology to see special problems and issues that need the attention of researchers."  He believes that there is a value to "reading for information" using online resources and that we should be cautious about overvaluing the idea of "reading for literary experiences," as more and more of today's jobs and events require people to be adept at navigating advanced technology for acquiring and synthesizing information.  As Jeff Gomez, author of "Print is Dead," blogs on his website, "[J]ust because kids won't be picking up those paperbacks of the ‘great classics' that nourished previous generations, all hope is not lost." 

Tags: online reading, novel reading, reading skills, reading

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