Can reading be encouraged among schoolchildren if their future teachers barely read?


Reading is essential to integrate into society. We live surrounded by written information with which we learn. But it is also an excellent leisure activity. In Spain, for example, 98.1% of people over 15 years of age  can read. Recognizes spellings, letters and words and is able to follow the thematic thread of a text.

But if there is no will to read, if one does not want to read, it is impossible for this activity to generate knowledge or fun. And, for students to become full members of society, they have to know how to read: that is, understand texts. This takes time and perseverance: creating a habit.

The practice and habit of reading

Reading is a technique that must be acquired through a continuous and oriented routine. It’s like riding a bike, playing an instrument or making a craft: these are tasks that require practice.

Home and school must contribute to this. The teaching staff, especially, must be prepared with specific teaching techniques and tools to face this challenge.

Which leads us to ask ourselves: have future teachers, today students in faculties of Education, developed a reading habit? And are they, therefore, qualified to transmit it and teach their students to want to read?

Let’s see what the research tells us about it.

Reading barometer

Every year, the Ministry of Culture and the Federation of Publishers’ Guilds of Spain (FGEE) present the Barometer of Reading and Book Purchasing Habits in Spain . The interpretation of the data varies depending on what problem or success we want to focus on. But we can draw some clear conclusions.

64.1% of Spaniards over 14 years of age read in their free time at least once a quarter. But the percentage of frequent readers (daily or weekly) drops to 52%. And 35% of the population between 25 and 64 years old never reads. The older you are, the less habit.

Among young people and minors, the outlook is better. 76% of children under 6 years old are read to at home. 86% of children between 6 and 9 years old read non-text books (that is, literary or leisure books). From ages 10 to 14, 86% read at least once a quarter. And the percentage drops to 74% between 15 and 18 years old.

These are data, at first glance, very positive.

Beyond the barometer

But academic research on reading habits in Spain has offered very different results in the last 30 years . A worrying pattern is observed : the reading habit decreases  once secondary school begins .

Reading is established as a leisure activity during childhood . But, as we enter adolescence , it plummets .

The factors can be many: disinterest, rebellion, distractions, greater leisure options… Furthermore, in Secondary School Literature begins to be treated as theoretical and historical content (teachers have specialized in Philology and History of Literature, not in Children’s Literature). and Youth and reading animation ) and no longer primarily as an enjoyment activity. That can contribute to the “break” of the habit.

Reading should also serve to educate us, not just entertain us. But this represents an important challenge in the classrooms. It is necessary to expand the educational function of literature, from leisure to learning, but without this implying that students lose the taste and reading habit acquired in Primary.

The role of teachers

To do this, we need teachers well trained in reading skills. And therein lies the problem: does the reading profile of the students of the faculties of Education respond to this requirement? The research in this regard does not paint a very encouraging picture.

In a recent study of the Arts and Education students at the University of La Rioja, we found a worrying trend that is repeated in other  Spanish faculties  of Education . The future Early Childhood and Primary teachers have no habit or interest in reading.

The percentages of students who do not like reading range around 50% of those surveyed. They don’t usually read more than one book a month. Important deficiencies are detected in their interest in formative reading, which they do not always find useful. And the time they dedicate to reading does not exceed two hours per week.

From the theory to the practice

This paints a serious picture for the future. Teachers in the faculties of Education insist in our classes on the importance of reading. But the students, according to the research carried out, lack that perception.

This situation is not exclusive to the faculties of Education . The trend in lack of reading habit is repeated in other areas of knowledge and could represent a general problem in Spanish university students. Of course, we lack sufficient studies in this regard, so we cannot yet draw a complete map of the state of university reading.

Break a vicious circle

In any case, the problem is evident and already arises during compulsory education. The rates of reading habit and reading comprehension at this stage have not improved significantly in the last 30 years. The latest PIRLS and PISA reports are clear about this.

Although public programs to encourage reading are successful, the problem arises when it comes to educating in reading comprehension: there is a need for trained trainers with a reading habit .

A challenge for the future

In any case, we need teaching professionals who educate in reading comprehension and literary animation. And to do this they must be competent readers. There is no other way.

If reading training fails from Primary and Secondary, there will be no basis for reading habits and a taste for reading in the students of the faculties of Education. Students who, in the future, will have to train in skills that they may lack. Intervention in this problem must be comprehensive and global, or our efforts as trainers of future educators will fall on deaf ears.

Author Bio: Alberto Escalante Varona is a Permanent Labor Professor. Department of Hispanic and Classical Philologies. Language and Literature Didactics Area at the University of La Rioja