At the time of the Paris Book Fair flourish speeches on reading. And in this moment of introspection of our society on its relation to reading , the world of education finds itself particularly involved. But the question of reading is not clear. What are we talking about when we talk about reading at school? In reality, it covers different definitions that are not always explicit.
Reading as a skill
Reading can be defined simply by the ability to transform written signs into meanings. It is to this decryption activity that students are trained in kindergarten and primary school. The acquisition of this skill is a necessary step for access to knowledge but also to understanding the world. In this, the reading thus defined makes this practice a “cultural practice” unlike any other).
Measuring the degree of reading fluency in this sense is not easy and difficult to compare over time. The competence of reading has long been evaluated by the ability not to understand a text but by the ability to verbalize it . It is therefore difficult to know whether young people who finish primary school today have a lower level of understanding than their counterparts from the beginning of the last century.
Over a shorter period, the measure is made possible by repeated investigations at regular intervals. Between 2003 and 2015, assessments in CM2 about language proficiency show great stability . And while there are 11% of students who are not able to comprehensively understand a text, they were 15% in 2003.
Reading as a knowledge tool
The acquired reading skill, it is used in the school setting for multiple purposes. Disciplinary learning is based on reading practices whether for French or history-geography but also in scientific disciplines.
All these instrumental practices are not always perceived as reading, as they are less considered for themselves than for what they give access to. In this register, students read with the aim of rationalizing this task. Connected screens have a considerable advantage over paper by their ubiquity. And, on these supports, young people see Google and Wikipedia as their allies.
They may be criticized for their practices, but many adults themselves have adopted this instrumental reading report. The decline in reading practices among elites testifies not to the disappearance of reading, but to an enchanted and self-sufficient report to practice. The weakening of the place of literary elites in the social elites is itself the expression of the supremacy of this instrumental definition of reading.
The school institution may seek to channel this form of reading by questioning the sources or by optimizing their search for information. The teacher-librarians are striving to the task when the students come to the CDI for help in their work. They claim the wish to give them skills called info-documentary to improve the skills of students.
The training and recruitment of these professionals places a great deal of emphasis on this aspect, reinforcing the pre-eminent position of this instrumental definition of reading.
The school institution bears part of the challenge of collective memory. What are our common references? What connects members of the same generation but also members of different generations? Maupassant, Molière and Zola are part of the pantheon of the authors studied by the younger generations and who are also known from the previous ones. The new programs pay particular attention to this definition as to reconnect with a heritage vision of culture, to the detriment of the youth literature .
It remains to be seen whether this prescriptive approach is likely to lose the original purpose. The overly brutal imposition of these references can lead students to experience this culture as a thought. In this case, the common culture is not alive. It will be transmitted by these generations with this negative charge.
But the frequent definition of reading, inside and outside the National Education, includes the dimension of pleasure. It is a matter of training not only readers able to decipher texts, find information, control a heritage but also who have the taste for this practice. On the student side, the taste for reading is expressed through screen reading practices. They devote a time to this reading that turns them away from televisions.
Remember that in the 1980s, speeches deplored the competition of television . We could rejoice in this reversal of situation in which a reading medium comes to compete with this former competitor. Instead, implicitly, the taste for reading that would be transmitted would be that of print and, particularly, the book.
Beyond the question of support, personal reading is at the confines of reading in the school setting. The condition is that young readers invest in it not as pupils but as individuals. The question then arises of how the institution can create the conditions for its own overtaking.
It can do this by the ability of teachers to generate interest that exceeds their expectations (the Egyptians, electronics, crime fiction, etc.). She offers the possibility when she manages to make readings a collective support in which some engage personally. This can be the case through devices such as Goncourt high school students or reading challenges.
IDUs also make valuable contributions when they offer books that correspond to practices that are not studied in the course of the course and belong to their own generation. It can be mangas, novels “young adult” but also connected computers accessible in groups. They also do this when they discuss with students by taking an interest in them including as people under construction.
The competitions and training of these professionals tend to neglect this definition of reading. The circular defining the mission of documentary teachers confirms this relegation of students’ personal reading in favor of a prescriptive view of culture and information.
In the school setting, reading therefore has a plurality of definitions. The institution achieves quite well in the transmission of the technical skills of reading. It assigns to this practice a largely instrumental or patrimonial conception but is more difficult to spread the taste of reading on printed media. It fails to thwart the generational erosion of reading which, paradoxically, by becoming a “niche”, creates the conditions for its maintenance by its ability to reach people beyond institutions.
Author Bio: Claude Poissenot is a Professor-researcher at the IUT Nancy-Charlemagne and the Center for Research Mediations (CREM) at the University of Lorraine