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By Marguerite Jackson, Chief Executive Officer, EQAO
Survey Responses—How All Students Answered
Over the years, EQAO survey results have shown significant changes in students’ responses to questions related to their enjoyment of reading. While we must acknowledge that we have witnessed a decline in the percentage of students responding positively to the highest levels of reading enjoyment, a close look at the responses from all students does not suggest they dislike reading. Here are the facts: The percentage of Grade 3 students who said they like to read has dropped from 75% in 1999 to 50% in 2011, while the percentage of Grade 6 students who said they like to read has fallen from 63% to 50% during the same period. However, if we had included students who reported liking to read at least “sometimes,” the percentage would have been 94% in 1999 and would actually have increased to 97% in 2011. Just as notably, the percentage of students who said they do not like to read has steadily declined over time. Over the past five years alone, the percentage of students who said they do not like to read has dropped from 6% to 2% in Grade 3 and from 9% to 3% in Grade 6.
Correlated with responses to other survey items, these results suggest the issue is less one of students not liking to read but rather one of how regularly they are choosing to read for enjoyment.
On a national scale, there is cause for optimism about student reading enjoyment. According to the results of the 2009 administration of the Programme for International Student Assessment, Canada was one of the few OECD countries in which more students reported reading for daily enjoyment in 2009 than did in 2000.
Factors Influencing Enjoyment of Reading
Just as research has shown that there are a number of factors that contribute to student achievement, so too are there a number of factors that affect reading enjoyment and motivation. One factor is certainly skill—when we are good at something, we stand to enjoy it more, and certainly the opposite is true as well. Data from other EQAO surveys show that there is indeed a strong correlation between attitude and achievement. In particular, we have observed that the longer students struggle in a given subject or perceive themselves as not being competent, the less they enjoy that subject as they advance through school .
That’s why it has been particularly encouraging to note that reading trends on provincial, national and international tests confirm that an increasing number of Ontario’s children and youth are good readers. It’s apparent that the collective attention that’s been given to literacy in Ontario schools has led to a significant increase in the number of students acquiring fundamental reading skills, which in turn allows them to engage with many different types of reading materials confidently.
Link Between Attitude and Reading Materials
However, the ability to read well is only the first step toward reading enjoyment—and that’s where educators and parents can make all the difference. EQAO data clearly demonstrate links between student attitudes toward reading and the types of reading materials students choose to read regularly and on their own time. For example, our surveys show a high correlation between the frequency of reading stories or novels and liking to read. Notably, of the Grade 6 students who said they read stories or novels outside school every day or almost every day, 83% reported the highest level of reading enjoyment. That clear correlation between reading enjoyment and the reading of stories and novels was much stronger than with any other type of reading material surveyed, including comics, graphic novels, newspapers, magazines, Web sites and even e-mail, or text and instant messages. These findings suggest that providing students with access and time to read books and stories of interest to them may be highly valuable in helping develop their joy of reading. The percentages of students who said they read the other above-mentioned types of materials and who reported the highest level of reading enjoyment are also significant, however, which underscores the importance of supporting students’ reading of various types of materials that appeal to them.
A Partnership for Providing a Well-Balanced Literacy Program
The Ontario Curriculum states that “a well-balanced reading program should provide students with many opportunities to read for pleasure, for self-discovery, and for self-enrichment.” It is therefore important for educators and parents to pay attention to student interests and attitudes and the types of reading materials they enjoy to help guide literacy development in school and at home. Educators have increasingly been attending to this responsibility by using different types of texts in their literacy programs. Some educators, for example, conduct reading inventories with students early in the school year. The questions asked of students on these inventories help teachers plan for literacy experiences of interest throughout the year. By seeking student opinions about reading behaviour and attitudes, teachers have an opportunity to tailor their programs based on areas of interest, while ensuring access to a variety of reading materials and providing opportunities for students to choose what they read.
Equally important is the role parents can play when they understand and support their children’s reading interests. Research on students’ literacy development also continues to show the strong benefit of parents reading with their children.
All partners in our children’s and youth’s education share the responsibility of cultivating a love of reading, and this includes being attentive to attitudes and preferences. At EQAO, we are pleased that the information we provide about Ontario student learning continues to foster meaningful research and important conversations among parents, educators and policy-makers. Such use affirms the power of good information and how reliable evidence can ultimately lead to better decisions and supports for all students.