Have you been reading more during lockdown? Well, according to a new study by Renaissance Learning, children’s reading in the UAE has improved in the last year, with youngsters turning to adventure, comedy, fantasy and real-life stories and finding joy in discovering books they’d never read before. Reading has also provided a safe haven for children during this trying time, supporting their mental health and allowing them to dream about the future.
Renaissance, a provider of assessment, reading and maths solutions for primary and secondary schools, recently released its international annual ‘What Kids Are Reading Report’. This reveals how reading habits for children in the UAE during the pandemic saw both an improvement in their reading skills and a marked uplift in their reading enjoyment levels.
The study of over 24,000 students across the UAE also shows how many children reached out for more challenging books, in line with the UAE’s efforts to instil a love of learning into all of its citizens. It was discovered that the number of books read overall increased by 23% compared to the previous year.
When choosing books to read, children tended to go for those that were longer and more comprehensive than those recommended for their age group. Primary school students, and those up to year seven, in particular, improved their reading levels by tackling more demanding texts.
It is our Choices, Harry, that Show What we Truly Are
During the first lockdown, J.K. Rowling’s ‘Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban’ topped the favourite books list for secondary and primary students. David Walliams, with totles such as ‘Mega Monster’, ‘Fing’ and ‘The Beast of Buckingham Palace’, saw his popularity rise, as did Jeff Kinney with offerings such as ‘Rowley Jefferson’s Awesome Friendly Spooky Stories’ and ‘The Diary of a Wimpy Kid’ series. J.K. Rowling made a significant comeback, though, with more primary school students choosing the Harry Potter series again, while Roald Dahl’s popularity held steady.
The study helps to dispel concerns that screen time is replacing reading time, implying that children’s enthusiasm for actual books has not waned despite the significant increase in tech uptake and use during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Reading Fuels Academic Achievement
There is a long-established correlation between independent reading and academic achievement. Donalyn Miller, reading teacher and author of ‘The Book Whisperer’ and ‘Reading in the Wild’, states that “reading has more impact on students’ achievement than any other activity in school” (2009), and Krashen (2004) states that “the students who read the most are the best in every part of school – reading, writing, researching, content-specific knowledge, all of it.”
Personal exploration is an essential part of a creative and pragmatic education. Self-study, followed by self-thinking and analysis, is required for personal discovery. It is often known as reading on one’s own accord and necessitates the development of a reading habit. Reading allows one to gain a deeper grasp of one’s own experiences and can be a thrilling journey of self-discovery. “A reading habit is best formed at a young impressionable age in school, but once formed, it can last one’s lifetime (Green, 2001).”
The study of over 24,000 students across the UAE shows how reading skills improved during lockdown
More Choice, More Challenges, More Dreams
People are forced to adapt their lifestyles during times of crisis. How we consume media, particularly how we read, was one of the first and most visible shifts witnessed during the Covid-19 lockdown.
For many people, there is solace to be found in certain books, and their reading habits and genre preferences can shift during stressful times. This explains why so much genre fiction occurs during times of tremendous social, political, or economic upheaval. Gothic literature, for instance, is, in part, a British Protestant response to the French Revolution in the late 18th century. The Industrial Revolution and Charles Darwin’s theories fuelled the development of science fiction around the time of the fin de siècle. The hardships of the Great Depression inspired the ‘Golden Age’ of the detective thriller, which first appeared in the 1930s.
At Renaissance, we took steps to support teachers during the uncertainty of school closures, so it is pleasing to see this year’s report emphasise the importance and benefit of reading on academic achievement and wellbeing
Covid-19 will have had a similar impact on this generation, a generation that has enjoyed a benefit that was not available to most people in former ages – access to a world of books both in physical and digital formats.
Chief Product Officer at Renaissance, Todd Brekhus, explains: “Lockdown was difficult for many children, especially when schools were closed and they could not access school libraries or see their friends. At Renaissance, we took steps to support teachers during the uncertainty of school closures, so it is pleasing to see this year’s report emphasise the importance and benefit of reading on academic achievement and wellbeing.
“Many students were given access to myON Reader, a personalised digital library from Renaissance that enables students to choose from recommendations based on their interests and reading levels and year groups. Knowing that reading helped younger children feel better throughout the pandemic is very encouraging. It is promising that when pupils have more choice, many choose a more challenging book that perhaps allows for more escapism.
How we consume media, particularly how we read, was one of the first and most visible shifts witnessed during the Covid-19 lockdown
“At Renaissance, we have long advocated for dedicated time to read, and for the importance of schools to encourage a love of reading among pupils; whether it’s a favourite author recommended by peers, a non-fiction book about a hobby they enjoy or a timeless classic. This report highlights how important it is that everyone has access to books and what schools need to do to re-engage children with reading for enjoyment while giving them space and time to read more.”
The ‘What Kids Are Reading Report’ was written using Renaissance data analysed by University of Dundee academic Professor Keith Topping.