More on Reading Novels to Teens

Tim Shanahan

This blog entry first posted 30 April 2017 and was reposted on 19 November 2022.

Recently, I’ve received numerous questions about the value of reading novels to high school and middle school students (letters usually from annoyed colleagues). My replies have typically included the following:  “Teaching someone to read without having them read it is a neat trick, but not one likely to be effective. I assume those teachers also avoid writing requirements since their students can already talk, and  If I hope they’ll be willing to accompany those kids to college, so the kids will have someone to do the reading for them – the same deal they are getting in high school.” I could add Carol Jago’s wise response to similar queries on Twitter: “When we read the whole novel aloud to high school students, the only person in the room becoming a better reader is the teacher.” (Carol is a former President of the National Council of Teachers of English). Given the renewed interest in the topic, I am reposting this blog. 

Recently, I received a letter from a middle school teacher who was being pressured to read novels to his students. He questioned the appropriateness of the practice given the great amount of time that takes and the learning needs of his students. He wanted to get my opinion or to find out what research had to say about the practice.

In response, I explained that there were definitely some benefits to be derived from reading to kids; though in fairness almost all of that research has been done with preschoolers (with a handful of additional studies conducted in the primary grades). That means we are going to generalize from studies of 4-year-olds to determine the appropriate instruction for 14-year-olds. However, even with that, none of those studies have ever reported that reading to kids improves the kids’ reading ability (though such shared reading does improve vocabulary—at least when measured with the kinds of vocabulary tests that are not particularly related to reading).

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