Academic journal article Reading & Writing

Reading Is Very Important, But.: Taking Stock of South African Student Teachers' Reading Habits

Academic journal article Reading & Writing

Reading Is Very Important, But.: Taking Stock of South African Student Teachers' Reading Habits

Article excerpt

Introduction

Through exploring the contradiction between student teachers' acknowledgement of the importance of reading and their personal reading habits, this article is an attempt to take stock of future teachers' attitudes towards reading. It does this through seeking answers to the questions how much student teachers read for pleasure, what types of texts they read and what role reading and books play in their lives. The rationale is that without fully understanding student teachers' own attitudes towards reading, the challenges of literacy and reading in the classroom cannot be fully addressed. Little research has been conducted on South African student teachers' reading habits and, as a result, this article reflects on the local situation in relation to international research.

Internationally, studies have found that reading for pleasure is in decline (Gallagher 2009, Mokhtari, Reichard & Gardner 2009; National Endowment for the Arts [NEA] 2007). Mokhtari et al. (2009) examine the impact of Internet and television use on the reading habits and practices of 539 college students at a Midwestern university. They found that students rated recreational reading as important (60% rated it as extremely important) yet did not seem to actively pursue recreational reading and seemed willing to forgo it for other activities, such as academic reading, internet usage and television (Mokhtari et al. 2009:617). A similar decline was noted by the NEA (2007:7) which collated national data to create a reliable and comprehensive picture of American reading habits. It was found that nearly half of all Americans aged 18-24 did not read books for pleasure.

The South African situation is compounded, firstly, by the relatively small reading population where many who can and have the means to read, choose not to read books. Secondly, it is compounded by a schooling system that is not producing children with functional literacy. For example, the Proficiency in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS 2006 and 2011), an international benchmark test for Grade 4 and Grade 5 learners, indicates that literacy levels in South Africa are poor, lagging behind other countries. In addition it found that:

* Grade 4 learners, especially those tested in African languages, achieved well below the International Centre point despite writing an easier assessment in 2011.

* Forty-three percent were unable to reach the Lowest International benchmarks for reading and only 4% could reach the Advanced International benchmark (compared to 8% internationally) (Howie et al. 2012:112-113).

Providing children with positive reading role models is one aspect of addressing this problem and connects student teachers' reading habits with future good practice. Thomas (2012:30) argues that, particularly in educational research, knowledge should be seen as coming from immersion and informed reflection on practice. This study is firmly rooted within an understanding of educational research as research situated in practice. The current study was therefore informed by interactions and observations of students at a small, private institution focused exclusively on teacher training through my own teaching of an English course in the foundation phase programme.

Various initiatives from the private sector, governmental and non-governmental organisations and bodies have attempted to address the poor literacy levels as well as counter the decline in reading for pleasure. A further aim of these initiatives is to foster the growth of a culture of reading through targeted interventions (Reading Association of South Africa [RASA] 2012; READ 2010), a National Book Week (South African Book Development Council 2012), creating more libraries and supplying books to underprivileged communities (Room to Read 2012), as well as supporting teachers and librarians (Centre for the Book 2012; RASA 2012; READ 2010). All these initiatives acknowledge that the development of reading and literacy have a positive impact on educational results and improving overall life opportunities (Book Development Council 2012; Centre for the Book 2012; RASA 2012, Room to Read 2012; READ Educational Trust 2010). …

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