Children's literature is an incredibly rich, diverse and rewarding adventure that many young people choose to get lost in early on in life. Despite its allure, literature and children have always had somewhat of a fraught relationship. Books, after all, are integral to a child’s development - by nature they are associated with education and testing. This mandatory part of a child’s life, from nursery to GCSE, is off-putting to some hard-to-reach students. Recent National Literacy Trust data found that reading for pleasure significantly declines after primary school years, particularly in boys. This relationship has been put under even more scrutiny in recent years thanks to the persistent literature challenge that exists in some parts of the UK - a challenge not just consigned to Scotland and Wales.
Here is the catch 22: cultivating a love of reading remains the building blocks of learning, but we need to continually challenge children with books that are demanding enough so that they continue to improve. This risks putting some off. Walking the tightrope between pleasure and challenge is the key to both improving educational standards and fostering a love of reading in young people.
Many blame the transient internet culture that has supposedly held our children's attention spans since tablets, laptops and smartphones became engrained into modern life. The Kindle was the product of these two worlds meeting, consequently maligned by some as symptomatic of the challenges books faces in modern society. Yet, increasingly assessment technology is being used in the classroom to supercharge children's attainment.
While assessment technology may challenge our children, how do they fare in inspiring a generation of book-lovers? Students are showing that we needn't be wed to pen and paper to truly appreciate fiction.
We have found that assessment technology can help motivate children by allowing a student to read a book, take an online quiz, and get immediate feedback. Students get excited and motivated when they see their progress. At the same time, teachers can also easily monitor and manage students' independent reading practice remotely. Research from the National Literacy Trust backs this up, showing assessment technology is a vital tool in engaging new readers from key groups of young children where literacy is a concern, such as boys.
Where does this leave librarians? Against a backdrop of pressurised library services, both in and out of schools, assessment technology can empower librarians in their work with children too. Harnessing assessment technology, librarians can advise children to make informed choices, based not just on their own knowledge of books, but on a child's progress. The librarian is integral in making suggestions that both inspire and challenge children to make the right choices.
One thing is clear, reading for pleasure is just as vital as ensuring that children are challenged. Assessment technology is a vehicle that should be used to navigate this tricky terrain - empowering those teachers and librarians who know best to give informed advice on their students' needs. Dedicated reading time in schools, both primary and secondary, would also help cultivate a reading culture that is lacking by the time children reach their older years.
Literacy rates have an impact beyond English literature classes. Bold solutions are needed to tackle an education problem that spans the curriculum. Assessment technologies should be embraced by teachers for their effect, not just on grades, but on attitudes too. We need to look beyond our traditional teaching methods in the digital age, if we are to tackle the age-old problem of getting kids to read.
Romy Short is assessment director at Renaissance, a cloud-based assessment, teaching and learning provider.