Reading in the Age of TikTok and Fortnite 

Since the 1980s in Australia, there has been conflict over the best ways to teach reading. The main question has been whether schools teach the “whole language” approach or go down the path of “structured literacy” that teaches students phonics. While primary schools primarily dictate which approach to adopt, there has recently been a rise in the debate around reading instruction in the media, sparking renewed political interest in what our students are taught.


In February this year, the ABC reported on the Grattan Institute’s findings that one third of Australian school children can’t read properly. They also estimate that this will cost our Australian economy $40 billion dollars over time. However, the report highlighted compelling evidence of enhanced reading proficiency among students who participate in "structured literacy" programs. It found that at least 90 percent of students achieved proficient reading skills following explicit instruction in this approach.


Fortunately, the McKinnon community has relatively low levels of reading difficulties. However, for our students who struggle with reading decoding and comprehension, we have a fantastic literacy intervention program led by the incredible Georgina Tsitas and we have seen a significant amount of growth through the many interventions that students engage in. 


So, how does reading relate to our broader community, and why are we talking about it? 


Our goal: to foster a love of reading for each and every student! This year, researchers from Deakin University published a report titled Discovering a Good Read: Exploring Book Discovery and Reading for Pleasure Among Australian Teens which was based on a survey of around 12,000 teenagers from various states in Australia, examining their reading habits. The report found that one third of teenagers surveyed were classified as ‘book abstainers’ for they don’t read books for pleasure at all or have neutral to negative feelings about reading. 


While it's easy to argue that reading is beneficial, to truly believe it, we must turn our attention to the evidence:

  • A mere 6 minutes of silent reading can reduce stress levels by 68%.
  • Engaging in only 30 minutes of reading daily can extend one's lifespan by an average of two years.
  • Regular book lovers tend to report higher levels of life satisfaction, happiness and a sense of purpose.
  • Active readers are 2.5 times less likely to develop Alzheimers or dementia. 
  • Students who read for pleasure not only excel academically, but also achieve greater success in their careers. 

Research says that we must allocate time during the school day for teenagers to engage in reading. Therefore, at McKinnon, the first 10 minutes of every English class for grades 7 through 10 are designated for wide reading. During this time, students are encouraged to explore a variety of reading materials according to their preferences. Whether it's novels spanning different genres, non-fiction works, comic books, autobiographies, or newspapers, the emphasis lies on granting students the opportunity to immerse themselves in reading that resonates with them. Ultimately, the aim is to cultivate a genuine passion for reading among students.


As a society, we want our youth to find joy and inspiration in reading for pleasure, yet the pervasive reliance and addiction to technology have posed significant barriers to this desired outcome. Luckily, there are practical strategies readily available for all of us to incorporate into our lives, aimed at enhancing our kids' engagement in reading for pleasure. 


As outlined in Deakin’s report, there are many research-backed recommendations; support teens to find their next great read and let them follow their interests, invest in school libraries and librarians, parents should be encouraged to model reading behaviour, make reading social through discussions about books with friends and family, carve out time for teens to read at school and at home. 


Finally, as highlighted by a government survey, the rate of students engaging in recreational reading has seen a decline, falling from 79% in 2018 to 72% in 2022. Yet, within our vibrant community, there exists a wealth of individuals dedicated to enhancing the well-being of our students. Let's champion the joy of reading and amplify the profound satisfaction it brings to us as human beings! 


Annabel Barton

Literacy Learning Specialist