Tweens are a whole new group of readers according to those trying to market books and authors in their direction. We are talking here about middle graders: not still children, not yet teenagers, but in-between the two categories. If we had to attach a “years” label on them, it might be eight to twelve year olds. These years also coincide with first phones and a great deal of video distractions.

Here in Texas, we rank “38th nationally in reading test scores for 4th graders and in HISD (Houston Independent School District) only 23 percent of 4th graders tested at or above grade level proficiency in 2015.” ( Bobbie Samuels, retired educator in The Houston Chronicle, “Houston Tweens Should Read for Fun,”) Embarrassing to say the least! I agree with the article, for as she states, “The importance of the love of reading–separate and apart from school–cannot be overestimated.” I found that statement true in the hundreds of 6th-8th graders I taught from 1968-1984 in the Alvin Independent School District. A student who reads separate and apart from what is assigned in junior high is a good student in most subjects in high school. A non-reader or even a struggling one is a poor student in almost everything.  Good readers develop…”growth in vocabulary, reading comprehension, verbal fluency, and increased general information.” (Berniece E. Cullinan of New York University as quoted in Samuels)

Samuels points out that The National Endowment for the Arts, in its article, “To Read or Not to Read, ” states there is a correlation between the amount of time students spend reading for pleasure and scores on national and standardized tests in both reading comprehension and writing. Samuels continues to describe The British Cohort Study, which followed the lives of 17,000 individuals over decades, which “has found that reading for pleasure outside of school has a significant impact on young people’s educational attainment and social mobility…” The study also found that “recreational reading has more than triple the impact on student achievement than their parents’ level of education, previously thought to be a leading factor in student success.”

What all this tells us is that if we wait until junior high or middle school to “hook” students on reading for pleasure, it may be too late.  Further still, I have experienced many students who loved reading, and learning in general, only to be “turned off” in later elementary grades or middle school/junior high, somewhat because of the following: teaching to the test,  no time for free reading,  teachers’ insistence that a student read at grade level whether he/she is “up to it” or not,  listing unrelated vocabulary words to be memorized when they will only be “learned for the test, never used after that–all horror stories heard from students in high school, junior college, and the university levels.

In my fifty years of teaching from grades four through graduate students at university, I have almost “seen and heard it all.” Reading for pleasure and developing a love of reading are necessary at every level. From what I have seen, our K-4 teachers often instill these qualities, only to have them “stomped on” later. This is an outrage, one I probably have been responsible for committing myself. I challenge myself and all teachers everywhere to love books, words, reading with their whole hearts and share these feelings with their students.