An Interview with Francie Alexander, Chief Academic Officer, Scholastic– Kids & Family Reading Report

Jan 23, 2013 by

ScholasticLogoMichael F. Shaughnessy –

1) Francie, first of all, could you tell us exactly what you do at Scholastic, and how long you have been there?

I just celebrated my 18th anniversary at Scholastic. And I grew up with Scholastic as the children in my family have. As a teacher, I appreciated the company’s literacy focus and help with building my classroom library. Now, I’m the Chief Academic Officer, supporting the efforts of my Scholastic colleagues to help children learn to read and to encourage them to love to read. My responsibilities range from directing research efforts to writing books for beginning readers – and I just finished writing my first three ebooks.

2) I understand that you have some new data from the 4th edition of your Scholastic Kids & Family Reading Report.  How long have you been doing this report, who writes it, and what are you trying to ascertain?

This is the fourth edition of the Kids & Family Reading ReportTM. We issued the first edition of this biannual report in 2006 to help study and better understand children’s and parents’ attitudes and behaviors about reading. With the digital reading landscape rapidly changing, it has been fascinating to see the shift in how kids are developing experiences with their books across many formats. Scholastic works with The Harrison Group, a research company, to conduct the survey and write the report.

3) Your press release indicates that “The media landscape is constantly changing, impacting how children are reading.” What adjustments should parents and teachers be making and how will this impact instruction?

The media landscape is changing and the good news we found in the report is that technology can be a great motivator for boys and reluctant readers. But like all things, parents need to manage kids’ screen time to be sure they are using their tablets and computers to dig into good books. In addition to being reading role models, I think for both teachers and parents, it is about helping our young people learn to navigate the world they live in and teach them the best usage of technology vs. the over usages.

4) The Kids & Family Reading Report is a national survey that explores kids’ and parents’ habits and attitudes around reading –What are the current habits of parents, and let’s say elementary students?

Just like kids, parents are also reading more ebooks today than they were in 2010. And 32% of parents who have read an ebook say they are reading new kinds of books, which sets a great example for their kids. Parents are also doing positive things to help motivate their kids to read, such as acquiring books for their children. The report found that 83% of parents have acquired books for their children in the past six months (13 books on average), and this is higher among younger children age 6-8 years old. This is great news, as the research shows having books in the home and being a reading role-model have a positive impact on a child’s reading frequency.

As for elementary age students, they are reading more books for fun than older children. This has been consistent with our study from 2010. But what we found interesting in this new report is that the same reading behavior is happening in and out of school. The survey found that younger children age 6-11 are more likely to read books for fun and for school 5-7 days a week than older children age 12-17. In addition, we saw that younger kids age 9-11 say they are reading more nonfiction books in school than older kids age 12-17, although in total half of all kids (9-17) say the books they read for school are an equal mix of fiction and nonfiction. With the Common Core State Standards being implemented across 46 states, we may see a shift as more and more schools focus on nonfiction across all age groups.

5) What about e-reading? I see a lot of people with those Kindles and Kandles and Ipod and Ipad- how is this impacting reading rate, reading comprehension?).

What we can see in this study is that ereading can be a reading motivator for many kids. Among children who have read an ebook, one in five says he/she is reading more books for fun, and boys are more likely to agree than girls (26% vs 16%), and half of all children age 9-17 say they would read more books for fun if they had greater access to ebooks – a 50% increase since 2010. With the recent launch of Storia, Scholastic’s new ereading app for kids, teachers are embracing ereading in the classroom as a way to meet kids where they are today. Teachers tell us that the read-aloud functionality, reading quizzes and video features of ebooks on Storia help kids comprehend what they read. But at the end of the day, we know that it doesn’t matter how kids are reading. What matters is that they are reading, and reading every day. Given the rapidly changing digital landscape, we are going to see new research on the impact of ereading.

6) Now, some tough questions—kids in poverty do not have ipod and ipads- will they be at a disadvantage?

One of the most important take aways from this study is that having reading role model parents or a large book collection at home has more of an impact on kids’ reading frequency than does household income. The format of the book doesn’t matter; what matters is that parents play an active role in helping to build home libraries for their children, and are positive reading role models.

7) I have to admit—I am “ old school “ and still use a book mark and still underline key words and phrases. Is there anything wrong with that?

Not at all. Most kids feel the same way as you do, and I collect and use bookmarks myself. 80% of kids who read ebooks still read books for fun primarily in print. I think the important thing for us all to take note of is that digital books have not replaced print books, but rather has provided a new option for readers. And it goes back to the power of choice – the choice of what you want to read, and how you choose to read it.

8) Now, what about high school and college kids- how are they reading? Online or e-books, or the traditional ( gasp !) textbook?

The Kids & Family Reading Report only goes up to age 17, and focuses on reading and ereading books for fun, not textbooks.

Among the older kids age 15-17, we saw that they are reading fewer books 5-7 days a week both for fun and in school than are younger kids, and ereading doesn’t seem to be a motivator for the high-school crowd. Interestingly, we saw in the report that kids age 15-17 were less likely to be interested in reading ebooks vs. kids age 9-11 years old (42% vs. 67%), and the older kids age 15-17 are spending more time visiting social networking sites and using their smartphones to go online. Girls age 15-17 are spending more time going online on their smartphones compared to 2010 (27% vs. 48%) and boys age 15-17 are spending more time visiting social networking sites than they were in 2010 (39% vs 54%).

9) How can interested people get a copy of this report?

The report is available for free online at www.scholastic.com/readingreport

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