Letter published in Education Week October 20, 2004, as More on How to Produce Lifelong Reading Habits
In his letter to the editor, Hugh Calkins asks what reading method is most likely to produce lifelong readers ("Why Is There No Answer to This Reading Question?" Letters, Sept. 29, 2004).
A number of studies describe how dedicated readers developed their interests in reading, but a valid study needs to include a comparison with nonreaders as well.
I know of two studies that provide hints to an answer. Vincent Greaney reported that 6th grade boys in a sustained-silent-reading program did more leisure reading at the end of the program than boys in a comparison program. Six years later, he contacted the boys again: Those who had been in the reading group were still reading more.
Olga Emery and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi compared 15 men of working-class backgrounds who became college professors with 15 men of very similar backgrounds who became blue-collar workers. We do not know if the two groups had different reading programs in school, but there were profound differences in their lives outside of school. The future professors lived in a much more print-rich environment and, likely as a result of this, did far more reading when they were young.
These studies suggest that the crucial activity is reading itself, with access to plenty of books. But they are only scraps. Mr. Calkins has asked the right question, and it deserves a better answer. I hope other scholars know of additional studies, and I hope we turn our attention to more investigation of what it takes to produce a lifelong reader.
Rossier School of Education
University of Southern California
Los Angeles, Calif.