Unplug and Read!

Posted by Lou Moore on 12/5/2018

If you are concerned that passive screen time is taking up too much space in the lives of young people, you are not alone.  A recent study found that the average American 18-year-old spent over nine hours per day connected to some form of media, including over four-hours per day on smart phones.


Managing screen time is important, both for our intellectual growth and mental health.  Besides, as author Anne Lamott reminds us, “almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.”


One of the best alternatives to passive screen time and aimless browsing is reading.  Sustained and purposeful reading requires active engagement--both emotionally and intellectually.  Walt Whitman observed that  “reading is not a half sleep,  but in the highest sense, an exercise, a gymnast’s  struggle”.


As  teachers and parents,  we know that strengthening reading skills and encouraging students to be avid readers are essential.  But whether or not high schools systematically attend to it is another question. In my own teaching,  I practiced the “osmosis” method and assumed that students would develop the ability to comprehend  complex text on their own. After all, I was a history teacher, not a reading teacher. I am older  and wiser now (at least I like to think I am). It’s clear to me that the osmosis model must be abandoned   in favor of shared strategies that explicitly build up the reading capacity of students in all subjects. This is  certainly a priority at Red Bank Regional. Our revised curriculums and related assessments stress reading and writing across all disciplines.  A new reading specialist position to support students and teachers has been established. All first year students are screened to identify potential deficiencies in reading.  


At home, families can support reading by setting time limits on phone and screen time.  We can make it a point to ask students about what they are reading in their courses and outside of school.  More important, parents and guardians can put time aside for reading to set a good example. (Education Week published these tips to in a  “Spotlight” to make reading a bigger part of all our lives.)


As a parent of teens, I know that the steps suggested above are not easy.  But the benefits are worth the effort. Actively mentoring students to become  confident and capable readers enriches teaching, learning, and ultimately delivers lifelong benefits.  Keep an eye out for updates from the RBR Media Center on activities to encourage reading!