Recently, Minister Unity Dow suggested that students should be allowed to bring and use their smart phones in school. The thought was that in this modern age such devices could be used for research and other educational pursuits.
But, of course, in reality we all know what most kids (research would likely show very near to 100%) use such phones: to Instagram and Whatsapp friends, to check their Facebook, and to look at YouTube videos. None of that will improve their exam results.
This is not even to mention the predicted increase in theft of these expensive devices (and the effect that will have on the running of a school) and the way such technology will worsen the divide between rich and poor students and all of the social problems that would arise from that.
But there is an inexpensive technology that will increase academic success without any of the other associated problems: books!
The research on this is widespread and conclusive: children who engage in independent reading perform better academically than those who do not. This includes in all of the areas that you would suspect such as better vocabulary, reading comprehension, spelling, and wider general knowledge. But it appears that independent reading has a positive effect across all subjects even in the very weakest students. And this effect extends from the earliest grades up through university.
What is independent reading? These are the books that children read outside of the school curriculum, the books they choose for themselves. Independent reading can happen in school as well as outside of school but the benefit is proven. When children have the opportunity to choose the books that interest them, for example in a well-resourced library, they develop a love of books and reading that can open up the world to them but also help them achieve their dreams by having academic success as well. These might be fictional stories or nonfiction factual books, or even graphic novels (comic books).
In a US Department of Education report published in November 2000, they cited numerous studies (Krashen 1993; Cunningham and Stanovich 1991; Stanovich and Cunningham 1993, Tunnell and Jacobs (1989)), which found a statistically significant relationship between independent reading and academic achievement.
In 38 out of 41 studies, students who did free
Research has also shown that even a small increase in independent reading time in a child’s life can have a significant effect on academic performance, even as little as ten minutes more free reading per day.
In a study done by Watkins and Edwards, they found that the teacher’s attitude toward reading significantly affected how much time their students spent outside of school reading independently. Teachers who love reading and are well-informed about children and teen literature were shown to have a significant effect on their students outside free reading time.
Unfortunately the research also shows that positive attitudes toward free independent reading outside of school decline as students move from primary school to secondary and on to tertiary, this despite the proven impact it can have on their academic success.
How might a school and its teachers use this research to improve their exam results?
Have a well-stocked library with a wide range of books for students to choose from.
Encourage teachers to take their classes to the library with scheduled library times.
Have free reading time as part of the school timetable.
After free reading, give students a chance to discuss what they were reading.
Having school-wide, district-wide, and country-wide reading contests (i.e. read-a-thons)
Require students to read a certain number of books outside of school and prepare book reports each term.
Have in-service videos for teachers to learn about the research and also to learn about the literature that their students might be interested in.
These are just a few ideas of ways to improve independent reading rates in the country, so as to improve our exam results.