There is a considerable amount of research to demonstrate that children and adolescents who engage more often in reading activities have better literacy skills (Anderson, Wilson & Fielding, 1988; Cunningham & Stanovich, 1991; Leppanen, Aunola & Nurmi, 2005; Mol & Bus, 2011). In addition, frequency of reading has been associated with the development of other abilities such as general knowledge, oral language, spelling, vocabulary and verbal fluency (Cunningham & Stanovich, 1991; Echols, West, Stanovich & Zehr, 1996; Senechal & Cornell, 1993; Senechal, LaFevre, Hudson & Lawson, 1996). Therefore encouraging children to read is advantageous to both reading and language outcomes.
That said, some types of reading activities have been more consistently associated with reading skill than others. For example, Anderson et al. (1988) reported that time spent reading books was more strongly associated with reading comprehension and reading speed than other text types (e.g., comics, newspapers and magazines). Similarly, Spear-Swerling, Brucker and Alfano (2010) found that fiction book reading was more closely associated with various reading-related skills (i.e., word reading, oral comprehension, vocabulary and reading comprehension) compared to other reading habits.
Therefore book reading, but particularly fiction book reading, does appear to be a stronger correlate with reading outcomes compared to shorter paper based texts. It is possible that the composition and extended nature of these text types, in addition to the wider and more varied vocabulary that books introduce children and adolescents to, means that this type of reading activity is more closely associated with positive reading outcomes.
However, over the last decade or so, there has been a steep and steady increase in the diversity of text types available to children and adolescents, more specifically, an increase in the availability and ubiquity of digital texts (e.g., text messages, emails, websites, ebooks, blogs, facebook, etc). These text types are as varied (or arguably more varied) than their paper based equivalents and children and adolescents now have opportunities to engage in a much wider range of reading activities than ever before. Large scale research by Clark (2011) shows that digital texts are among children’s and adolescents’ most popular reading activities, highlighting a need to understand more about the relationship between these different reading activities and reading outcomes.
In a recent research study (McGeown et al., 2015), we examined the extent to which adolescents’ reported time spent engaging with different text types: fiction book reading, factual book reading, school book reading, short traditional texts (comprising of: magazine, comic, newspaper, song lyrics, instructions/manual, poetry) and short digital texts (comprising of: text messages/email, social networking site, computer game, factual website, Twitter) predicted a number of reading outcomes (word reading, reading comprehension, reading summarisation skills and reading fluency).
We found that fiction book reading was the only consistent positive predictor of all reading outcomes (even after controlling for other variables). In additional statistical analyses (not included in the paper), we examined the relationship between each of the text types in turn. As expected, fiction book reading was the most consistent and strongest correlate with all reading outcomes. The second most consistent and strongest correlate was time reported using Twitter; this statistically inversely related with most reading outcomes (i.e., greater use of Twitter was associated with poorer reading scores).
However, we need to consider that the association between reading skills and choice of reading material is likely to be reciprocal -although different text types may differ in their ability to develop reading skills, children and adolescents’ choice of text types is also likely to be influenced by their reading skills; students with better reading skills may be more likely to seek out more difficult texts (e.g. books), thereby further developing their reading skills. That said, the research to date suggests that encouraging children and adolescents to spend more time reading books (but particularly fiction books) is the safest advice to promote reading development.
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