Tuesday 19 March 2019

Irish children 'reading more difficult books than UK pupils'

Photo: PA
Photo: PA
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

Irish primary pupils read more difficult books than their UK counterparts, according to a new report.

The largest ever literacy study in Ireland, England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland examined the reading habits of more than a million six- to 18-year-olds.

The research, which included 17,565 pupils in 240 schools in the Republic, analysed the level of challenge of book choices of individual children and how well they understood what they were reading.

Primary-aged children in the Republic came out on top, with the report concluding that by age of seven to eight "it is beginning to look as if children are introduced to hard books much earlier in Ireland".

For seven- to eight-year-olds, Roald Dahl's 'The Magic Finger' was popular everywhere, while Julia Donaldson's 'The Gruffalo' also did well except in the Republic, where Jeff Kinney, author of the more challenging 'Diary of a Wimpy Kid' series was much more frequently read.

However, the differences levelled out by the time children reached post-primary or even upper primary, with a "striking slump" in the level of reading difficulty in all regions, including in the Republic, and pupils reading below their chronological age.

The 11th 'What Kids are Reading' report is based on data gathered by educational technology company Renaissance UK, and analysed by Professor Keith Topping of the University of Dundee.

Renaissance UK sells software reading programs that track the number and difficulty of books read by individual children and monitor their comprehension through computer quizzes. The feedback helps teachers to motivate pupils and to guide them in book choices.

Although the Irish database is small, the findings are consistent with the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study report in 2016, based on 340,000 pupils in 50 countries, which found that Irish 10-year-olds were the best readers in Europe.

Prof Topping, a professor of educational and social research, said the Renaissance report showed that appropriate reading challenge, practice and motivation were fundamental for children's reading progress.

He said that if Ireland "could increase the difficulty in the late years of primary and on transfer to secondary school, they would be in an even better position".

Irish Independent

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