MALAGA, Spain — Books have largely fallen by the wayside to flashier forms of entertainment, but a new study finds that a good book can do more to boost a student’s literacy skills than any single text book or learning material. Essentially, according to researchers at Malaga University in Spain and the University College London, recreational reading can almost always greatly improve a child’s academic performance.
More than 43,000 Spanish students were examined, all between the ages of 10 and 11. Then, those same students were reassessed at ages 13 and 14. Each child’s reading habits were measured via questionnaires administered in 2008-2009, and then again in 2011-2012. Participating students were also asked about their overall feelings on school, and their parents were asked about their own reading habits.
On average, students who were reading regularly outside of class saw their grades rise by 0.22 points overall. The study’s authors say that increase is equivalent to three months of “secondary school academic growth.”
To be clear, these substantial benefits were seen in students reading full-length books and novels, not comics, newspapers, magazines, or even short stories.
“Although three months’ worth of progress may sound comparatively small to some people, it equates to more than 10% of the three academic secondary school years measured – from when these young people are aged 11 years old to 14, which we know is a hugely developmental period,” explains co-author and UCL Professor John Jerrim in a release.
“In an increasingly digital world, it’s important that young people are encouraged to find time to read a good book. Other less complex and less engaging forms of reading are unlikely to bring the same benefits for their cognitive development, and shouldn’t be counted as part of their reading time,” he adds. “This is particularly important for low-achievers, where any association is likely to be strongest.”
Of course, it’s common knowledge that reading contributes to one’s literacy skills and overall intelligence, but this is among the first studies to zero in on if different reading materials make a difference when it comes to a child’s test scores and grades.
The results of the study clearly indicated that the more a child read recreational books at the age of 11 or 12, the better their grades were by the time they became a teenager.
More specifically, 13 to 14-year-olds who read books on a daily basis scored 0.22 standard deviations higher on a literacy test than students who admitted to never reading outside of their academic duties. Students who read a lot even showed higher math grades.
There was a slight grade bump among students who read short stories at least once per month, but the study’s authors believe short stories aren’t nearly as beneficial as a full-length book.
The research also revealed a few other interesting statistics regarding reading differences among various student groups. For instance, girls tend to read more books, short stories, and newspapers, while boys prefer comics or magazines. Additionally, students from “advantaged backgrounds” usually read more in general than children born to lower-class families.
The study’s authors admit, however, their research was somewhat limited by being contained to only Spain and students between the ages of 11-14. Additional research into this matter should include more countries and younger students, they say.
The study is published in the Oxford Review of Education.