Is it possible to triple a 12 year old's pleasure reading?

Dear readers, I have 2 puzzles for you today.

Let's zoom out for some context.

1. Most charters aren't so hot. You can quibble about the details.

2. Some charters generate unusually large learning gains with kids from poor families. Interestingly, the gains in math tend to be 3x higher than in English.

3. College graduation is the goal of these charters.

There is some debate over which factors matter most in helping kids from poor families achieve this goal -- knowledge, grit, money, "skills," socialization, career aspiration.

But I bet most people would agree that, if we had to pick, we'd rather be sending kids to college who'd made 3x gains in English than in math.

Our small posse here at Match Education is not focused on replication. Instead, we're trying to find practical interventions. Stuff that make it easier for kids and teachers to succeed. This seems like an important question. Geez, if we could vault out-of-school pleasure reading sky high, that'd be big.

So this month we're trying a small experiment, a pleasure reading club of sorts.

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I've asked before: How to Flip Middle School Non-Readers into Voracious Ones? Click to read, lots of good comments on that thread.

The scholarly research (pdf) on this topic shows:

Furthermore, as will be shown later in this paper, research is accumulating that suggests that a growing number of young people do not read for pleasure. Similarly, a number of studies have shown that boys enjoy reading less and therefore read less than girls (e.g. Clark & Foster, 2005), while children from lower socio-economic backgrounds read less for enjoyment than children from more privileged social classes (e.g. Clark & Akerman, 2006).

So with that set-up, I offer you

Question 1:

How much pleasure reading do you think a typical Match middle school student does? Think about it for a sec.

If it helps: demographically, our kids are: 59% black, 34% Hispanic, 78% low-income, 17% special needs.

So...how many hours per week?

* * *

My colleague Ray and his team tackled that question. With all the limitations of relying on student's self-reports.

interviewed 135 students.

Only 2 students self-reported 3+ hours per week.

The median student self-reported 50 minutes per week.

Ray thinks the 50 minute/week baseline is actually an overly rosy estimate. He asked kids a lot of open-ended questions -- what they were reading, when they read, what they read last week, etc -- and concluded that the estimates didn't quite match up to the discussions as a whole. So take with a grain of salt.

* * *

We're trying out a reading club. I have no idea if it will succeed. The goal is a big bump in student pleasure reading.

1. All the middle schoolers choose after-school clubs. They meet 2x/week. Usually an hour.

2. What happens in the book club?

a. Kids are in small groups with a tutor. 3 or 4 kids.

b. The tutors work to get each kid a book he likes.

c. Each kid is using a Kindle.

(Mom, that's a device that looks like a small hardcover book, but it has a screen. Pictured above. Which reminds me: Pru wants one for birthday. Which reminds me: our anniversary date approaches. Must make dinner reservation. And another note: I scrolled through 22 pages of kindle pictures on Google. Zero had hands that didn't look like those of a white person. Okay, back to our story).

d. Simple club. If you enjoy what you're reading, you just keep going. If not, tutors find out why. Probably need to get the kid a new book.

e. Some book discussion. Goal is to create some peer competition/pressure to keep reading the book. Tutors hype up what's coming up in the book, kids talk about their favorite parts, etc.

3. Who are the kids?

We had room for 20 to 25 kids. About 70 were interested. We randomly chose the kids who'd participate. (Fun fact: an MIT senior volunteer, Noam Angrist, is carefully measuring our results. His dad, MIT economist Josh, is one of the leading authorities on this sort of stuff).

Got that? This particular intervention is not trying to reach the kids who describe themselves as hating reading. It's going for kids who are open to the idea of reading, but don't actually do it very often.

So this brings me to

Question 2:

a. During these 8 weeks, how many minutes per week pleasure reading will the 20-odd kids do out of school? (I.e., don't count the time they're actually sitting in this club).

Remember, the baseline is about 50 minutes a week.

b. Same question, different date.

When we do a follow-up survey in January or so -- after the club has long ended -- how many minutes per week pleasure reading will the 20-odd kids do out of school?

I look forward to any predictions in the comments.