Prof. Lucy Arendt (left), assisted teacher Terry Auger (center), and student Kayla Brumm (right), in surveying Red Smith student reading habits.

Collaboration between UW-Green Bay Associate Professor Lucy Arendt and eighth-grader Kayla Brumm just may help improve reading skills at Red Smith Elementary School in Green Bay.

Last spring Brumm was a seventh-grade student in Terry Auger’s Advanced Math/Science class, assigned to create a project for school’s annual Science Fair. She wanted to conduct a research survey that would examine the reading habits of students in grades 3 through 8.

Auger shared Brumm’s survey interest with UW-Green Bay Associate Professor Linda Tabers-Kwak (Education), who suggested they work with Arendt (Business Administration), an expert at crafting a survey.

“Mr. Auger helped me find a project that fit my interest and helped me get in touch with Prof. Arendt,” said Brumm. “Since I’ve never created a survey before, she helped me phrase my questions. She also helped me make it more easily accessible to the teachers and students by making it online.”

Professor Arendt and Brumm agreed to a format and Brumm began assembling her questions. Once the specific wording for each question was chosen, Arendt put the questionnaire online so it was accessible to students in school computer labs.

To encourage honest answers, students were allowed to submit their answers anonymously. Approximately 270 students completed the survey. The results were subsequently examined and Kayla prepared a power point presentation that involved graphs and text. The questions were: 

  1.     How many hours do you read every day?
  2.     Why do you like to read?
  3.     How much do you like to read?
  4.     Why don’t you like to read?
  5.     How many hours do you spend on extracurricular activities? Like show choir, sports, musical, etc.
  6.     What types of books you most enjoy reading?
  7.     When do you read the fastest? When it’s silent, mostly silent, noisy, or very noisy?
  8.     What grade are you in?
  9.     How old are you?
  10.     Are you a boy or a girl?

Arendt and Auger caution that the questions were tailored for current Red Smith students so it would be a mistake to generalize the results or try to extrapolate to another school. But for those associated with Red Smith School – students, family and staff – they do have meaning. And Arendt offered her thoughts on what the survey might show teachers:

“With the current group of students, there appear to be some differences in what interests boys vs. girls. Boys seem to prefer action-oriented books (e.g., sports, mystery), while girls appear to prefer character-oriented books (e.g., fantasy, books that tell people’s stories). That being said, not all boys are into sports, and not all girls are into fantasy!

“Appealing to what interests students, likely contributes to greater time on task. In other words, when kids are reading what they want to read, they are more likely to spend more time on reading. Teachers might focus on trying to identify books that cater to existing interests before asking kids to “stretch” and read outside their preferences. Try to hook new interests to existing interests. Otherwise, the kids might simply skip doing any required reading.

“Kids are very busy outside school. Much of that busy time is scheduled. Teachers need to encourage students’ interests in reading to the point where students and their parents make reading as much of a priority as sports, etc.

“Most of the kids would rather spend time doing sports or outdoor activities rather than read a book,” Brumm said. “Some kids do enjoy reading, whether it’s for facts or just for the fun of reading. For those kids who do like reading most would read a novel rather than a textbook.”

Her advice to parents or teachers who want to encourage student reading:  “I would tell them to find a book on a topic that the child or children are very interested in, that isn’t too easy or too hard to read. Make sure there are some pictures, but it doesn’t have to have so many where it seems like a picture book. Then go from book to book while slowly changing to a different topic and how hard or easy the book is.”

Auger plans to share the results of Brumm’s survey with fellow teachers.

“I thought Kayla’s project reflected her interest in what other students like to read, and why they choose to read as much or as little as they do,” Auger said. “It was a great example of a project initiated from the researcher’s intellectual curiosity.”

A more subtle but nonetheless important lesson is the value of collaboration between schools and the community – in this case, UW-Green Bay and Red Smith Elementary School.

“Sometimes to get the results you want you have to be prepared to reach outside of the building,” Auger said. “It’s a good example to our students that there are people in the community who can be very helpful to us.”