the texts students selected to
read. Students in the Badlands
tended to select easy materials.
Although 58 percent of the
materials read were at grade
level, 42 percent were designed
for younger children. It was not
uncommon to see a 13-year-old
boy reading Highlights magazine
or Arthur’s Eyes, a book typically
favored by the preschool crowd.
Challenging words related to
academic disciplines are rarely
found in these kinds of books
and magazines. In contrast,
93 percent of students from
Chestnut Hill tended to read
at their age level, with a small
percentage ( 7 percent) reading
© RICHARD CUMMINS/GE TTY IMAGES
Further, there were striking
differences in the amount of
time spent reading and the
genre of text selected. Students
from the Badlands spent con-
siderably less time reading than
students from Chestnut Hill,
Consequently, by the time students
are in their tweens, we see a pattern
of reading that leads to a knowledge
gap. Reading challenging informational
text enhances the speed of information
gathering and knowledge acquisition.
Reading low-level text of questionable
value is likely to keep one at status
quo, or worse, be a waste of time.
play. The differing strategies
reinforce class divisions.
Spending hundreds of
Schools in Chestnut
hours in the public libraries in
each neighborhood watching
parent–child behaviors, we
found a consistent pattern.
In the spirit of concerted
cultivation, toddlers and
preschoolers in Chestnut
Hill were carefully guided
in selecting appropriate
reading materials. Activities
were highly focused, with
the accompanying adult sug-
gesting books, videos, or
audiobooks to check out. The
parent clearly appeared to be
the arbiter for book selection,
In contrast, children in the
Badlands largely entered the
library alone or with a peer,
sometimes with a sibling, but
rarely with an adult. They
would wander in, maybe flip
through some pages of a book, and
wander out. Without adult assistance,
a child would pick up a book, look at
the cover, pause for a moment to try
to figure it out, and then put it down.
Occasionally an older child might help
locate a book or read to a younger child.
But more often than not, preschooler
activity would appear as short bursts,
almost frenetic in nature.
Hill had more than two
times the selection
of books compared to
those in the Badlands.
heard nearly 14 times the number of
words read in print per library visit as
children in the Badlands.
Differences in Independent Reading
We suspected that the early years established a pattern of reading behavior that
would affect later development. Consequently, we next focused on the tween
years (ages 10–13), when students need
to read challenging informational text
independently and use self-teaching
strategies to learn essential academic
vocabulary and concepts.
To examine independent reading, we
spent hours in the public library in each
neighborhood, recording what students
were reading, the average grade level of
the text, and whether it was informational or entertainment reading activity.
We then conducted a similar analysis of
students’ use of the computers.
We found an all-too-predictable
pattern. Perhaps most alarming was
the difference in the challenge level of