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Why Reading for Pleasure?

Reading for pleasure is important? Everybody says so. But why?

Why the emphasis on reading for pleasure?

Reading is a crucial life skill in the modern world; teaching children to read is a major part of what we do in schools. We know a lot about how to teach the mechanics of reading; teachers have become very skilled at this over the years but why does it matter whether children enjoy reading or not?

Surely as long as they are fluent, capable readers our job is done; they will be fine. Well maybe, but there is an overwhelming wealth of research evidence that shows that children who read for pleasure do a lot better in a wide range of areas and therefore have better life chances than children who don’t read for pleasure.

Most of what follows in this post is from a report called 'Reading for Pleasure-A door to Success' or the website. Both state things far more clearly and articulately than I could and so why invent the wheel when someone else has already done it?

So...Why Reading for pleasure?

In 2002, OECD research reported that reading enjoyment is more important for children’s educational success than their family’s socio-economic status. While the International Reading Association pointed out that the ability to read and write has never been more critical.

"Adolescents entering the adult world in the 21st century will need to read and write more than at any other time in human history. They will need advanced levels of literacy to perform their jobs, run their households, act as citizens, and conduct their personal lives. They will need literacy to cope with the flood of information they will find everywhere they turn. They will need literacy to feed their imaginations, so they can create the world of the future. In a complex, and sometimes dangerous world, the ability to read can be crucial."

— International Reading Association, (Moore et al, 1999, p. 3 as cited by Clark & Rumbold, 2006).

So that seems a pretty compelling statement but what is reading for pleasure?

What is reading for pleasure?

This is what Teresa Cremin (Professor of Education at the Open University) had to say about it:

At its core is the reader’s volition, their agency and desire to make meaning in anticipation of the satisfaction gained through the experience and interaction around it. It is or can be transformational… (Cremin et al., 2014:5)

Where can you find it? Anywhere …. with any kind of text

Look at reading for pleasure as being ‘the will to read’. Having ‘the skill to read’ is important but without ‘the will’, the ability to read will not have as much benefit.

The will influences the skill and vice versa.

What is the impact of Reading for Pleasure?

In 2012, the Education Standards Research Team (ESARD) in the UK, compiled the Research evidence on reading for pleasure report. It found that reading for pleasure had educational benefits, supported personal development and had a positive impact on reading including:

  • reading attainment and writing ability

  • text comprehension and grammar

  • breadth of vocabulary

  • positive reading attitudes

  • self-confidence as a reader

  • pleasure in reading in later life

The Research evidence on reading for pleasure report also identified benefits in:

  • general knowledge

  • understanding of other cultures

  • community participation

  • insight into human nature and decision-making.

Research evidence on reading for pleasure (pdf, 364KB) — UK Department of Education, Education Standards Research Team, 2012.

The ability to read competently and, more importantly, the enjoyment of reading has implications for a student’s academic success. It's also an important indicator of success in other areas of life. The Growing Independence: Summary of Key Findings from the Competent Learners at 14 Project report found that students who love reading had:

  • higher scores on the cognitive and social/attitudinal competencies

  • consistently higher scores in mathematics, reading, logical problem-solving and attitude

  • higher average scores for engagement in school, positive communication and relations with family, and positive friendships

  • showed less risky behaviour

  • higher levels of motivation towards school.

Those who did not enjoy reading were more likely to be:

  • heavier television watchers over time

  • exposed to bullying experiences

  • seen by teachers as having difficult classroom behaviour at age 12

  • less likely to complete their homework

  • less likely to be enthusiastic about going to school.

International research strongly suggests frequent reading for enjoyment correlates with increases in reading achievement. (Clark, 2011, Clark & Rumbold, 2006, Clark & Douglas 2011, PISA 2009)

"When children read for pleasure, when they get 'hooked on books', they acquire, involuntarily and without conscious effort, nearly all of the so-called 'language skills' many people are so concerned about: they will become adequate readers, acquire a large vocabulary, develop the ability to understand and use complex grammatical constructions, develop a good writing style, and become good (but not necessarily perfect) spellers. Although free voluntary reading alone will not ensure attainment of the highest levels of literacy, it will at least ensure an acceptable level. Without it, I suspect that children simply do not have a chance."

— Linguist Stephen D Krashen (1993, p. 85)

PISA 2009 key findings

The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2009 key findings, showed that in all countries surveyed, children who enjoyed reading performed significantly better than those who did not. Students who independently read fiction tended to score more highly, but students who read a wide variety of material performed overall particularly well.

The relationship between online reading activities and reading performance was also positively co-related. Frequent reading for fun regardless of whether books/ magazines or the internet was strongly co-related with improvements in Progress in International reading literacy (PIRLS) literacy scores. However, reading for information was not strongly co-related (PIRLS, 2006).

Young people who enjoy reading very much are nearly five times as likely to read above the expected level for their age compared with young people who do not enjoy reading at all.

— Children's and Young People's Reading Today, National Literacy Trust, 2011

The report I took this information from goes on to break down each benefit with more detail and related evidence. If you are interested it is worth reading further. Here is the link again should you wish to read more: Reading for Pleasure-A door to success

Another key point of this report is that ‘reading for pleasure has decreased over time’

Reading for enjoyment has decreased over time. Between 2000 and 2009, on average across OECD countries, daily reading for enjoyment dropped 5 percentile points, accompanied by a related decrease in positive attitudes towards reading. (OECD 2010, PIRLS, 2006, as cited by Research evidence on reading for pleasure, Educational Standards Research Team, UK, 2012).

Reading should not be presented to children as a chore or duty. It should be offered to them as a precious gift.

— Kate DiCamillo.

The 2016 US Scholastic kids and family reading report showed that although children's reading enjoyment has been 'fairly steady' since 2010, it is significantly lower among children aged 12–14.

Some reported contributing factors are:

  • lack of motivation

  • negative attitudes to reading (readers are boring, reading is boring)

  • peer pressure

  • lack of reading skills and subsequent low self-efficacy

  • lack of choice and lack of appropriate high-interest resources

  • other distractions.

Research evidence on reading for pleasure (pdf, 364KB) — UK Department of Education, Education Standards Research Team, 2012.

Reading for pleasure decreases with age

Reading for enjoyment tends to decrease with age. And, children from lower socio-economic groups do it less than children from higher socio-economic groups.

Boys spend less time reading for pleasure than girls

The OECD's report The ABC of Gender Equality in Education states that one reason boys may be lower achievers than girls is that they are less likely to read outside school for pleasure. Other reasons include:

  • their attitude to homework and school

  • they are more likely to spend time online – gaming and on the internet.

Ok, so we know why it’s important and we know we need to do something about it. So how do we engage children with reading?

How do we engage children with reading?

Research points to certain factors that increase the likelihood of creating engaged readers.

Choice relates to motivation

Choice, interest and motivation are highly related. Surveys internationally suggest most children are more likely to read for pleasure if they can choose their own books (Gambrell, 1996, as cited in Clark & Rumbold, 2006 ). But, as Clark & Rumbold, 2006, state 'To affect reading behaviour they must subsequently choose to read that book over any other available activity'.

Access to books is essential

Lack of availability of high-interest reading material is cited by students as one of the reasons they don’t read for enjoyment. Having books in the home, or books of their own has a major impact.

Children with books of their own read more, and more frequently. Library membership is positively co-related with reading frequency. Students who are members of a library are twice as likely to read at home. Non-library users are 3 times more likely to only read at school, or to state they can’t find a book to read.

Impact of reading frequency and duration

There is a positive relationship between attitude to reading, reading attainment and reading frequency. In a survey of 17,000 students (Clark & Douglas, 2011) students who were reading above their expected age read more than those reading below their expected age. 1/10 of students who stated they read rarely or never scored above their age, as compared with 1/3 of students who stated they read daily.

Anderson, Wilson and Fielding (1988) found that the amount of time spent in independent reading was the best predictor of the amount of gain made in reading achievement between the ages of 8 and 11.

Relationships and role models, at school and at home

Reading for pleasure at school is strongly influenced by relationships between teachers and children, and children and families (Cremin et al, 2000 as cited by Clark & Rumbold, 2006). Parents are influential in developing early reading for enjoyment, and if books are valued from a young age, this is likely to continue.

"Research has repeatedly shown that parental involvement in their child’s literacy practices is a more powerful force than family background and variables such as social class, family size, and level of parental education."

— National Literacy Trust, Reading For Pleasure Executive Summary, Nov, 2006

We need to take a collective and collaborative approach across school and community.

"In order to reap the benefits that reading for pleasure can bring, schools need to implement a reading programme that will make reading an experience that is actively sought out by children."

— Reading for pleasure, what we know works, Centre for Literacy in Primary Education.

In 2012, in recognition of the importance of reading for pleasure in developing literacy, Ofsted in the UK implemented the requirement for schools to 'develop policies to promote reading for enjoyment'. Any school that wishes to be judged outstanding needs to demonstrate strategies that encourage 'reading widely and often across all subjects'.

Reading for pleasure: A research overview — National Literacy Trust

Reading for pleasure, what we know works (pdf, 898KB) — Centre for Literacy in Primary Education.

This seems a good point to share the 'Children's Charter for Reading'

New Waterstones Children's Laureate Cressida Cowell is full of exciting plans and wants EVERY child to read for fun and get something out of books. Here, she shares her Children's Laureate Charter with you all...

Cressida Cowell is the number one bestselling author-illustrator of the How to Train Your Dragon and The Wizards of Once book series, and the author of the Emily Brown picture books, illustrated by Neal Layton. She has sold over 11 million books worldwide in 38 languages.

She's also just become the new Waterstones Children's Laureate, which means she's here to champion children's books and get even more kids reading.

Resources for developing reading for pleasure

The open university research rich pedagogies website is a wealth of information on developing reading for pleasure with children in schools. They say:

To develop children’s RfP, teachers need:

Their website has lots of resources and examples of practise for developing each of these 5 key areas:

The Teachers as Readers project found that when teachers widen their knowledge and pleasure in reading children’s literature and other texts, and become more aware of their own and the children’s reading practices, they reconceptualise reading from the inside out, and more effectively build a reading for pleasure pedagogy and strong communities of readers within and beyond school. (Cremin et al., 2014)

Developing a reading for pleasure culture within schools is a complex task but a hugely important one, particularly if we want to have a positive impact on the life chances of the children we teach. It isn’t an ‘easy fix’ and it’s not something that can be achieved by doing a few simple activities to promote reading like ‘reading challenges’ and ‘book bingo’ etc (not that there's anything wrong with these types of activities!) It is just that to actually embed a genuine reading for pleasure culture in a school takes so much more and has to start with the adults in the school.

If you are interested in any further reading I have also collated a range of resources related to reading for pleasure on this wakelet:

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