Reading for Pleasure: The Impact of Teachers in Secondary School
Reading for pleasure is more than just a hobby. In fact, research across the decades suggests it is likely to be integral in fostering significant life skills for young learners.
In our latest post, teacher Laura Meyrick shares findings about reading for pleasure at secondary level, along with some ideas to encourage teachers as role models.
The importance of (not) reading
In recent years, Ofsted has declared that ‘the case for promoting reading across the secondary curriculum is urgent and essential’, with too many students leaving school without the ‘secure reading skills they need to thrive as adults’.1
The Department for Education has stated that ‘our world is dominated by the written word, both online and in print and each year… hundreds of thousands of children start their secondary school two years behind in reading; some leave even further behind their peers’.2
Beginning adolescence with insufficient reading ability can dramatically impact their learning. Without being able to adequately read, the acquisition of knowledge can be hindered, with detrimental effects on long-term motivations and aspirations. Some research even shows that reading enjoyment is more important for children’s educational success than their family’s socio-economic status.3 Reading for pleasure could therefore be an important way to raise learning standards, and boost key life skills.
Reading and the 21st Century
Equipping adolescents for the ‘21st century’ world means equipping them with reading skills to aid them for the future. As the world becomes increasingly digital, and all forms of communication move to electronic platforms, people must arguably read faster and better. It is therefore fundamental for teachers to promote positive reading habits, cultivating readers who feel motivated to read.
Researcher Gene Bottoms states that there is a correlation between reading progress and the act of reading for pleasure; that reading for at least an hour a day, and at least eleven books per year, can raise reading achievement – plus scores in performance assessments.4 Pitcher et al also found that, with a student’s progression from primary to secondary school, the motivation to read for pleasure decreases.5 With this in mind, reading incentive programmes may be especially essential at early secondary level, ensuring that students maintain reading habits which, in turn, result in better outcomes.
Considerations to help encourage Reading for Pleasure
Albert Bandura argues that allowing students to choose what they read makes a difference to their enjoyment of reading6 so it’s important to think about the types of books that are popular with students today, including genres, books-turned-films, and teen fiction. If a person’s own interests are allowed space to surface, that person is more likely to be motivated and engaged to read.
Another consideration to encourage reading for pleasure comes from Dorothy Strickland’s research. Strickland posits that students with a higher confidence in reading are more likely to be motivated to read, and to value reading.7 Since reading can be a sensitive topic with particular students who have either previously been poor readers or received de-motivational comments, that does not mean those students will never enjoy reading again; they may just need a positive reading role-model to reaffirm their potential.
Another consideration is the ‘expectancy-value’ theory, which suggests that when an adolescent values an activity they are more likely to continue doing it.8 Many classroom factors could contribute to student expectations and values, such as teacher motivations, reading motivations, or peer influences. Making the focus on reading for pleasure a school-wide pursuit, rather than simply within English classes, could help enhance its value across the student population.
Teachers as Role Models
The UK Literary Association (UKLA) has stated that ‘reading for pleasure is strongly influenced by relationships between teachers and students’. Teachers should therefore become ‘reading teachers’ and ‘widen their reading repertoires’.9
It has also been noted that ‘effective teachers need to be learners as well as teachers’.10 Trialling different ways of promoting reading for pleasure and showing students the pleasure teachers themselves get out of reading, can encourage students to follow their lead.
The UKLA recommends school-based activities such as:
Creating reading environments with read aloud programmes
Positive praise and feedback
It also suggests that, in order to create successful reading repertoires, teachers could use lunchtimes, or after-school enrichment hours, to run reading clubs, allowing students to explore a variety of worlds or contexts outside the curriculum.
One Ofsted report found that setting up projects in school such as ‘Reading to Achieve’ or ‘Reading Challenges’ could encourage more students to read for pleasure – where students, despite their reading ability, can choose from a selection of books and record their reading progress in logs or trackers.11
The use of ‘Reading Challenges’ creates competitive motivations for reading, and allows students to have ownership over books, as well as when and how they read them.
It is naturally important to consider that schools and teachers may struggle with developing reading for pleasure, however – unless they are given the adequate time and space to do this. Yet the impact of teachers as positive role-models shows the investment is worth making nevertheless: promoting reading for pleasure, promoting that enjoyment of reading, is of incontestable benefit to all students.
1. Ofsted, Improving literacy in secondary schools: a shared responsibility, 2013
2. Ofsted, The Key Stage 3 strategy: evaluation of the second year, 2003
3. OECD, Reading for change: Performance and engagement across countries. Results from PISA 2000, New York: Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, 2002
4. Bottoms, G., Why we need an across-the-curriculum emphasis on literacy, in I. SREB (Ed.), Literacy Across the Curriculum, Atlanta, Georgia: Southern Regional Education Boards, 2003
5. Pitcher, S. M., Albright, C. J., Walker, N. T., Seunarinesingh, K., Mogge, S., Headley, K. N. Dunston, P. J., Assessing adolescents' motivation to read. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 2007
6. Bandura, A., Perceived self-efficacy in cognitive development and functioning, address given at the Annual Meeting of the American Education Research Association San Francisco, April 1992 .
7. Strickland, D., Bridging the Literacy Achievement Gap, New York: Teachers College Press, 2004
8. Eccles, J., ‘Expectancies, Values and Academic Behaviour’ in Spence, J. T. (Ed.) Achievement and Achievement Motives San Francisco: Freeman, 1983
9. United Kingdom Literacy Association, Teachers and Readers: Building Communities of Readers, Leicester: UKLA, 2008
10. Lewis, M. and Wray, D., ‘Implementing Effective Literacy Initiatives in the Secondary School’, Educational Studies, Vol.27, No.1, 2001
11. Ofsted, The Key Stage 3 strategy: evaluation of the second year, 2003