4. What's so good about reading?
Reading is fun. From the first experience of chanting nursery rhymes, laughing at strange-sounding words, and turning pages with an adult, reading offers a life-long pleasure. We owe it to children to help that pleasure last throughout their lives, and to sustain it during their teenage years is a special challenge.
Reading is unique. Where other media will deliver plot superbly well, books also allow you to get under the skin of the characters, and hear their thoughts. The ‘slow build’ of a gripping story is an experience that can last for hours or even days; although, in a busy world, it’s more ‘time-hungry’ than a 90 minute movie, the experience will often live in the mind for far longer.
Reading makes you feel good. It enhances health and well-being. It can be relaxing and stress-busting. It can take you out of yourself and away from life’s pressures. Unlike films and TV, the reader is always in control - you can choose how scary the characters should be!
Reading helps you make sense of yourself. It gives children different perspectives on life, and can help them understand themselves better. It’s empowering, because through it they learn new things, gain mental balance, dream dreams. It gives them a sense of cultural identity - it helps them to shape, store and reflect on their past and their future, testing problems and possible reactions to them vicariously. It helps them build decision-making skills, based on new information and perspectives.
Reading connects children to each other. It can help them see other points of view; it connects them to wider worlds and ideas. It gives them insights into other cultures, and other ways of thinking. It can build tolerance. Reading often brings children together when they share their reading - actually or virtually. It helps them understand and value the world’s diversity, heritage and cultures.
‘We read to know that we are not alone’ — C. S. Lewis.
Reading is a creative act. Children use their own imaginations to bring the writer’s text alive. Because reading fires the imagination it can inspire children to produce their own creative work.
Reading leads to learning. Reading continually informs, and allows learning for life. It helps children develop skills of literacy, interpretation and expression.
Though we think of our present decade as being a very ‘visual world’, with the emphasis on movies, on-line video, DVDs, and TV, young people are still surrounded by words, and they read more than perhaps we think. They may visit the school library to browse, without borrowing, or to borrow non-fiction, graphic novels, or joke books. Outside school, they may be reading magazines, newspapers, text messages, emails and websites on screen. They may be reading comics, CD sleeves, TV listings, takeaway menus… and much more. We may want them to discover the pleasure of reading fiction, and there are huge benefits for those who do, but it’s important to value their own choices, and ‘start where they are’.
It’s equally important to provide the experience of story to those who may not be able to reach it themselves - reading stories aloud to struggling readers, for example, or using picture stories with students who have little English of their own.
Finally, it’s important to rehearse ‘reader-like behaviour’. The more opportunities there are for talking about books, sharing stories, reviewing or rating books, listening to adult role models, and so on, the more young people will come to believe that they can be - they are - readers too.
It should be obvious how many of the benefits of reading, listed above, feed into many other areas of achievement at school. The more we can encourage students to read for pleasure, the more it will help their overall progress. For some evidence on reading habits, and young people’s views, look at:
- Children’s and Young People’s Reading Habits [PDF] (National Literacy Trust, 2005), a survey carried out as part of the Reading Connects project
- Social Inclusion and Reading: an Exploration [PDF] (National Literacy Trust, 2006), a study based on the Reading Connects survey above.
- Young People’s Self-Perception as Readers: An investigation including family, peer and school influences [PDF] (Clark, Osborne, Akerman; National Literacy Trust 2008)
Companion pieces to the full survey above have included...
... and also:
- How does Age relate to pupils’ perceptions of themselves as Readers? [pdf]
- Progress in International Reading Literacy Study [PDF] (PIRLS) 2006 (Published November 2007)
...and the PIRLS report for England:
- Readers and Reading: The National Report from England (National Foundation for Educational Research) (Published on 28 November 07)
- Teachers as Readers [Word Document]
- Read up, Fed Up (Summary only)
For some even more important evidence, look at your own data. Do you fully exploit the information available from your library management system? Do you know the most-read titles by boys and by girls, individual students’ reading patterns, and so on? Do you have a mechanism for recording book use in the library itself? Do you talk to all students (especially non-users), and their parents? When did you last do a survey of library use/non-use, and reading attitudes? Do you know who the keenest readers are, so you can recruit them as role models?