Reading for Pleasure: Building Communities of Engaged Readers

“Reading for pleasure is the single most important indicator of a child’s future success.”
OECD 2002

Reading for pleasure – it’s what we, as educators, want for every child, in every phase of their education and into their adult lives. But what does reading for pleasure look like in practice? What are the barriers to this happening? In today’s world of technology, we are up against even more challenges when it comes to the printed word. Read on, as we share a SAfE perspective on this shared challenge.

Sharing the magic on the reading journey: creating time and space in school

It’s a joy to see a child with their nose in a book – lost in the story that has captured their imagination. For some children this seems to happen almost by osmosis: perhaps they come from a reading rich home; perhaps they learned to decode with ease at an early age or perhaps the images and words on the page come to life for them with little effort.

For many though, it just isn’t that simple – some children have no idea of the magic a book can provide. What can we do about this? Research shows that children are significantly more likely to be successful in their education if they read for pleasure – this means independently choosing to read a book without being directed to in any way, simply because they want to.

The journey with reading for some children can be a long one. They may not have a book-rich home or they may struggle to grasp decoding as quickly as their peers. In these circumstances it may be even more difficult to help that child become a reader and creating a ‘reading for pleasure culture’ is not a tick box exercise.

It is a continuous journey supporting children in making book choices and finding the pleasure in books. Teachers need to continue to walk this path: keeping up to date with current literature; understanding the reading preferences of their children and providing opportunities for children to explore books and read.

Teresa Cremin, Open University Professor of Literacy, suggests that in order to develop a reading for pleasure culture in the classroom we need to hand control over to the children.

“If as teachers we hold the reading reins too tightly and don’t ensure that our reading for pleasure pedagogy is reader-led, reader-directed and reader-owned, we will never create communities of engaged readers.” (Cremin, 2019)

In schools where the timetable is tightly packed, it can be easy for reading for pleasure to become the poor relation. The story squeezed out at the end of the day in favour of finishing off other work. A thing you do if you have a spare few minutes here or there. But that time: a teacher sharing a story just because, a trip to the school library or a chance to explore the class book corner with friends is essential. It should be timetabled above all and hold equal importance to the skills needed in learning to read.

We as teachers have a never-ending important job to do. The DfE Reading Framework published in 2021 recognises the importance of reading for pleasure opportunities. More and more schools are creating time for this and seeing the benefit to learning and mental health.

The Phonics and Reading debate: a current national narrative

The Wyse Report January 2022: Academic research undertaken at UCL has recently been published, stimulating discussion and debate around the teaching of phonics and its impact on reading.

Take a look at the academic paper ‘Reading wars or reading reconciliation? A critical examination of robust research evidence, curriculum policy and teachers’ practices for teaching phonics and reading. Authored by Dominic Wyse and Alice Bradbury

For commentaries in response to the report, please take a look at these recent articles;

Has synthetic phonics been demolished?

Focus on phonics to teach reading is ‘failing children’, says landmark study

Academics want reform of ‘narrow’ phonics focus

by Krista Greenwood, SAfE English Teaching and Learning Lead

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