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It’s no secret that reading and, more recently, ‘reading for pleasure’, has risen up the agenda. Back in 2006 Sir Jim Rose’s review on reading placed the acquisition of reading and language comprehension skills at the core of the primary teaching curriculum; and more recently, Ofsted’s report Moving English Forward spoke of ‘considerable recent concern about the apparent decline in reading for pleasure’.
The potential danger in these reports, useful though they are, is that the terms ‘reading for pleasure’, ‘reading’ and ‘literacy’ get confused, or lose meaning, somewhere along the lines. In his recent web chat with TES, children’s author Frank Cottrell Boyce – who is a patron of The Reader Organisation, and now also Professor of Reading at Hope University – spoke about the confusion between literacy and reading and how it’s been ‘disastrous’ for young people in this country. Being literate might equip a child with the physical tools to read, or ‘de-code’, a text but it does not mean that a child will read, or will want to read.
So, the first question we should ask is, what do we mean by ‘reading for pleasure’? In the web chat, Frank also spoke about the need for ‘motivation’: that a child has to have a motive to read, to feel that it is worthwhile. And I do think that this motive has to do with ‘belief’ as well – it’s about making a child believe in books, that a book is a wonderful thing to have, and that there might be something big, exciting, and important contained within its pages. And I don’t just mean big, colourful pictures – though these can be helpful! But where does this belief come from, and how can we instil this belief in children?
Belief, like pleasure, is not something that can be taught, it has to be shared. I can’t see that a child can develop a genuine, lifelong love for reading, unless they have at some point seen this love in one of the adults around them. The ‘pleasure’ part of reading can’t be taught; it simply has to be felt, firstly by the teacher or parent, and passed on through the sharing of books and stories. So that’s why The Reader Organisation views this partnership with Liverpool Hope as being such a crucial, and exciting, project. With Hope Readers, teachers of the future are being trained to make sure that reading, and the pleasure of reading, is there from the beginning.
Each week, staff from The Reader Organisation, myself included, meet with almost 200 first-year primary school trainee teachers in the Faculty of Education at Liverpool Hope University to read together. In the intimate shared reading groups we run, there are around 10 or 11 students, one member of our Reader team, one box of biscuits, and a stack of books. The sessions last an hour and, in that time, the group will read the short story, poem, or chapter aloud, stopping after sections to talk about the text.
The important thing is this: there is no expert in the room. The trained facilitator is familiar with the text, can initiate and steer reading and conversation, but nothing is being ‘taught’ here. The students will never be asked to prepare prior reading for the group, will never have to write anything about what they are reading, and will never be marked or assessed on anything but their attendance. We can read anything we want, from children’s fiction to nineteenth century novels, contemporary classics and poetry and prose of all shapes and sizes.
I don’t know what other models and interpretations other people might suggest, but in my opinion, this is reading for pleasure. Reading for the sheer enjoyment of ‘finding stories’, yes, but also for the deeper moments of finding meaning, connection, a realisation that we are not alone. And aren’t these the kind of reading role models we would want children to come into contact with? Grown-ups who have a clear idea of what reading can be, what it has meant to them and a belief in what it will continue to provide them with – useful, powerful, and enjoyable experiences for life.
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