Sunday 19 July 2015


Reading for pleasure is a discussion topic that occurs quite a lot amongst school librarians. Usually it results in an exchange of ideas and ways to use our resources but during the past week, the discussion has turned towards whether you can “teach” reading for pleasure – as opposed to teaching children how to read, the mechanics of deciphering those squiggles on the page into meaning and context.

Reading for pleasure is the Holy Grail. It is what we all want to achieve in every single one of our students. The benefits of reading for pleasure are well documented via research: increased attainment in all subjects; improved writing and communication skills; increased self-confidence, empathy and tolerance, to mention just a few. In fact, reading for pleasure is more important to educational achievement than a family’s wealth or social class. This is recognised by the government and Ofsted so you have to wonder why more support isn’t given to school libraries and librarians, one of the major players in the reading for pleasure arena. Below are just a few of the articles that a quick search brings up and there are many more:
But can this be taught? Can you “impart knowledge or instruct someone how to read for pleasure”? I’m not sure you can – and if it is possible to teach then we haven’t yet found out how, otherwise we would all be doing it and have a nation of readers!

It’s a bit like teaching somebody how to swim. They may well master the methods and become good swimmers but still not actually enjoy going into the water. Reading is like that. There are many programmes and reading schemes designed to encourage students to read using various techniques. Several work via a reward system or by adding an element of competition. I’m sure that some students, participating in these, may find that particular book which sets them on their reading journey but I think many don’t. They join in because they have to and it may well improve their reading skills so that targets can be met and boxes ticked but they don’t choose to read for pleasure.
However, there are things we can do to increase the likelihood of this, to create situations and provide catalysts. Obviously it helps if a student has basic reading skills in place but even the youngest child can enjoy “reading” a picture book sat on the lap of a grown-up and differentiation enables targeted activities.  So what can schools do?
·         Create a whole school reading ethos – again there are lots of online resources about how to do this so I’m not going into details here. The important thing to remember is that it will take time, possibly around 2 – 3 years.
·         Get staff on board (although don’t stress if not everybody is as enthusiastic about this as you are).

·         Get parents on board – this is extremely important. Parents reinforcing the message about reading and supporting school initiatives are one of the major success criteria. It is particularly important to get male family members involved.

·         You need a school library! With a wide range of relevant, up-to-date and appropriate resources. Reading for pleasure is about CHOICE, it is not about choosing something that everyone else is reading (though peer recommendation works) or that the class needs to study or because it’s at the “right” level.

·         Give students GUIDANCE and advice to help them choose something suitable. People who are non-readers need this help; they need to discover what type of reader they are and what resources are available to them. But even more-able readers need assistance with helping them progress. This is where the LIBRARIAN comes in! Most teachers, with the best will in the world, do not have the range of knowledge or expertise that librarians have.

·         Ensure that students have TIME where they are able to browse books, to pick up and reject, to dip in to and continue reading. Where, if they need to talk about what to read and to explore the shelves, they are not being urged to “find a book and sit down”. This is where library lessons come in. Many schools do not like these as they cannot visibly see “progression and learning” but anyone who does not read for pleasure will not go near the school library voluntarily. Thus you need timetabled periods to give the seeds of reading for pleasure time to grow and work their magic.
Our reasons for reading for pleasure are not right or wrong but different and personal to each of us, and teenagers are likely to be lured by the same reasons so make the experience relevant to what is important to them, to what they enjoy and are interested in. I knit so can happily spend hours browsing books full of knitting patterns which would be completely incomprehensible and totally boring to many;  my partner likes to read computer books which may as well be written in another language for all the sense they make to me. We both read for pleasure.