Reading for pleasure is one of the cross-cutting themes of ELINET and was thus the subject of one of the sessions of the second ELINET network conference in Budapest. In this session, Dr Suzanne E. Mol from the VU University Amsterdam gave a presentation about her dissertation and entered the discussion with the ELINET members. Dr Suzanne E. Mol's dissertation concises a scientific meta-analysis of 83 international literacy studies. In her presentation she answered the following questions:
What is Reading for Pleasure?
“Reading for Pleasure” means: voluntary reading, and choosing (what, when and how) to read, either during school time or in free time. To read for pleasure does not depend on age, sex, nationality etc.
The “pleasure of reading” lays in travelling to all kinds of (fictive) countries and sceneries, accessing known and unknown worlds from someone else’s perspective, and meeting or befriending characters without having to leave the comfort of your reading spot.
It should further be noted that when readers are not able to read independently, they will need assistance from others (e.g. parents, teachers) to access and comprehend the reading materials of their interest.
Does reading make us smarter?
Our meta-analysis of 83 international studies shows that voluntary reading outside school makes a huge difference inside the classroom. Children who read voluntarily become better technical readers and reading comprehenders, have larger vocabularies, are better spellers, and seem to be smarter than children who hardly or never read for pleasure. This seems to be the case for readers across age-groups and reading levels, including poor readers. For specific details on this meta-analysis, please read the article in Psychological Bulletin by Mol and Bus (2011): http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0021890; or chapter 2 of my dissertation “To read or not to read”, accessible via: https://openaccess.leidenuniv.nl/handle/1887/16211.
Furthermore, Reading for Pleasure seems to benefit readers’ active citizenship skills, as reading a variety of genres and materials has an impact on readers’ socio-emotional skills such as empathy, and moral skills such as values of right and wrong.
How do we become (a union of) readers?
When designing programmes to promote Reading for Pleasure, I would recommend to consider (at least) the following six points:
1. Start early (and continue!): Research shows that children who are exposed to books (e.g. shared reading activities) from an early age are better prepared for school and will learn to read faster than children who are not growing up in stimulating home literacy environments. Such a stimulating literacy environment also is thought to foster children’s love of reading.
2. Target groups at risk: General reading promotion programmes may not work as much for those groups that are most in need of an intervention, such as groups that hardly read for pleasure (e.g. boys, children of alliterate parents). To reach these groups, I recommend that we take into account individual differences in the design and implementation of reading promotion programmes.
3. Involve role models (parents, peers, teachers): Even though reading for pleasure is mostly viewed as an independent or silent activity, readers also need to be encouraged by significant others who read themselves and who know about those books that match these readers’ interests, age, and reading level. The involvement of these role models may further focus on, for example, shaping a stimulating reading culture (at home and at school) and reading books aloud even when children know how to read themselves.
4. Promote reading during the summer: To prevent children from showing a decline in reading skills over the course of the summer, it is important to stimulate reading behavior during holidays. Reading promotion programs should therefore not exclusively focus on the academic year. Furthermore, teachers and parents should be made aware of the importance of a reading routine throughout the calendar year so that they can provide children with the necessary tools (e.g. library card) and attracting materials to continue reading outside school.
5. Include reading motivation/attitude: The likelihood that children choose reading as their preferred (leisure) activity depends (at least partly) on their enjoyment of reading activities. When promoting reading, programmes should also need to foster a positive attitude toward reading, and acknowledge components that stimulate reading motivation (such as autonomy, feelings of competence and relatedness).
6. Evaluate effects scientifically: Without experimentally testing whether a programme shows an effect on reading behaviour (and achievement), it is not possible to claim whether a programme “works” or not. It therefore is very important to evaluate reading promotion programmes scientifically, with a focus not only on participants’ programme responsiveness but also on the implementation process.