July 8th 2013 by David Reedy
On reading Egmont’s important survey about reading for pleasure in 21st century England I would like to offer the following comments.
Chapter one has powerful messages for both politicians and schools about the commercialisation of parenthood and the injection of fierce competition into child rearing as a whole and reading in particular. What really struck me was how there is a shift from pre-school relaxation around reading together with your child to the quest for rapid skills learning once the child goes to school; from the closeness of the bedtime story to the stresses and strains of reading aloud at teatime. It is hardly surprising that children increasingly turn to their computer screens, away from the parental gaze, to escape this pressure.
I would like to add a word of caution here. We should not contrast the ‘good’ reading of story books, with the ‘bad’ reading on screen. It seems to me that children are increasing reading for pleasure on screen; finding a space away from the school reading book/learning areas which they have no control over, so that they can roam freely, virtually, with their friends over the terrain of the games they play and the sites they tend to enter away from the gimlet eyes of the authority of the parents and their teachers.
This immersion in digital worlds is not necessarily a bad thing. After all most adults do much of their writing and reading on screen these days. It is a central feature of contemporary literacy. The danger is that reading on screen supplants getting lost in great story books. But I think teachers are right when they say that reading books for pleasure can co-exist with the digital world.
The important insight developed in chapter two is that reading becomes reduced to learning the skills and is detached from purpose and pleasure. Parents change what they do and step back, reading to their children less, citing time pressure in particular, and focus on skills learning. (This was not my experience. Reading to my own children was always the highlight of my day and I made time at least three times a week to do so. In fact I read to my son until, at age 12, he turned to me and asked if it was about time I stopped. I agreed to read him only one more story and took ‘Lord of the Rings’ off the shelf).
Even in competitive terms this move away from reading for pleasure is counterproductive. Research tells us that reading for pleasure is important for skills learning. The OECD study ‘Reading for Change’ (2002) highlighted the impact of reading for pleasure on future success as it is an indicator of intrinsic motivation and the willingness to learn independently.
I hope the new National Curriculum for England’s schools, due to be implemented next year, will go some way to addressing this issue. It has a real emphasis on reading for pleasure being at the heart of the reading curriculum.
I believe that this is to be welcomed and will hopefully ensure that every school and parent knows that it’s not just the skill but you also need the will.
David Reedy General Secretary United Kingdom Literacy Association(UKLA)