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Should we abandon reading for pleasure? Part 2

A couple of years ago I wrote my first blog with this title, which, if you are interested, you can read here. My thesis in that post was that the word “pleasure” is unhelpful – many pupils do not find reading pleasurable and that using the term gives them an opt out clause. I’d now like to take my argument on a little.

Back in June I interviewed all the pupils in one of our schools who had made the biggest improvement in their reading ages over the previous six months. We are talking anything from a 1 to 3 year jump. My thought was that if they had really made such big gains this must have had some beneficial impact on their lives and I wanted to know what these might be. So I asked them. Their answers were far more wide-ranging than I imagined.

How improving your reading skills can change your life

A boy who had made a 21 month improvement said:

“I can now read longer words … in maths certain words and in a bunch of other subjects where there are long words, they are easier to read”

“When I play computer games sometimes I put on sub-titles and don’t listen to it and you can have a better understanding of the game’s story.”

So, getting better at reading can make your life easier in a range of subjects and it can enhance your computer game experience – arguments that I think are likely to be more persuasive to an average 12 year old than simply telling them that reading is pleasurable.

A girl who had made a 17 month improvement made a very ambitious claim:

“I can read subtitles of foreign programmes now and learn a language at the same time.”

She also linked reading with relaxation, an argument that might be worth using with pupils.

“It helps me read at home and to relax. I can finish a big book in 2 days now.”

We all want an easier life, so the argument of a girl who had made a 37 month improvement might also be quite effective with other pupils:

“I used to find English hard but when I started reading that made English easier. History and geography are also easier now.”

This was echoed by a boy who made a whopping 57 month improvement. He also referred to being able to make more sense of the world around him – why don’t we tell pupils that this is why they should read?

“I have learned more words and their meanings and I can use them in my writing in English and other subjects.”

“Sometimes in video games and board games and the news I can use my reading skills to understand things better.”

A year 10 boy, sitting on a 41 month improvement, made another connection I wouldn’t have dared to hope for:

“A passionate reader has a creative mind.”

“Reading has given me a wider range of perspectives. If you are doing an argument you can look at both sides of it.”

A year 10 girl said:

“It makes you feel a lot more confident when you can read better.” I think Reading for Confidence would chime with quite a few pupils.

A girl who had made 32 months improvement said

“I read on an app and when I watch TV I realise that things on there connect up with what I’ve read. This makes me feel smart.”

“Reading has definitely helped in English. I understand the words better – we use sophisticated vocabulary in English and I understand it better.”

“I do drama and the words in the play you can understand the words more and you can understand the characters more from certain words they say.”

These arguments about the power of reading to make you feel smart sound to me like powerful ones that deserve to be used more often.

Finally, a Year 10 boy who had raised his reading age by 12 months said

“I believe my improvement has made me more confident at reading.”

“In Explorers there’s a lot of reading to prepare for camp, the rules … Improving my reading has helped me get the most out of things I do out of school.”

“I do voluntary work and there are committee meetings. When I started I got all this paper work and I didn’t know where to start. But reading has made me more confident and improved reading has helped me to understand.”

I’m not suggesting that teachers start trying to sell reading on the back of its ability to enable you to cope with committee paperwork, but it does seem to me that these pupils have gained a wide range of benefits from improving their reading. Surely we would be well advised to ensure that all pupils in our schools are fully aware of the wide range of ways in which they could gain by reading more. I recommend the interview activity to all teachers who are involved in encouraging reading – your pupils’ answers may well surprise and inspire you as much as mine did. So, let’s move on from reading for pleasure and instead emphasise a much wider and more relevant set of reasons why all pupils should read.

If you’d like more information about Rooted in Reading, please visit our website where you will find an email address for enquiries and an order form.

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