An interest of mine as a teacher is cultivating a culture of reading in my classroom. I believe the lack of time devoted to reading in schools is underpinned by an assumption that students read at home. Therefore, many teachers absolve themselves of the responsibility to ensure reading becomes part of students’ lifestyles and is not a forgotten practice of a bygone era.
But why is a culture of reading for pleasure important? Studies have found that it improves academic performances, emotional intelligence, creativity, and empathy.
However, despite obvious benefits, “opportunities to read independently as a class rarely happen frequently and decrease with age” (Scholastic Aus). What is troubling is that “adolescent aliteracy may be inadvertently perpetuated by withdrawn encouragement from both parents and teachers,” according to researcher Margaret Kristin Merga.
Such trends beg the question: how can teachers respond to a cultural shift that is evidently creating barriers to kids developing an interest in reading?
Teachers often lament how crowded curriculums limit their ability to set aside reading time. However, I argue that teachers cannot afford not to invest time encouraging student interest in reading.
This year, I have intentionally cultivated a reading culture in my classroom. Four principles that influence the reading culture in my classroom include student choice, access to interesting books, not incentivizing reading for pleasure, and teacher modeling.
Student choice in text selection is integral, as “there [is] a positive relationship between choice and affective aspects of reading, such as motivation” (Clark and Rumbold, 2006).
As well as utilising library resources, I bring to class a box of novels purchased second-hand. If students have forgotten a book or have difficulty selecting one, they can borrow from my collection, allowing me to unobtrusively make recommendations that suit students’ reading levels and interests, while still giving them choice.
This approach has worked well; recently I matched a biography about soccer player Cristiano Ranaldo with a sporty student who was previously a disinterested reader. Meanwhile, a more confident reader selected ‘Crime and Punishment’ by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.
Reading for pleasure must not be incentivized if we want students to be intrinsically motivated readers. Cambria and Guthrie assert, “students who read only for the reward of money, a grade, or a future job are not the best readers.” When students are given time and encouragement to read for pleasure only, they experience reading as something joyful and are more likely to continue to read.
Lastly, “when children see their teachers enjoy reading…it reinforces the idea that reading is valuable and important”. It would be easy for me to spend our weekly reading time catching up on other work. Instead, I quietly read for pleasure as well, demonstrating that reading is a valuable, life long practice.
NOTE: Article published in Australian Teacher Magazine, July 2018